Motherboards based on the Intel H61 chipset are undoubtedly the most ideal for building the most basic home or office PC on the least possible budget. They also make excellent low-cost options if your old motherboard is dead and you want to continue using the older platform with a second-generation Intel Core processor. The biggest advantage that the H61 chipset offers is the support for Ivy Bridge or third-generation Core series processors.
We have seen many affordable solutions by ASRock in the past—some of them have even been the most affordable options in the market. What we have with us today is the ASRock H71M-DGS, which you might want to consider if you’re on a shoestring budget to build a new PC.
The most affordable motherboard that supports Ivy Bridge processors
Features and design
The name of the model suggests this board is based on the Intel H71 chipset. However, Intel hasn’t officially listed this chipset yet. Simply put, it’s the same old H61 chipset with support for PCIe Gen3 (with Ivy Bridge processors). Other useful features include out-of-the-box support for Ivy Bridge processors and UEFI BIOS with a graphical user interface. This means unlike in the case of older non-UEFI BIOS, you will be able to use the entire capacity of hard drives greater than 2TB (with GPT partitioning).
The H71M-DGS offers bare minimum features needed to build an entry-level PC. ASRock has kept the list of features as short as possible so as to bring down the cost of this motherboard. This is quite evident with the lack of an HDMI port and PCI slots. The only expansion slot in addition to the PCIe x16 slot is the tiny PCIe x1 slot at the bottom. So, this board is a wrong choice if you have multiple expansion cards. The rest of the feature set is pretty much standard. You get four SATA 3Gb/s ports and support for up to 16GB of DDR3 memory via two DIMM slots. Note that the maximum memory speed supported with Sandy Bridge processors is 1333MHz, whereas the limit is 1600MHz with Ivy Bridge processors. The motherboard supports a total of 10 USB ports, out of which four are provided via a pair of headers placed at the bottom. Towards the bottom left corner are headers for Serial and Parallel ports should you need to use older peripherals that use legacy interfaces. However, you need to purchase the rear brackets separately.
No HDMI port on the rear panel
The rear panel features separate PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse, six USB 2.0 ports, D-sub and DVI video outputs, a Gigabit Ethernet port and jacks for 5.1-channel audio. The provision of an HDMI port would have been nice, but as we’ve already mentioned, it has been done away with to keep the cost low.
The layout of the motherboard is good. There’s ample clearance around the processor socket, which should help with air circulation. The PCIe x1 slot has been placed at the bottom so that it doesn’t get blocked if you install a dual-slot graphics card. The headers and SATA ports are placed right at the bottom (where they should ideally be) for easy routing of cables. But the SATA ports should have been placed facing sideways. The quality of components used is also quite good. ASRock has gone in with solid capacitors for important components such as the power phases for processor and memory. Only a few around the audio chip and the 24-pin power connector are of the electrolytic type.
The SATA ports should have been oriented sideways for easier cable routing
Test rig configuration
Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K
Memory: 8GB G. Skill RipjawsX DDR3-2133
Graphics card: AMD Radeon HD 6870
SSD: Plextor PX-256M2S
Power supply: Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold, 800W
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate, 64-bit
There’s very little difference in performance between motherboards based on the Intel H61 and B75 chipset. The latter would perform slightly better if a SATA 6Gb/s hard drive or SSD is used. Another advantage of the B75 chipset is the native support for USB 3.0 and not to mention the Intel Smart Business Advantage feature. Our test rig scored 4872 and 4488 points in PCMark 7 and 3DMark 11 respectively. Almost the same as you’d get with the same set of hardware setup on a B75 chipset-based motherboard. The same goes for the real world scores. It took 30 seconds to transcode a one minute MPEG video clip to H.264 and 17 seconds to ray trace an 800 x 600 image in POV-ray. The gaming scores reveal that the ASRock H71M-DSG can also be considered as an option for a budget gaming PC—it’s worthy of being fitted with a mainstream graphics card for casual gaming. The score of 32 fps in Unigine Heaven (synthetic test) was slightly less than the average score of 37 fps that most boards report. However, 36 and 51 fps in Crysis Warhead (1920 x 1080, Enthusiast, No AA) and Mafia II (Very High, No PhysX) were pretty much optimal.
Verdict and price in India
ASRock H71M-DGS is priced at Rs 2,650 and comes backed by 38 months warranty—two months more than the usual three-year warranty given by most manufacturers. It’s the most affordable motherboard for Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors, but that shouldn’t be the only criteria for buying a budget motherboard. You shouldn’t ignore other low-cost options such as the Gigabyte GA-H61M-DS2 (Rs 3,000) that offers two PCIe x1 slots and dual-UEFI BIOS. Then there’s also the Gigabyte GA-H61M-D2H (Rs 3,300) with four DIMM slots, HDMI output and two PCI slots. The ASRock H71M-DGS is great value for money, but consider it blindly only if you’re on an absolute shoestring budget that can’t be extended.
Updated 25 May, 2013, 12:48 pm IST
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