AMD Ryzen motherboards explained: The crucial differences in every AM4 chipset
- 01 March, 2017 22:30
With the launch of Ryzen processors, selecting the correct motherboard is both easier and more crucial than ever.
First, the good news: AMD’s doing away with the frightful hodgepodge of motherboard platforms to unite around the AM4 socket with Ryzen CPUs, Bristol Ridge APUs, and all other chips released in the foreseeable future. Huzzah! But there are a wide variety of chipsets available for AM4 motherboards, and each unlocks different capabilities in your PC, from USB support to overclocking to how many graphics cards you can install.
Let’s examine what each AM4 chipset offers, so you can make the right decision when you buy a motherboard for your Ryzen processor.
Ryzen: More than just a processor
As you can see in the graphic above, Ryzen—and AMD’s Bristol Ridge APUs—actually resemble a system-on-a-chip design more than a traditional CPU. AMD’s processors integrate support for many interfaces on-chip, including SATA, USB, NVMe, and PCI-E.
The different AM4 motherboard chipsets build additional capabilities on top of that. Here are AMD’s slides describing each, though we’ll include our own easy-to-read comparison chart later in this article.
One thing to note: All of the standard motherboard options include support for two SATA Express ports and, well, SATA Express never really got off the ground. But those lanes can easily be repurposed by motherboard makers for other uses, such as traditional SATA III ports or M.2 support, so its inclusion isn’t worthless by any means.
Here’s the plain-English breakdown of what each motherboard offers beyond what’s available in the Ryzen chip itself, starting with the entry level boards and working up from there.
These are your basic, no-frills AM4 motherboards, intended for budget systems and (presumably) affordable big-box PCs from the likes of Dell and HP. These motherboards support a single 10Gbps USB 3.1 gen. 2 port, a pair of 5Gbps USB 3.1 gen 1 ports (augmented by the four USB 3.1 gen. 1 ports baked into Ryzen itself), and up to six USB 2.0 connections. The A320 chipset also supports a pair of SATA III and SATA Express connections, along with up to four PCIe gen. 2 lanes for additional PCIe devices, such as M.2 SSDs, third-party networking cards, and sound cards.
Crucially, while every Ryzen processor can be overclocked, A320 motherboards do not support overclocking. So if you want to squeeze more oomph out of your CPU, look elsewhere—something you might have to do regardless, since we have yet to see an A320 motherboard up for sale despite an appearance at CES 2017.
This will probably wind up being the sweet spot for PC gamers who stick to single-GPU setups. CPU overclocking is unlocked on B350 motherboards, and compared to the bare-bones A320 boards, this chipset packs in support for an additional 10Gbps USB 3.1 port as well as two more PCIe lanes for cutting-edge SSDs and whatnot.
The kicker here is that multi-GPU setups are not supported by B350. I’ve seen reports of specific B350 models allowing AMD CrossFire multi-GPU configurations—but that is not something you should count on. Here’s what AMD has to say about it:
Only AMD’s X370 and X300 chipsets support two PCIe 3.0 x8 graphics card slots with direct access to the processor. If multi-GPU setups are used on other socket AM4 chipsets, they will not have the same PCIe 3.0 bandwidth, and those configurations are not officially supported.
Here’s where the lofty 1 percent of gamers will want to aim. Compared to B350 motherboards, the X370 platform adds four more 5Gbps USB gen. 1 ports, twice as many SATA III connections, two more PCIe lanes, and—crucially, as detailed above—dual PCIe 3.0 slots to support CrossFire and SLI multi-GPU setups.
If you want to load your PC with all the latest and greatest technologies, AMD’s X370 motherboards are the way to go.
The AM4 socket also includes a pair of chipsets dedicated to mini-ITX small-form-factor PCs: X300 and A300/B300. These SFF chipsets don’t add any extra functionality on their own, relying instead on the capabilities integrated into Ryzen chips themselves.
The major difference between X300 and A/B300? The X series focuses on gamers and enthusiasts, with dual PCIe 3.0 slots and the ability to overclock your Ryzen processor. It doesn’t look like any of these mini-ITX boards will be available for Ryzen’s launch, however.
Do your homework!
You still want to do your homework if you’re looking for specific features in your Ryzen PC. AMD designed the platform for flexibility, and motherboards based on the same chipset may include slightly different configurations—not to mention the usual grab-bag of extra features (such as RGB lighting, fancy audio, and one-button overclocking) tied to individual brands like Gigabyte, Asus, et cetera.
This is AMD’s most monumental processor launch in damned near a decade, and there is significant ecosystem support behind it, with dozens of motherboards from Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, ASRock, and Biostar available on Ryzen’s March 2 launch date. Now that you know the basics of what each chipset offers, you can quickly narrow down your search for the perfect Ryzen motherboard for you.
No matter which motherboard you choose, it should last you a nice long time. Unlike Intel, which tends to change chipsets every other CPU generation, AMD’s planning to support the AM4 platform through 2020 at the very least. Stay tuned for PCWorld’s full Ryzen review—it’s coming sooner than later.