So the new Intel Sandy Bridge processors are out in the market in you’re thinking this is probably the best time to work on that HTPC you always wanted to have (or upgrade). Well, look no further as today I’ll be reviewing the Zotac H67-ITX WiFi and the ECS H67H2-I Mini-ITX motherboards.
The first thing to note in the motherboard models is that both of these are H67 boards, so they’re obviously targeted towards the HTPC market, i.e. forget about overclocking anything. Neither is there any space on these motherboards (as you’ll see soon enough) nor in a regular HTPC case for such an endeavor. Heck, even the BIOS of these motherboards doesn’t allow to change the CPU multiplier settings or FSB for that matter. These are simple motherboards designed for the singular purpose of providing acceptable performance in a small form factor and keeping the budget well under control.
Before I begin with the benchmarks, let’s look at the specs and features of these boards. Both of the boards are expected to perform about the same since they are based on the H67 chipset, so I was more interested in seeing which motherboard had more value for money.
The ECS H67H2-I packs in a whole lot of features on that tiny little 170x170mm board. The layout is pretty basic; you have the Southbridge chipset with heatsink on the top, below which is the LGA 1155 socket. On the right we have the dual channel DDR3 1333MHz, on the opposite end we have the I/O panel and at the bottom the PCIe x16 slot.
At the very top there are 2x SATA II (3Gbps) and 2x SATA III (6Gbps) ports, on the rear I/O panel we have and eSATA port, 6x USB 2.0 and 2x USB 3.0 ports, display out (VGA/ DVI/HDMI) connectors, Realtek LAN and audio out connectors (plus optical out) and lastly a Bluetooth module.
As with any other Mini-ITX motherboard, the ECS H67H2-I had everything packed in at close proximity, so the CPU heatsink and the GTX 580 card plus the RAM sticks were mere millimeters away from each other. Of course, in a real world scenario one wouldn’t be using such a high-end heatsink, graphics card or memory modules, but it’s cool to see all of these components hide the mini motherboard nonetheless.
The Zotac H67-ITX WiFi has a little more upmarket feeling to it, simply by looking at the layout. While it looks the same as the ECS H67H2-I, the Zotac H67-ITX has main differences: the 802.11n WiFi adapter and the extra USB 3.0 header (for 2x USB 3.0 ports) next to the Southbridge chipset. The smooth looking heatsink on the Southbridge plus the additional one on the VRM capacitors may provide for great cooling, but it did prove somewhat difficult to install the XTS100H cooler on the Core i7-2600K. That said, this kind of cooling solution is in appropriate for an HTPC in the first place; you’ll be fine with the stock CPU heatsink.
Speaking of extras, the Zotac H67-ITX has 4x SATA II (3Gbps) & 2x SATA III (6Gbps) ports, 1x eSATA, 4x USB 3.0 & 8x USB 2.0 ports. Plus there’s the display outputs (DP/DVI/HDMI), a GB LAN port and 8 channel audio out.
As you can see, the Zotac H67-ITX WiFi is filled to the brim, which is why it looked even more ridiculous than the ECS H67H2-I when everything was set up for testing.
The following components were used to test the Mini-ITX motherboards: Intel Core i7-2600K (@ 3.4GHz), Zotac GTX 580 AMP! Edition, Kingston HyperX 4GB DDR3-2200MHz memory, Kingston 64GB V-Series SSD with Windows 7 Ultimate and a Cooler Master 1200W Silent Pro Gold PSU. For comparisons I have taken the MSI P67A-GD55
motherboard reviewed last week since it’s the closest to these boards in terms of price and specs.
The gaming benchmarks are about the same on both the motherboards; however the CPU intensive benchmarks clearly belong to Zotac’s H67-ITX, although it is strangely left behind in both PCMark Vantage and WinRAR.
At the end of the day both motherboards perform equally well under all circumstances. They’re not built for overclocking, but they provide almost optimal performance at stock settings while providing a whole lot of features in a very compact form, not to mention a very tempting price point.
Price/performance wise both boards are about the same, but the Zotac H67-ITX creeps out ahead of the ECS H67H2-I simply because of the additional features. You’re getting built-in WiFi with two extra ports for SATA II (not such a big deal) and USB 3.0 (but this is!). It’s just the added convenience of WiFi and future-proofing your HTPC with the extra USB 3.0 ports that makes the Zotac H67-ITX the winner of this round. That’s not to say the ECS H67H2-I is bad in any way, it just doesn’t have the extra features the Zotac has. Like I said before, you can’t go wrong with either board.