At the top end of the scale we have the Asus P7H55-M Pro and Gigabyte H55M-UD2H motherboards competing at around $105. Then below them we have the Asrock H55M Pro and ECS H55H-CM which at $90 are around 14% cheaper.
Obviously a 14% saving is significant enough when building on a tight budget. But it's important to know what you are sacrificing with these cheaper H55 alternatives. With the ECS H55H-CM, quite a lot really, as this motherboard offers nothing extra in the way of features other than what is provided by the chipset.
The complete lack of DVI support is disappointing, and you can forget about other features such as Firewire and eSATA. The H55H-CM was also a very poor overclocker, which doesn't say much about the board's build quality. While it could be argued that this is meant as an affordable solution, this reasoning falls flat when you consider the Asrock H55M Pro carries the same price tag and offers significantly more features -- and better ones at that.
This affordable motherboard boasts Firewire and eSATA support along with a DVI output. Moreover, the H55M Pro provides a better audio solution, and while not nearly as important as all that, it is a much better looking product. The Asrock H55M Pro also appears to be a higher quality product compared to the ECS H55H-CM, as we were able to push the clock speed of our Core i3 540 processor 12% more using this board.
As good as the Asrock H55M Pro is, if you spend a little more -- around $15 more -- options such as the Asus P7H55-M Pro and Gigabyte H55M-UD2H become available. In terms of features the latter was a clear cut winner in our opinion, as it offers everything the Asus P7H55-M Pro does but with a few extras.
One key advantage of the H55M-UD2H is its Firewire support. While this is not a lot to go on, as not everyone is going to find this feature useful, its absence on the P7H55-M Pro gives Gigabyte the edge. Additionally Asus failed to provide DisplayPort support on the P7H55-M Pro, making the H55M-UD2H a more complete solution in terms of connectivity.
Gigabyte also provides better expansion slots. Although we don't recommend using this board with a pair of Radeon HD 5770 graphics cards, it is possible to do so with a performance hit due to the limited x4 bandwidth on the second slot. This limitation applies to all Intel H55 motherboards as there simply are not enough PCI Express lanes available.
Finally when it came time to try on a little overclocking the Gigabyte H55M-UD2H truly impressed, pushing the Core i3 540 processor effortlessly all the way to 4.60GHz. Unfortunately, while the Asus P7H55-M Pro also appeared capable of reaching this same frequency, we ran into a strange bug that would cause the system to continually pause for around 5 seconds whenever we moved past the 4GHz barrier. This is an issue we are still looking into, but so far we have been unable to put our finger on what is causing this strange behavior.
For the reasons mentioned above Gigabyte's H55M-UD2H gets our pick as the best all around Intel H55 based MicroATX motherboard. It simply provides the best combination of features, performance and overclocking abilities. Those looking to save a bit more might want check out the Asrock H55M Pro, as it provides a serious bang for your buck, but considering the small $15 differential the Gigabyte motherboard still seems like the best bet.
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