Describing Intel’s H55 chipset as a low-cost choice for your next motherboard is as true as it is false. On the one hand, there are the display outputs for the integrated GPU of a Clarkdale Core i3 or Core i5 CPU, but these inclusions cost the manufacturer (and therefore, the consumer) money.
ASRock H55M Pro Specifications
Chipset: Intel H55
CPU support: LGA1156 Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7
Memory support: 4 slots: max 8GB DDR3 (1,600MHz)
Expansion slots: Two 16x PCI-E 2.0 slots (one 16x, or two 8x), one 1x PCI-E, one PCI
Sound: Intel HD Audio via VIA VT1718S with 8-channel support
Networking: Intel Gigabit Ethernet
Ports: 5 x SATA 3Gbps, PS/2, 12 x USB 2, LAN, 4 x surround audio out, line in, mic, coaxial S/PDIF out, eSATA, D-Sub, DVI, HDMI
Dimensions (mm): 244 x 244 (Micro-ATX)
This Micro-ATX motherboard has holes for LGA1156 and LGA775 coolers. Click to enlarge
Despite the socket comparability between Clarkdale and Lynnfield LGA1156 CPUs, to get the most out of overclocking you should buy the corresponding chipset. The bottom line is that if you want a Core i3-530, go H55, but if you're upgrading performance to i5-750 grab a cheap P55 board. Should you be upgrading from older Core 2 CPUs, ASRock has thought about this conundrum, as this H55M Pro has mounting holes for LGA775 coolers as well as standard LGA1156. Transferring your cooler from your old PC to your new one will help to reduce the cost of upgrading, so it's an instant plus for ASRock.
The H55M Pro hits the temptingly low price of £76 by opting for a micro-ATX PCB, but there’s still room for two 16x PCI-E graphics card slots, plus a 1x PCI-E slot and a PCI slot. These are more than enough for most PCs, and the layout means that even if you use a dual-slot graphics card in the blue primary slot, there’s still a slot left for a sound card. However, a second graphics card will yield little benefit beyond giving you extra display outputs, as the slot only provides an x4 PCI-E lane of bandwidth and as such the H55M Pro (along with most H55 boards) doesn’t support CrossFire or SLI.
Click to enlarge
One graphics card is sufficient for most people (in fact, the entire staff of bit-tech refuses to use SLI or CrossFire), and similarly, the five SATA 3Gbps ports should service most people’s storage needs. The ports are located in what at first seems an odd place – halfway up the leading edge of the board next to the 24-pin ATX power connector. However, if you install a long graphics card, this positioning is perfect for easy access around the card’s PCB. The ports stand perpendicular to the board, which might make fastidiously neat cable routeing tricky, but most cases will have cable-routeing holes close to the SATA ports, so you should be able to manage a tidy build.
The FireWire port at the back (with a header for another port, should you need it) is joined by six USB 2 ports, one of which can be used as a powered eSATA port. Also present are Gigabit Ethernet, a PS/2 keyboard port and five mini-jacks to output the 7.1 surround sound of the VIA VT1718S audio codec. With the three display outputs (D-Sub, DVI and HDMI) and the optical S/PDIF output, this board could make for a tasty media PC.
The H55M Pro is neatly laid out too, helping to keep a media PC in a cramped case neat and free of airflow obstructions. The 24-pin ATX and 8-pin EPS12V power connectors are located on the edges of the board, and the chipset heatsink is small and unobtrusive. Equally, the two fan headers are spaced well apart for easy connections to front or rear fans, but if you want more than two speed-controlled fans, you’ll need to buy a fan controller. The 4+2 phase VRMs are basic at best and are best designed to take the lighter loading Core i3 and i5 CPUs. They aren’t cooled either, so you should be wary of sending too much voltage through the CPU, although if you really want you can stick in some thumbnail sized heatsinks.
The H55M Pro’s BIOS is reasonably intuitive, even if there are a few curious additions. The Good Night LED option turns off the power and LAN lights when the PC is switched on, and turns off the keyboard lights when it’s sleeping, which could be handy if your PC is in your bedroom.
Of more use is the vdrop compensation, although in testing it wasn't entirely clear whether this seeks to address vdrop or vdroop specifically. Regardless, the CPU and Memory EZ-OC menus let you quickly set an overclock, and will apply voltages that ASRock deems appropriate.