Articles: Mainboards

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In the spring of this year we completed our series of reviews of mainboards based on the Intel H55 and H57 Express chipsets. We might have expected the lack of excitement on our readers’ part because such mainboards are somewhat inferior to their counterparts based on the more popular Intel P55 Express. Moreover, if you don’t use a CPU-integrated graphics core, the video interfaces at the back panel of such an H55/H57-based mainboard are useless and take over the space that could be occupied by more demanded connectors. That said, the review of the tiny Zotac H55-ITX WiFi turned out extremely popular. The mini-ITX mainboard, even though not without some downsides, turned to be just as functional as its larger counterparts and even superior to them to some extent. So, as this topic seems to be interesting to our readers, we want to carry on with our reviews of mini-ITX products. Today, it will be the 17x17-centimeter Intel DH57JG mainboard based on the Intel H57 Express chipset.

PCB Design and Functionality

If you’ve ever seen a mini-ITX mainboard, you won’t find anything surprising about the next mini-ITX product you come to know. The total available space of 289 cm2 provides but a limited place for experiments, so mini-ITX mainboards are all basically the same. However, Intel mainboards are always different from others in one way or another, and we will see that as we compare the DH57JG with Zotac H55-ITX WiFi that we reviewed earlier.

Like the Zotac board, Intel DH57JG is equipped with one graphics slot that works in full-speed PCI Express 2.0 x16 mode but does not have an additional mini PCI Express slot. It also has two DDR3 slots and thus supports no more than 8 gigabytes of system memory. The distance between the CPU socket and memory slots is some 5 millimeters longer than on the Zotac product, which makes it easier to install a CPU cooler (and the cooler itself may be somewhat larger). The memory slots are placed very close to each other, so you should take modules with slim heat-spreaders or without any heat-spreaders at all.

Then, as the memory slots are located along the right edge of the PCB, the 24-pin power connector has moved upwards. There should be no problems connecting it to the power supply, as opposed to the front-panel indicators and buttons. The appropriate pins are in the top left corner of the PCB rather than in the bottom right, as usual. They occupy the place of PS/2 connectors the Intel mainboard lacks. Some system cases may have too short cables that won’t be able to reach that far.

The mainboard uses a dual-phase CPU voltage regulator and has an ATX12V connector for additional power supply. Five out of the six Serial ATA ports supported by the chipset are implemented. You can connect four internal SATA drives to this mainboard and there is also an eSATA connector at its back panel. 12 out of the chipset’s 14 USB ports are available: six at the back panel and six more can be connected to the three onboard pin-connectors. Besides, the mainboard’s back panel features a LAN connector (the network interface is based on Intel 82578DC Gigabit Ethernet controller), HDMI and DVI connectors (these work only if you’ve got a Clarkdale processor with integrated graphics core), five analog audio connectors and an optical S/PDIF (the audio interfaces are provided by an eight-channel Realtek ALC889codec).

The mainboard also has two fan connectors, a chassis integrity sensor, and a piezoelectric speaker that cannot be turned off. One legacy interface is supported: a COM port.

The capabilities and features of this mainboard are summed up in the following table:

So, Intel DH57JG is functional enough, yet far inferior to Zotac H55-ITX WiFi in this respect. Notwithstanding the same form-factor and similar chipsets, these mainboards represent two different engineering approaches. The Zotac board can impress anybody with its specs, being far superior even to many full-size mainboards out there. Despite its small form-factor, it not only makes full use of the chipset’s features but complements them with a number of extra controllers. As opposed to that, the Intel mainboard has a minimum number of additional controllers and doesn’t even use all the capabilities of the chipset. We must acknowledge that this utilitarian and pragmatic approach is acceptable, too. Intel didn’t pack lots of controllers and interfaces into this product since most mini-ITX users won’t ever need them. The DH57JG is not meant for quad-core CPUs, so two phases in the CPU voltage regulator should suffice just fine. The four SATA (+ one eSATA) and twelve USB ports are also more than enough for such a small mainboard. We can’t really find any fault with this engineering approach which is rational and thus justifiable.

The lack of USB 3.0 and FireWire might be viewed as a downside, but these interfaces (and a mini PCI Express slot, too) are not really necessary. And even the obvious drawback – the improper location of the pins to connect the buttons and indicators of the system case – is not so serious. This drawback will only become a real problem if you install this mainboard into an ATX or microATX system case. There should be no problems if you take a small specialized system case instead.

Thus, for all its drawbacks, Intel DH57JG does not have any really serious defects. The difference is that the Zotac board is an engineering masterpiece whereas the Intel one is a practical product with no pretensions. Everyone is impressed with elite flagship mainboards, yet most users prefer to buy ordinary ones, like Intel DH57JG.

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