The latest Intel motherboard platform has well and truly launched with new boards hitting shelves as fast as your eyeballs glide over this page, bringing into focus the new H55 and H57 Express chipsets. There's not much to set the two apart, except for an extra two PCIe 1x lanes and support for Intel's Rapid Storage Technology (offering RAID and Native Command Queuing support), but thanks to the budget skew of the H55M-UD2H it's using the cheaper option.
The H55 Express is manufactured on a 45nm process, and is similar in pretty much every way to the current P55 Express chipset. A DMI link remains between the LGA1156 socket to communicate with the rest of the system, there's six SATA 2.0 ports built-in, 12 USB 2.0 ports, and Gigabit Ethernet support. An added Flexible Display Interface (or FDI) is used to take the two display outputs from the new Intel 32nm chips and pipe them out of the socket, which is the major improvement and change here. The H55 is mainly used as an interface hub for storage and other components, and is similar to the Southbridge on older platforms.
This chipset's influence can be seen in the IO panel of the board, where there are only six USB, PS/2, Firewire, hybrid eSATA/USB, Gigabit Ethernet and 7.1 channel audio - making room for DVI, VGA, HDMI and DisplayPort connectors. While again only two of these can be used at any one time, they're perfect for media duties. This motherboard seems one of the very few that has escaped GIGABYTE's crazy refresh, and doesn't have USB or SATA 3.0 due to expense.
Though this board is built as mATX it doesn't really feel cramped at all, with a digital PWM giving a surprising amount of room around the LGA1156 socket. Heatsinks aren't used to help in cooling them, but they didn't appear to need it. A single 4-pin power connector sits against the top edge of the board for CPU power, which should be plenty even when overclocking. The remaining components on the mobo are powered by a standard 24-pin ATX connector.
Two DDR3 slots lie pretty close to the LGA1156 socket, providing two channels that run at a stock maximum of 1333MHz. This can be increased manually with overclocking, but can also be used with XMP-capable kits of memory. As shown with the Everest memory tests in the table, bandwidth here isn't amazing - it's barely faster than the P45 platform, in both latency and read/write speeds. However, it's not bad for a H55 board.
Storage options sit next to the memory slots, providing IDE, Floppy and five vertical SATA ports. The sixth port available to the chipset has been rerouted to the IO panel, providing an eSATA port. Standard front panel headers lie in the bottom-right corner of the mobo, as well as more USB headers. In usual GIGABYTE style the audio header lies just behind the IO panel, which is an annoying-to-cable spot that is unlikely to be changed. A small heatsink covers the H55 chipset, but it became [i]very[/i] hot under use, and needs direct airflow if it's to remain stable long-term.
Overclocking went pretty well, with the BIOS in a mature form and every setting categorised for a very accessible layout. We hit a maximum speed of 4425MHz, which is pretty fast, scoring 13476 in Cinebench Multi. This board is a great bargain for all you're getting with it, and it's not a bad 'clocker either.