MSI H61M-E23 Motherboard Review

Posted Apr 28, 2011
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Imagine sitting in a chauffeur driven Mercedes S Class. You sit inside cut off from the sweltering heat of the outside world. The dull hum of the engine is all you hear while you take a sip of your favorite beverage. You look outside the tinted glass to see a line of cars both in front and behind you. You look at your watch and realize that you only have a bare minimum of a time before your flight takes off. A biker zigzags between cars and makes his way through the traffic jam. As you see him drive by you, you think “If only I had a bike”…
15 minutes later you are whizzing your way to the airport, while the bedazzled biker takes your place in the Merc.

Moral of the story? It is not always ideal to have the biggest and the best, what you need is what suits (your) situation the most. The same holds true for the product under the microscope today. It is not going to break any over-clocking records. But it will offer you a life time of stable performance. Enter the MSI H61M-E23 motherboard.

MSI (Micro Star International) has been in the motherboard business for a very long time. They cater to all strata of markets all the way from the entry-level products to the super enthusiast category. The real money is in the entry-level products, while the biggest margins are in the other extreme end. Thus it is necessary to focus on all the markets in order to stay competitive and keep the share holders happy. Read on to find out if the board is what MSI hoped it would be (read: a money maker)

The H61 Platform Controller Hub

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*This is a diagrammatic representation of a generic PCH and does not represent the H61.

The H61 platform controller hub (PCH) is an entry level chipset aimed at business and/or budget HTPC setups. The PCH offers support for all curent 2nd generation core processors (nee Sandy Bridge), support for HDMI display output, SATA 3.0 and 2nd generation PCI-e x16 slot. The ‘H’ series chipsets only offer graphics core over-clocking and no processor core over-clocking what so ever. This hold true for H61 as well.

None of the current chipsets for Sandy Bridge processors offer native USB 3.0 support. Board manufacturers use a third party controller (NEC) to offer USB 3.0 connectivity. Though this particular H61 board does not offer USB 3.0, MSI does sell boards in this series that do offer this feature.

Motherboard Specs

CPU (Max Support)

i3/i5/i7

FSB / Hyper Transport Bus

100MHz

Chipset

Intel® H61 (B3)

DDR3 Memory

DDR3 1066/1333

Memory Channel

Dual

DIMM Slots

2

Max Memory (GB)

16

PCI-Ex16

1

PCI-E Gen

Gen2 (1×16)

PCI-Ex1

2

PCI

1

SATAII

4

LAN

10/100/1000*1

TPM

1

USB 2.0 ports (Rear)

4

Audio ports (Rear)

3

VGA

1

HDMI

1

DVI

1

VGA Max Share Memory (MB)

1024

Form Factor

M-ATX

Motherboard Facts

Socket

LGA 1155

Processor

Support

All current LGA 1155 processors

Size

uATX

Memory

DDR3 (1333/ 2 Slots). Max 16 GB

Outputs

Video (D-sub/DVI/HDMI)

Slots

PCI-e x16(1); x1(2). PCI (1)

Over-clocking

Only Video Core

I/O

USB 2.0 (4 onboard) SATA 3Gbps (4 on board)

Box Art

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The motherboard comes in a very colorful cardboard box. The top of the box has the motherboard model and the all important “B3” revision label. The initial batch of x67 motherboards had a bad platform controller hub. Intel issued a mass recall and advises all of its partners to alter packing to notify customer that the product that they are buying is ‘bug’ free. Though this issue does not specifically affect the H61 chipset, the box still carries the logo. The center of the box has MSI’s branding for this product. As this is aimed at businesses looking to replace their computer, stability and quality take precedence over over-clocking and over the top features.

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The back of the box lists some of the more ‘exotic’ features of the board, which are only mentioned in ‘passing’ on the front. The board features ‘OC Genie’ which can help “boost system performance in 1 second”. The second feature is the inclusion of a ‘quick boot’ (Linux based) operating system called Winki3. The back panel also lists the board’s spec and the fact that it is HDMI ready.

Accessories

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The board is bundled with a spartan set of accessories. There is the all important back-plate together with the software disk. Two SATA cables are also included in the box. A user’s manual (in several languages) and a quick start guide completes the list. The manual is well written and illustrated though at times it might get a little confusing as it is aimed at more than one product.
Considering this is a relatively inexpensive board (less the US$100 Rupees 7000), one would not expect the board to come with a long list of extras. Whatever is included is enough to set up a basic requirement PC.

Motherboard Design

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As has already been mentioned this is a uATX format motherboard. The PCB is black in color which is an oddity for what is basically a budget board. Usually they come in various forms of greens, but MSI probably decided to pay extra attention to aesthetics.

Back Panel IO

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The back panel has a complete suite of video connectivity options. You have your standard D-sub for CRT monitors, DVI for LCDs and HDMI for LCD monitors or TVs. This is very advantageous as it is possible to use the board in a wide variety of display settings. The board can also be used as a media box/HTPC. There is the usual PS/2 connector along with 4 USB 2.0 ports and the gigabit Ethernet port. The audio connectors complete the back panel. It is possible to drive a multi-speaker audio setup either via HDMI uplink or via the audio ports.

Socket Area

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The socket (manufactured by Lottes on this board) is pretty much what you would expect from a basic board. The LGA 1155 socket is surrounded by power regulation circuitry which is all bare. As the H61 chipset (or all H6x chipsets for that matter) do not allow any processor core over-clocking none are thus required. The board uses a mix of standard and solid capacitors which again is very typical of all manufacturers in this tier of boards.

As there are no over-sized heat sinks it is be possible to use after market cooling (especially top down coolers) for silent HTPC operation. It might be possible to use a solution like Noctua NH-C14 without its fan for a home theater PC based on this board and an entry level Sandy Bridge processor. As the location of mounts for LGA 1156 and 1155 sockets are the same, the same mounting mechanism can be used for both these platforms.

Platform Controller Hub

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The platform controller hub is located in front of the PCI-e 1x slots. It is covered by a diminutive heatsink. Though the heat sink is flat and thus will not interfere with extra long expansion cards, it is very unlikely that any 1x expansion cards come this long. A dual slot PCI-e x16 graphics card will also fit comfortable over the heat sink.

Memory Slots

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The board comes equipped with 2 DDR3 memory slots. Each can accept up to 8GB memory. The board works with 1333MHz as dictated by the Sandy-bridge processor specification. The memory slots are pretty close to the PCI-e x16 slot. It will not be possible to install memory sticks once a (longish) video card is installed.

Expansion Slots

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There are 4 expansion slots in total. A standard x16 PCI-e slot for discrete graphics. Two PCI-e x1 slots and one PCI slot. The x16 slot is PCI-e 2.0 compliant. The controller lanes for the x16 slot come from within the processor core itself, while the rest are located in the PCH (platform controller hub).

Storage Connectivity

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The H61 chipset only offers SATA 3.0Gbps connectivity. Two right-angled and two vertical SATA ports allow 4 devices to be connected. The two right-angled ports are a welcome sight. Again boards catering to this segment, usually, do not offer these ‘luxuries’.

Fan And Miscellaneous Connectors

There are two fan connectors, one for the processor fan (4pin PWM controlled) and one 3 pin connector located next to the 24pin power connector. There are USB (for 6 more ports), front panel audio and button/LED connectors along the right edge of the board. A nifty beeper is located in front of the PCI slot.

Design Impressions

The black color of the PCB and right angled SATA ports are things that are usually not seen on board sold in this price segment and thus earn MSI brownie points. The board also supports Intel Trusted Platform Module (TPM). The board is well constructed using standard components. There is nothing that comes to mind that might hinder installation. Over all it’s a well made board with some very handy features.

EFI

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The motherboard offers a ‘no-frills’ version of EFI. The board comes with American Megatrends Aptio (which is their name for ‘EFI’). There is no graphical user interface. The EFI is, however, mouse driven and is easy to navigate using this or the standard keyboard.

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EFI offers support for graphics core over-clocking (more on this a little later). It also offers the ability to change processor multiplier to the maximum Turbo available (38 on core i7-2600K). Unfortunately this has no effect on clock speed. MSI is not the only manufacturer that offers this redundant feature. Asus is just as guilty here.

There are minimal stability issues in the EFI. MSI offers a bios update on its website. It is recommended for anyone with issues regarding boot drive priority or functionality to update the EFI. There are some nagging issues, but nothing major and will probably be sorted out in a future EFI revision

Update

We had a couple of issues with the EFI programmed on the motherboard. These were not major, stability breaking issues but were present none the less. We reported these issues to MSI and within a couple of days had a brand new EFI which solved almost all the issues. Kudos to MSI for responding quickly.

Bundled Software

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The motherboard comes with MSI Control Center an application aimed primarily at over-clocking either manually or automatically. Unfortunately as this board supports only video core over-clocking changing many of the settings has no (or detrimental; read BSODs) effects. The application can also be used to monitor temperatures.

Update

As with the EFI, these issues were reported to MSI. There is a new version of Control Center which solves problems with the application. The OC Genie now only works on the graphics core, leaving the processor core. We have yet to fully explore the utility but MSI assures us that the program is now usable with the board. Again MSI’s quick response is appreciated.

Over-Clocking

As has already been mentioned only graphics core over-clocking is possible using the ‘H’ series PCH. Using a Core i7-2600k we were able to over-clock the graphics core to a respectable 1.55GHz (from 850Mhz. The graphics core can also turbo to higher frequencies if it does not exceed its thermal limits).

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The impact of over-clocking on performance as well quick-sync will be explored in another article. The rest of the article will focus on motherboard performance.

CPU-Z

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Testing

As this motherboard will primarily be used in a business/ productivity setup, the benchmarks used will reflect this as well.

System Specs

Motherboard

MSI H61M-E23

Asus P7H55-V

Processor

Intel Core i7-2600K

Intel Core i5-530

Intel Core i5-750 *for PC Mark Vantage

Video

Intel Core i7-2600K Video Core

Intel Core i5-530

Memory

Kingston 2x2GB DDR3-1333 (Both Systems)

Hard Disk

Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB (Both Systems)

Benchmark

PC Mark Vantage, Winrar (-V3.80), 7Zip Benchmark, Crystal Mark (USB Benchmark)

HD Tach (SATA Benchmark)

OS

Windows 7 (Service Pack 1)

Legend

H61M

MSI H61M-E23

P7H55-V

Asus P7-H55-V

Pc Mark Vantage
Rather than using all the benchmarks in this suite, Productivity and Hard-disk (HDD) tests were run. This best represents typical usage for this motherboard.

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The difference in productivity scores is greater as compared to the Hard-disk scores. This shows that most of the gains are due to the use of a newer processor design, while I/O components perform on about the same level as on the older board. This makes sense as the PCH on the H61 is based on the ICH10 used on the H55.

Winrar

A 400 MB file, which represented a mix of documents, charts and presentations, was compressed using version 3.8 of Winrar. The settings used are shown below:

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The massive difference in results is largely due to the difference in processor used. It does show improvement that an organization can gain when switching from last generation’s processor.

7-Zip

7-Zip is a popular free compression utility. It can gauge system performance by running an inbuilt benchmark for both compression and decompression. The compression benchmark result is shown below:

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Again most of the difference between the two results is down to the processor used.

Usb Benchmark
To test USB performance we used Crystal Mark. The results from sequential (read) tests are shown below:

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The difference between the two is negligible. This is understandable as both of them use the same controller setup.

Sata Benchmarks
Using HD-Tach we compared the performance of SATA interface. The average read speed is shown:

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The results are nearly similar which is again due to the similar nature of hardware as far as the SATA connectivity is concerned.

Conclusion

When I began this article I pointed out the fact things should be seen in their own light. This motherboard does well enough in its designated role. It is stable and will comfortably take its place in a office work hog machine or media machine. There is no USB 3.0 or SATA 6Gbps. The former is available in the E33 variant of the board. The latter is a chipset limitation. Adding an aftermarket controller would add to the cost and MSI already has boards with both (though in a higher price bracket). Couple this with the fact that MSI is actively pursuing ironing out the minor quibbles makes this a nearly perfect product.

If you are in the market to replace your productivity PC or want to setup up a HTPC this motherboard might be right for you!

Pros

  • Stability
  • Very good support (prompt updates to EFI/ Software)
  • Right angled SATA ports
  • HDMI connectivity
  • Over-clocks graphics core
  • PCB color
  • Price

Cons

  • Upgrading old hardware will require a new CPU (and/or RAM).

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