Articles: Mainboards

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When it comes to mainboards from Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS), the first thing that comes to mind is a small mainboard, usually in microATX format, often with integrated graphics – a typical office or budget PC platform. In fact, these associations are correct, but not quite complete. It is true, this company achieved tremendous success particularly in the simple and inexpensive mainboard segment, however, they have been producing “Black” series products for several years now, which are loaded just as much as same-class solutions from other manufacturers. Today we are going to talk about two mainboards from this series – ECS P67H2-A and ECS P67H2-A2. These are the top products in Elitegroup’s Intel P67 Express based lineup, which belong to the Black series.

Closer Look at ECS P67H2-A

ECS P67H2-A ships in a pretty large box with a carry-handle. You can open the flip-cover in the front and see the mainboard inside through a clear plastic window:

The back of the box is covered in numerous logos for the Elitegroup’s tools and supported technologies. There is also a photo of the mainboard and a brief description of its selected features.

The box is a little oversized because the mainboard inside sits in a protective casing made of clear plastic, and all accessories are carefully packed into a separate box:

  • Six SATA cables with metal locks and only straight connectors;
  • Additional rear panel bracket with two USB 3.0 ports;
  • Set of brackets for USB ports;
  • I/O Shield for the back panel;
  • User manual;
  • Colorful poster with brief assembly tips;
  • DVD disk with software and drivers.

We have already seen Asus and MSI mainboards bundled with an additional bracket for the internal USB 3.0 connector that adds to more USB 3.0 ports to the system back panel. We are going to see Asus and Gigabyte mainboards that offer an even more useful accessory – a front-panel bracket for the 3-inch system case bay with two USB 3.0 ports. However, Elitegroup’s approach to this matter seems to be the most universal and convenient for the user. The bracket included among the mainboard accessories is designed to deliver two USB 3.0 ports to the front of the system case. But it is also accompanied with an additional panel and a set of screws, which can help move these ports to the back panel, if necessary.

We should also explain what the USB set of brackets looks like. You may have seen that some contemporary mainboards or graphics accelerators have special brackets protecting them against damage and dust. “Connector Cap” is the same bracket for the USB ports. It is a small, but very neat accessory, which will come in very handy if some of the external USB ports are rarely used.

Now that all the introductory words have been said, we can finally take a real close look at ECS P67H2-A mainboard. The only problem that caught our eye right away was the reversed company name on the heatsink. Other than that, it is an impeccably designed mainboard with an extended features set.

At first, let’s check out the powerful processor voltage regulator circuitry that consists of 12 phases. The heating components are covered with a pair of heatsinks, which are connected via heatpipes into a single cooling system with the third heatsink in the center of the PCB. This heatsink hides the mainboard’s major distinguishing feature – HydraLogix 200 chip. It allows combining graphics cards from different makers and at the same time serves as a hub that enables two graphics card slots to work at their maximum speed. The mainboard is equipped with three graphics card slots: the first two can work at full PCI Express 2.0 x16 speed, while with the third graphics card installed their speed changes to x16/x8/x8. All three heatsinks are fastened using reliable screw-on retention, while the fourth heatsink on the chipset is installed using conventional plastic push-pins.

We can’t help pointing out a few other remarkable peculiarities of ECS P67H2-A mainboard that stress its high-end status. For example, we see a set of contact spots for manual voltage control slightly above the memory DIMM slots. A little to the left you can notice a row of multi-color LEDs, which should indicate the number of active phases in the processor voltage regulator circuitry. The POST-code indicator can also display temperature, besides performing its primary function. One of the onboard USB 2.0 pin-headers is of gray color, which indicates that it serves to charge mobile devices, including the ones from Apple. ECS EZ Charger technology allows it to generate three times more current than the regular USB 2.0 ports. There are Power On and Reset buttons, and the button for clearing the BIOS settings is conveniently moved to the back panel.

Here is the list of ports and connectors on the ECS P67H2-A back panel:

  • Clear CMOS button;
  • PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Six USB 2.0 ports, eight more USB ports are available as four onboard pin-connectors;
  • Four USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via a combination of Renesas (NEC) D720200F1 controller and VLI VL810 hub, the second Renesas (NEC) D720200F1 controller provides another internal connector for two more USB 3.0 ports;
  • Two eSATA 6 Gbps ports implemented via Marvell 88SE9128 controller;
  • Two local network ports (network adapters are built on Gigabit Realtek RTL8111E controllers);
  • Optical and coaxial S/PDIF, and five analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC892 codec.

In conclusion we would like to say that all pins inside the processor socket and memory DIMM slots are covered with a 15 micron gold layer. Looks like we mentioned all important features and peculiarities of the ECS P67H2-A mainboard and it is time to bring up one issue that we uncovered. Three fan connectors will be sufficient for a small microATX platform, but is definitely not enough for a full-size flagship product, as they position ECS P67H2-A.

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