The most affordable motherboards for Intel Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors are those based on the Intel H61 chipset, which has reached the end of its life. The latest from Intel is the B75 chipset and it will power low-cost motherboards for second and third generation Intel Core processors. It’s a bridge between H61 and the latest 7-series chipsets supporting Intel vPro technology.
Unlike large enterprises that use sophisticated IT infrastructure and high-end PCs, small businesses prefer entry-level PCs and less expensive infrastructure, which don’t feature sufficient management features. The most striking feature of the B75 chipset is the support for Intel Small Business Advantage, which would be a boon for small businesses without a managed network. It’s a simple out-of-the-box solution designed to enhance productivity and reduce downtime.
Top motherboard brands, such as Asus, Gigabyte and MSI are already out with motherboards based on the B75 chipset. The one that reached us first was the Gigabyte GA-B75M-D3H.
The H61 chipset lacked support for USB 3.0 ports, SATA 6 Gb/s and PCIE 3.0. The B75 supports all of these natively, plus the maximum memory speed supported is 1600 MHz, as compared to 1333 MHz supported by H61. The type and number of expansion slots depends on the manufacturer. The B75M-D3H features two PCIE x16 slots out of which the second one runs at x4 bandwidth. The only multi-GPU mode supported is CrossFireX – there’s no mention of SLI or Lucid Virtu anywhere on the packaging and user’s manual.
Diagram of the B75 chipset
Two headers supporting two USB 2.0 ports each are placed at the bottom of the board, along with headers for parallel port, front audio and front panel switches and LEDs. A header supporting a pair of USB 3.0 ports is placed next to the 24-pin ATX main power connector. Six SATA ports are placed at the bottom right corner of the board out of which two are colour-coded white and oriented sideways. However, only one of the white SATA port runs at 6 GB/s and the other one is a 3 GB/s port. Gigabyte should have placed all the SATA ports sideways for easier cable routing and colour-coded the single 6 Gb/s port for easy identification.
The rear panel sports three video outputs (D-Sub, DVI and HDMI), four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a common PS/2 port (keyboard and mouse) and jacks for multi-channel audio.
Except for a few minor flaws the layout of the B75M-D3H is very good. There’s ample clearance around the CPU socket, the RAM slots are well-spaced and all the headers are placed at the bottom, so that no cables run across the board. We have already pointed out the issue with the placement and colour-coding of SATA ports. Another issue is the possibility of RAM slot clips hindering installation of the graphics card in the first PCIE slot. You have to make sure all the clips are in locked position or else they will come in the way or even break while installing a graphics card.
Software monitoring utility
The Intel Smart Business Advantage application is bundled on the driver disc. When you first run the software, you have to specify a password and e-mail settings, in case you wish to have to logs automatically mailed to you. The main screen has five main components:
Energy Saver: This feature allows defining the time period for which the user is away so that the PC can be in Sleep mode to save energy. You simply have to set the sleep and wake up time using the drop-down boxes.
PC Health Center: This allows small business owners to easily schedule maintenance tasks, such as Windows updates, disk defragmentation and deletion of temporary Internet files. These tasks run at scheduled times even after the computer is turned off.
Control over USB devices connected to the system
Software Monitor: This module detects and monitors antivirus and security suites installed on the computer. These include Norton 360, Trend Micro, Kaspersky Internet Security and even Microsoft Security Essentials. An e-mail is sent to the user, if the monitored security application is disabled or compromised.
USB Blocker: This feature can be used to protect the computer from possible threats using external storage devices that connect to the USB port. It also allows defining which other USB devices can be connected – audio/video devices, digital cameras, wireless controllers, printers, and so on. Further, there’s an exception list to which allowable devices can be added. This module too allows logs to be sent via e-mail.
Data Backup and Restore: This module allows launching Microsoft Backup and Restore application at scheduled times. Like PC Health Center, this feature too uses hardware-based functionality to automatically wake up the PC, if it is shutdown at the scheduled time.
Although limited, these features can be very useful to small business owners to enhance productivity, save energy, reduce downtimes and automate tasks during non-business hours.
Test rig configuration
Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K
Memory: 8 GB 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
Given the same set of hardware, the scores delivered by this motherboard or a Z77 motherboard with default settings would be very close. The biggest advantages offered by Z77 chipsets are support for overclocking and a richer feature set. Our test rig logged 4921 and 4377 points in PCMark 7 and 3DMark 11, respectively. It took a little under half a minute to transcode a 1 minute MPG video to H.264 format, and around the same time to compress 100 MB of assorted files to 7Zip format using highest compression and encryption. The gaming performance was very good and this board is ideal for entry-level gaming PCs. At 1920x1080 with ‘very high’ quality, Crysis Warhead and Mafia II reported 36 fps and 51 fps, respectively. The overall performance is very good and we didn’t face any instability issues with the B75M-D3H.
Verdict and Price in India
At Rs. 4,900, the Gigabyte B75M-D3H is a bit on the higher side as compared to H61 motherboards that are still available for under Rs. 5,000. Even H67 motherboards with USB 3.0 and SATA 6 GB/s ports are still selling for less than the price of this motherboard. However, older generation motherboards will soon disappear after which the next most affordable option would be those based on the B75 chipset.
The latest B75 motherboards are best fit for entry-level home and office PCs and budget gaming PCs. Small business owners with up to 99 PCs and unmanaged set-up have an added advantage offered by Intel SBA support. If you ask us “which is a good budget motherboard for Ivy Bridge?”, we’d give a thumbs up to the Gigabyte B75M-D3H.
Gigabyte offers three more models based on the B75 chipset. Here's some information on it.
Gigabyte B75M-D3V (Price: Rs. 4,800)
A scaled-down variant of the B75M-D3H with two less RAM slots, no HDMI output and a different combination of expansion slots (1x PCIE x16, 2x PCIE x1 and 1x PCI). The only extra feature is the inclusion of a parallel port on the rear panel, which might be handy for those still using older peripherals.
Gigabyte B75-D3V (Price: Rs. 5,500)
This model can be considered as a full ATX variant of the B75M-D3H, but without HDMI output. What you get extra are a few additional expansion slots (2x PCIE x16, 3x PCIE x1 and 2x PCI) and an mSATA slot.
Updated 23 May, 2013, 8:22 am IST
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