Key features of the H55:
- Support for all Nehalem Socket 1156 processors (including the corresponding Core i7, Core i5, Core i3, and Pentium series) when connected via the DMI bus (~2 GB/s).
- The FDI interface for obtaining fully rendered screen shots from a processor, and a unit for outputting those screen shots to a display.
- Up to 6 x PCIEx1 ports (PCI-E 2.0 operating at PCI-E 1.1 speed).
- Up to 4 x PCI slots
- 6 SATA-II ports for six SATA300 devices, AHCI and NCQ, hot plug, eSATA, and port splitters.
- 12 x USB 2.0 devices (on two EHCI host controllers) supporting hot plug
- Gigabit Ethernet MAC controller and a special LCI/GLCI interface for connecting PHY controllers (i82567 for Gigabit Ethernet, i82562 for Fast Ethernet).
- High Definition Audio (7.1).
- Support for low-speed and legacy peripherals.
There are some changes in the support for traditional peripherals here. It's not very important though (it's nearly impossible to tell how many USB ports a chipset supports by eye). This regress brings us back to the times of ICH10/R Southbridges: the H55 lacks the very changes which let us suggest that P55 should be renamed ICH11R (as a geek joke). The H55 is indeed a pure ICH10 without "R": this chipset also lacks a RAID controller. In this case, the list of ICH10 features is supplemented with the FDI interface. And it's just as clear that the H55 lacks support for SLI/CrossFire as well as for two regular graphics interfaces. However, we do not expect a Southbridge to have such features, do we?
To sum the differences up: the cheapest solution in the new series has 12 USB ports instead of 14 in the P55/H57, 6 PCI-E slots instead of 8, and no RAID. Formally, the peripheral PCI Express controller still complies with the second version of the standard. However, its data transfer rate is set to the level of PCI-E 1.1 (up to 250 MB/s each way) -- it's definitely an ICH10.
Peripherals, power consumption
What about the support for peripheral devices? The H57 offers the usual maximum. In case of the H55, many users will notice the lack of RAID (and the smaller number of USB ports). In fact, users might not care, as most people need only one hard drive at home. But how are they supposed to sell motherboards without the RAID feature? Well, this will do for a cheap microATX model. Intel is suggesting such a solution as a reference for the new platform. But higher-end products will hardly do without this regular feature. Which means they'll have to solder an additional RAID controller, thus increasing the already excessive number of SATA ports up to 8-10. On the other hand, the H55 will probably have its own niche, while demanding users will be offered H57-based models. The difference in chipsets' selling prices, which is $3, will hardly affect prices of the ready motherboards.
The new chipsets do not offer any promising technologies, although boards supporting USB 3.0 and Serial ATA III have already gone on sale. As for Intel, we can expect serious innovations only in the new platform for Sandy Bridge. For now, manufacturers will be honing and polishing discrete controllers -- on motherboards or expansion cards).
Now let's say a few words about heat release. No verbose comments are needed, because there are no reasons for the H57 to have different heat release than the P55. Formally, considering the new applications of the integrated chipsets, the TDP has been raised from 4.7W in the classic P55 to 5.2W in the new products. Which means more motherboards with moderate and even basic cooling systems, and fewer boards with fancy heatpipes and overheating issues.
Now we'll try to answer a question which we asked four months ago: which chipset should you choose for a Socket 1156 processor? First of all, you must understand that incompatibilities between different chipsets and processors for this socket are not radical. Any of these processors will work in a motherboard with any of these chipsets. The question is whether you lose the integrated graphics which you have to pay for anyway. This seems simple: if you want to use Clarkdale's integrated graphics, take the H57. If you want a regular SLI/CrossFire, go with the P55 (note that by regular we don't mean "full-fledged dual x16"). However, you cannot have both. Now what about the most likely case, when you plan to use a single graphics card? In this case, there is absolutely no difference between the P55 and H57. Even chipset prices do not matter, since you will buy a ready motherboard, not a chipset alone. An H55-based motherboard may be a little cheaper though, but there may be no truly attractive motherboards with this chipset, I'm afraid. So you do have a choice, but there are no definite options worth paying more. On the whole, Socket 1156 processors seem to have decent chipset support.
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