The final article in our Motherboard Memory Lane series brings us right up to date with a look at the current AMD AM4 platform. AM4 series motherboards support AMD Zen architecture CPUs, a new platform which AMD hoped would finally elevate the company back into the upper-mainstream PC component ecosystem, a place that had been utterly dominated by Intel for most of the last decade. The platform arrived with a new socket, new chipset series, new AMD Ryzen CPUs and a newly invigorated sense of purpose. Let’s take a look at the key platform features, the motherboards that are currently most popular and the CPUs that are being used to make some very decent scores on the HWBOT database.
AMD Socket AM4: Overview
The first systems to use the AMD AM4 Socket were in fact built by OEMs HP and Lenovo in late 2016 who were given exclusive access to the new platform. It arrived with Bristol Ridge-based APUs that featured Excavator cores, the last iteration of AMD’s Bulldozer CPU architecture. As far as the mainstream DIY PC consumer and enthusiast space, it barely registered a blip on the radar. We were all far too preoccupied with waiting for Zen to arrive.
AMD’s Ryzen architecture CPU series finally arrived to much fanfare in March 2017. Using the AM4 Socket it promised a wholly more competitive platform from AMD for a number of reasons; support for faster DDR4 (finally), support for Simultaneous Multi-Threading or SMT (basically AMD’s version of Intel’s HyperThreading), lots of cores and decent frequencies. AMD promised performance that would be comparable to Intel’s Kaby Lake offerings. For the most part, they were proved right.
The new Zen architecture and its Ryzen branded CPUs were more integrated than ever before, effectively becoming a System-on-Chip design that could in fact be deployed in mobile PCs without any accompanying chipset. On the Desktop however, it arrived with a series of AM4 compatible 300-series Chipsets. The AMD enthusiast-grade X370 was joined by the more mainstream B350 and A320 desktop parts with the X300 and A300 chipsets added later as Small Form Factor specific parts.
As with previous generation AMD platforms, most of the traditional North Bridge functionality was added to the CPU itself. The AMD X370 essentially takes on the role of South Bridge. With AM4 we see this role reduced further; the X370 features 8x lanes of PCIe Gen 2.0, 4x SATA 3 (6Gbps), a pair of SATAe, plus an array of USB 3.1 and USB 2.0 ports. The CPU itself however is also armed with decent connectivity; 4x USB Gen 3.1 and 2x SATA 3 are joined by substantial NVMe / PCIe options. All which updates the platform in terms of connectivity features. In terms of graphics card support, the new Ryzen CPUs offered 16x lanes of PCIe Gen 3.0 support. The X370 chip is manufactured using the 55nm process and has a TDP of around 6W.
The AM4 Socket itself uses the same Zero-Insertion-Force design that has been used as far back as Socket A. It adds more pins than the previous AM3+ design, 1331 compared to 941, while still retaining the same dimensions. Hole mounting was changed from 96mm x 48mm to a more rectangular 90mm x 54mm design. This means that certain previous generation coolers are indeed incompatible. However, many cooler manufacturers have offered replacement brackets while some motherboard vendors use both mounting hole designs, allowing users to switch bracket placement accordingly.
Most Popular AMD Socket AM4 Motherboard, the ASUS Crosshair VI Hero
With our previous FM2+ article, we noted how ASUS had managed to win the hearts and minds of AMD enthusiasts with a top tier offering that stood head and shoulders above the crowd. The ASUS Crossblade Ranger perhaps set the tone for what the company has done with AM4 – producing a single ROG branded board that again stands way out in front in terms of submissions. As one might expect, the top ten list is dominated by ASUS, GIGABYTE, ASRock and MSI – the only four motherboard vendors with any real presence in the AMD sphere. Here’s the list:
- -ASUS ROG Crosshair VI Hero – 47.36%
- -GIGABYTE AORUS AX370 Gaming 5 – 10.76%
- -GIGABYTE AORUS AX370 Gaming K7 – 5.91%
- -ASUS PRIME X370-Pro – 5.78%
- -ASUS PRIME B350 -Plus – 3.19%
- -MSI X370 Gaming Pro Carbon – 3.10%
- -MSI X370 XPower Gaming Titanium – 2.78%
- -GIGABYTE AX370-Gaming 5 – 2.70%
- -ASUS PRIME B350M-A – 2.64%
- -ASRock X370 Taichi – 1.93%
The ASUS ROG Crosshair VI Hero rules the roost with authority, representing 47.36% of all AM4 submissions to date. ASUS prove again that just like Intel fans, AMD fans enjoy having a top tier gaming board with plenty of bling and blinding performance. GIGABYTE’s new AORUS gaming brand lags behind somewhat with two boards – the AORUS AX370 Gaming 5 and AORUS AX370 Gaming K7 taking second and third spots on the list, but only a combined 16.67% of all submissions. MSI have two X370 boards making up almost 6% of all submissions while ASRock cling on to its enthusiast position with a single Taichi branded board in tenth place.
Despite being the most used enthusiast AM4 motherboard on HWBOT, the ASUS ROG Crosshair VI Hero is not actually the most expensive. That would be the MSI X370 XPower Gaming Titanium which flirts pretty closely to the $300 USD mark while the ROG board can be had for around $250 USD. Both offer advanced features and copious product bundles, so why is the ROG board so damn popular?
In truth ASUS and its ROG team managed to woo enthusiasts and overclockers due to their dedication to making sure the product was capable of offering the best performance possible. Previous generation Intel and AMD platforms had not really given motherboard R&D departments too much hassle. Slight architectural tweaks and improvements from gen to gen were much easier to navigate compared to a wholly new architecture built from the ground up. The ROG Crosshair VI Hero arrived with a reputation for having the most mature BIOS at launch, support higher memory frequencies and offering the best out-of-the box overclocking experience possible.
This is how Tom Logan from Overclock3d.net explains the ROG team’s edge over the competition in his ROG Crosshair VI Hero review:
“In a roundabout way the Crosshair VI Hero is a return to form for the Republic of Gamers arm of ASUS. We’ll explain. Before Intel brought massive consistency to their chipsets and CPUs you could rely on ROG to be the motherboard of choice if you wanted to maximise your overclocking potential. They were very much the weapon for the serious tweaker.”
“Then Sandy Bridge appeared and every motherboard under the sun was capable of taking your CPU close to its limits. With the Ryzen CPUs being at the beginning of their lifespan the Crosshair VI Hero has stepped in to the old ROG spot of being the motherboard for anyone seeking to get their hands dirty in the BIOS to extract the maximum from their memory and CPU combination. So, as we say, it’s a return to where they used to be. A motherboard for the dedicated.
Find the ROG Crosshair VI Hero review from Tom Logan and Overclock3d.net here.
Most Popular AMD Socket AM4 Processor: AMD Ryzen 7 1800X
The AMD fan base had been waiting for Ryzen and the new Zen architecture to arrive for literally years. The sheer buzz around the platform from gamers, tech websites and YouTubers was at fever pitch by March 2017 when the new CPUs finally arrived. The platform landed on its feet with three Ryzen 7 CPUs available at launch; the Ryzen 7 1700, Ryzen 7 1700X and the flagship Ryzen 7 1800X. With Intel platforms it’s often easy to predict which particular model will be most popular with overclockers – the unlocked overclocking one. Seeing as all Ryzen CPUs arrived unlocked, we find that the most popular model is not quite as clear cut.
The flagship Ryzen 7 1800X is in fact the most popular model on HWBOT but unusually, by quite a fine margin. We can perhaps attribute this to the fact that all three Ryzen 7 models are pretty similar – the flagship model simply has slightly higher clocks, a situation that all overclockers know can be remedied with a little patience.
All three Ryzen 7 models are 8-core / 16-thread processors. They each feature 16B of L3 cache, 4MB of L2 cache and 16+4+4 PCIe Gen 3.0 lanes. DDR4 memory support starts at 1,866MHz with support of up to 2,667MHz available on most boards at this stage in the platform’s maturity. All Ryzen CPU are manufactured using the Globalfoundries 14nm process. Here’s a comparison chart from KitGuru.net which lays things out very nicely:
The Ryzen 7 1800X represents 27.48% of all AM4 submissions. The cheapest model, the Ryzen 7 1700 takes second spot with 25.75% of all submissions while the mid-range 1700X sits in third with 25.28% of the pie. As you can see, it’s all very tight. Many reviewers have argued that an overclocked Ryzen 7 1700 is the best bet for anyone who wants really good performance without splashing too much cash.
The Ryzen 7 series collectively accounts for 78.51% of all submissions. The Ryzen range was updated with subsequent Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 model series, neither of which have enjoyed much popularity with HWBOT members. The most popular Ryzen 5 chip is the 1600X with 9.66%, followed by the Ryzen 5 1600 with only 7.87%. The top tier Ryzen 3 1300X was used only 0.37% of all AM4 submissions.
AMD Socket AM4: Record Scores
We can now take a look at some of the highest scores posted on HWBOT using AMD’s Socket AM4 platform.
Reference clock overclocking may not be the most important benchmark in today’s world, however it remains an important way to determine a motherboard’s ability to perform well. The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT using the AMD AM4 platform involved an ASUS Crosshair VI Hero motherboard. It was used by German overclocker BenchBrothers.de who managed to eek out a reference clock of 150.98 MHz using an AMD Ryzen 7 1800X clocked at 3,986.01MHz (150.98 x 26.4).
You can find the submission from BenchBrothers.de here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/3492732_masterchorch_reference_frequency_rog_crosshair_vi_hero_150.98_mhz
Although raw CPU frequencies are not really treated as true benchmarks today, they remain an important performance metric for most overclockers. The highest CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT on the AM4 platform came from German OC guru der8auer who pushed an AMD Ryzen 5 1600X to 5,905.64MHz (+64.05%) using LN2 and an ASUS Crosshair VI Hero motherboard.
You can find the submission from der8auer here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/3518342_der8auer_cpu_frequency_ryzen_5_1600x_5905.64_mhz
Finally, we come to the classic SuperPi 32M benchmark, an important benchmark in terms of historical relevance. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT on the AM4 platform was submitted by French overclocker Orion24 who managed a run of 6min 54sec 960ms using an AMD Ryzen 7 1700X clocked at 5,287MHz (+55.50%).
Here’s a shot of the Orion24 rig in action:
Check out the submission from Orion24 here: http://hwbot.org/submission/3585625_orion24_superpi___32m_ryzen_7_1700x_6min_54sec_960ms
Thanks for joining us for our Motherboard Memory Lane series. Next week we hope to launch a new series of historical articles focused on GPUs. Until then, keep pushing!