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With the release of Intel’s Core i3/i5 with on-chip integrated graphics, tons of low-cost H55 motherboards have been popping up. MSI’s mid-range H55 board, priced at $110 on Newegg, is the H55M-ED5. If you’ve been keeping up with H55 performance numbers, you know that people are getting huge overclocks on mATX boards. Although MSI sent me this board for HTPC testing (as Intel’s GMA HD IGP was intended), I also decided to test the limits of the ED55 and see just how much performance I could squeeze out of it.
|Up to 16GB DDR3 1066/1333/1600 (OC)/2000 (OC)/2133 (OC) Dual Channel
|Realtek ALC889, 8 Channels
|Realtek 8111DL 10/100/1000Mbps
The H55M-ED55 comes in MSI’s purple box, so we know right away it isn’t part of their gaming or high end line.
MSI included the typical assortment of accessories, including a few SATA cables, user manual(s), I/O shield, and driver disc.
Here we see the same blue on black color scheme typical of current MSI motherboards. The H55M-ED55 has a nice, clean layout, and tons of extra features which I’ll be discussing below. With the graphics integrated into the CPU, there’s lots of extra real-estate available, which MSI has taken full advantage of.
In the upper right corner of the board, in addition to the black and blue DDR3 slots and 24-pin ATX connector, we find an onboard power button, base clock buttons, and the OC Genie button. I would love to have seen a reset button here as well, and possibly a clear cmos button. The last board I received from MSI (890GXM-G65) had only two fan headers. This board, I’m happy to say, has four.
In the lower right corner of the board we find a total of 6 SATA ports, the clear CMOS jumper, and the H55 chipset.
The H55M-ED55 has two PCI Express 16x slots, at 16x and 8x respectively. I don’t see this listed in the specs, which only mention two 16x slots, but it’s evident looking at the back of the board. There are also one PCI Express 1x slot and one PCI slot.
The I/O panel has all the connection options you could need for an HTPC, and more.
Removing the VRM heatpipe assembly, we notice only four total MOSFETs. But MSI says “1 phase DrMOS > 4 phase traditional MOSFET.” I guess we’ll find out when I put some clocks on this thing. Something nice MSI did was label everything on this motherboard (CPU vcore, CPU Core, CPU_VTT, etc), making it extremely easy to find various voltage read points.
Here we see a fairly straightforward BIOS, with all the settings you’d expect plus some extras.
MSI calls their overclocking section of BIOS the Cell Menu. From here you have total control of all the settings essential to overclocking. I’m not a big fan of the “+x.xxx” method of setting CPU voltage. This BIOS has fairly low voltage setting limits for CPU and GPU, but I’ll discuss that in a bit.
M-Flash is MSI’s built-in BIOS backup and flashing utility. It reads from/writes to a USB flash drive, and is probably the quickest and easiest BIOS flashing method I’ve ever used.
In the Overclocking Profile section, you can save settings for up to six OC profiles. This came in very handy during my testing.
Let me first say, before doing any overclocking, I did use this as my HTPCfor a few days and it’s great! It runs significantly cooler than my full-time HTPC setup (the 890GXM-G65 mentioned above) and is much more pleasant to work with. By the time this review is posted, I will have started on an extensive comparison between the two, so keep an eye out for that.
With so many people achieving huge overclocks on mATX H55 boards, I wanted to see what MSI’s ED55 could do. Since I also do very light gaming occasionally on my HTPC, I also wanted to see how Intel’s iGPU handled 3d applications. I also ran some 2d benchmarks to get an idea of CPU performance.
Testing components for air overclocking:
- Core i5 670 + integrated GMA HD graphics
- MSI H55M-ED55
- 2x1gb Kingston HyperX DDR3 2000MHz
- OCZ 1000w PSU
- Thermalright Ultra 120
24/7 OC Settings
I first tested at settings I would call ‘effortless.’ If I were using this motherboard/CPU in my primary computer, I would most likely use settings resembling these. However, in a small HTPC case I would scale the CPU frequency down a little. I should point out that IGP clocks are essential for 3d performance. Increased CPU clocks alone are of little benefit if the IGP is running at stock.
- CPU Freq: 4215 MHz
- DDR3: 1686 MHZ, 8-8-8-24 1T
- iGPU Freq: ~900 MHz
3d & Game Benchmarks
While the 2d benchmarks were fairly strong, none of the framerates in the 3d benchmarks were anywhere near what I would call ‘playable.’ But, as we already know, the Intel IGP isn’t for gaming, it’s for high definition media enjoyment.
Max Overclock Testing
After getting some performance numbers at nice and easy overclock settings, it was time to go for maximum overclocking. Since the latest H55M-ED55 BIOS only allows vcore adjustment up to 1.44v, the highest stable (for all benchmarks) overclock I was able to achieve was just over 4.6GHz.
- CPU Freq: 4617 MHz
- DDR3: 1776 MHz, 8-8-8-24 1T
- iGPU: 973 MHz
3d & Game Benchmarks
Nice performance scaling with increased clock speed, but still not in the range of playable framerates for the 3d benches. For RE5, I also tried all settings at minimum (except resolution) with little improvement.
Overclocking Beyond The BIOS Limitations
First I want to say I have already asked MSI for a new BIOS with higher voltage adjustment options, and they have responded positively. But instead of waiting, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was looking into modding the BIOS myself, but Ross suggested I just hard mod the board. So I checked Google for the voltage regulator’s datasheet, soldered a 2000k ohm variable resistor between the FB pin and ground, and I now have as much voltage as I could ever want! The mod itself (with the resistor tuned to max resistance) adds about 0.04v. By turning the dial clockwise I’m able to increase CPU voltage as needed, and on-the-fly. This is actually the first volt mod I’ve done without having to look it up online first. Figured this one out for myself which makes it even more rewarding.
A disclaimer seems in order at this point. *If you want to keep your warranty, DO NOT solder on your motherboard. And don’t paint it with nail polish. Excess voltage may damage components, and if you kill anything as a result, it’s your fault. ALWAYS use a multimeter to measure actual adjusted voltages.
Max Air Testing With Voltage Limit Gone
This CPU is on loan from a friend (thanks mgoode) so I didn’t want to push it too hard under air cooling.
- CPU Freq: 4720 MHz
- iGPU Freq: 1000MHz
Again, I didn’t want to go much higher on a friend’s CPU under air cooling. If it was mine, I would have tried for 5GHz.
Dry Ice Testing
I really wanted to test this under liquid nitrogen, but it’s hard to get in central Florida on a Saturday morning. So I was forced to settle with dry ice, which I can’t stand using. Why do I dislike cooling with DI? Because it’s not cold enough! Anyway here are a few numbers I was able to achieve on this board with proper cooling and the vcore mod. Again, nothing too extreme since this is not my CPU. I also stopped using the IGP at this point and opted for an HD 5870 instead. The huge graphics card looks funny on this tiny motherboard. The CPU pot is a Dragon F1 EE by k|ngp|n.
Dry Ice Overclocking Results
I only tested wPrime, 3DMark 03, and Super Pi 1m here. wPrime because I wanted the 2x CPU global points at hwbot.com, Super Pi for higher frequency testing, and 3DMark 03 because I wanted to play with my new HD 5870. There was no point in running other 3d bechmarks because the i5 is such a score limiter with a GPU as powerful as the 5870.
With LN2, I would have been able (more willing) to take things much further. But I think this sufficiently shows this can be a very strong board if MSI adds better overclocking support to their BIOS. Actually, better voltage adjustment would do the trick.
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
This is a fantastic HTPC board, there’s no doubt about that. It does what it was designed to do, and very well. Yet it is so much more. With ATI Crossfire support included, it would make a very nice gaming platform, and even holds up to pretty serious overclocking. It has so much potential waiting to be unlocked, and I think it can be as good as nearly any H55 motherboard on the market.
With the IGP, gaming performance isn’t really there, but the GMA HD graphics are not for gaming, so this is not surprising. Before integrated graphics processors were introduced a few months ago, I expected them to be a huge overclocking limiter, cramming so much into such a little package, but even while overclocking both the CPU and GPU, temperatures remained more than manageable. I’m now using this in my primary computer/secondary HTPC, which consists of a 22″ LCD as my main monitor, with extended desktop to my 32″ 720p LCD for media playback. I couldn’t be happier with this setup, and am ordering a CPU of my own so I can return the i5 670 I have on loan.
I’d like to thank Nick at MSI for giving me the opportunity to test this motherboard.