Today marks the day when you can finally buy a motherboard based on AMD’s B550 chipset. What exactly is a B550 chipset or B550 motherboard? Well it’s essentially bringing most of the higher-end features found on X570 motherboards to a more affordable price point.
AMD’s New Ryzen 3000XT Series
AMD is also rolling out a bunch of new processors for their lineup, specifically the Ryzen 9 3900XT, the Ryzen 7 3800XT, and the Ryzen 5 3600XT. Before I get into the specs, do keep in mind that all of these CPUs are using an updated and refined version of AMD’s 7nm manufacturing process. What does that mean exactly? Well looking at the differences between the Ryzen 9 3900X and the 3900XT, there really isn’t all that much going on here other than a small 100MHz increase in the boost frequency. This CPU will be priced at $500 USD, whereas you can find me 3900X for around $420 USD these days. But what this doesn’t show is that all XT versions will supposedly maintain a higher clock speed more consistently and for longer periods of time. According to AMD that will lead to raw performance increases of about 4%. The 3800XT follows the same mold, but it gets a boost frequency increase of 200MHz and a price of $400 USD. That is a pretty big jump since the 3800X is hitting around $330 USD these days, but don’t forget that CPU was officially launched at $400 USD as well. Finally, there is the Ryzen 5 3600XT and compared to the 3600X it gets a bump of 100MHz and a price of $250 USD. Another thing to note is that the 3600XT will be the only one that’s going to be shipped with a cooler, whereas AMD recommends an aftermarket cooling solution for the 3900XT and the 3800XT. Also these updated CPUs will start to go on sale on July 7th.
The B450 Chipset Is Staying
Back to the motherboards, I want to start off by mentioning something that I’m pretty sure most of you would think is pretty bad news, and that is AMD doesn’t want to replace B450 with B550. They will still be offering B450 motherboards while B550 will exist as a cut-down version of X570. That means most of these new motherboards won’t be able to hit the same kind of price points as the B450 models, which is under the $120 USD. As a matter of fact, we are going to start to see a lot of overlap between higher-end B550 motherboards and some lower-end X570 motherboards. And honestly, we think that this is going to cause a bit of confusion, so I decided to put together this article to explain the B550 and its platform, as well as walk you through some of the motherboard options that will be available out there.
Huge props to ASUS for agreeing to our crazy idea. Basically, they sent us their entire B550 stack so that we could do some proper comparisons and see what the new B550 motherboards offer compared to the B450 series. If you are interested in any of these motherboards I will leave links down below so you can get to them relatively quickly. There are a lot of great things to discuss, but I also have some concerns as well.
B550 Chipset Specs & Features
Let’s kick things off by taking a closer look at the B550 chipset and what it brings to the table when it comes to compatibility. Regrettably, if you have an older processor you can forget about upgrading to B550 without first upgrading your CPU too. This latest chipset is only compatible with 3000 series processors and upcoming next-generation CPU’s based on the Zen 3 architecture, but not APUs with integrated graphics like the 3000G series. It’s also important to note that next generation of desktop CPUs based on Zen 3 are supposed to be the last ones on the AM4 socket, so if you are planning to upgrade in the future B550 and X570 will likely only be viable for one more CPU generation. At first, AMD tried really hard to push people towards their newer chipset by blocking Zen 3 compatibility on X470 and B450 motherboards, but that caused a major outrage and now AMD has reversed course.
So what’s really new with B550? The obvious thing is PCIe Gen4 and a few other features, but first let’s start with the capabilities that come directly from the CPU. Earlier generation Ryzen processors could natively offer the platform four 5Gbps USB connections and 16 PCIe Gen3 lanes for graphics. There were also 4 PCIe Gen3 lanes dedicated to NVMe storage that could be broken into two NVMe lanes and a pair of SATA 3Gbps ports. The Ryzen 3000 series CPUs increased those capabilities in every way, instead of the four USB ports operating at 5Gbps, they were able to run at 10Gbps, and then there was the move to PCIe Gen4. For that you get 16 graphics lanes that some boards can divide into two x8 links for SLI or Crossfire, and there is an additional four lanes dedicated to NVMe storage. Those can also be separated into either a single x4 NVMe drive, two x2 drives, or a single x2 slot along with dual SATA ports.
One of the carryovers from B450 is the CPU to chipset interface, which sticks to four Gen3 lanes, whereas boards based on X570 get Gen4 support. The reason for that is pretty simple, B550 gets all of its PCIe Gen4 lanes from the CPU, the chipset that doesn’t natively have any itself, so there is no need for a higher bandwidth path between the two. X570 on the other hand offers a ton of PCIe Gen4 lanes from the chipset. What the chipset offers is the same number of USB connections as B450, but at the top-end there is a pair of native 10Gbps ports. The B550 chipset also offers six more flexible PCIe Gen3 lanes instead of Gen2, so there is more possibility of seeing higher bandwidth features like WiFi 6 added to these new motherboards. Meanwhile the number of SATA connections stay pretty much unchanged.
B550 Versus The Competition
What this all leads to is actually a serious problem for Intel. On many levels these B550 motherboards offer a very similar feature set to Z490 motherboards, while also including PCIe Gen4 and arguably support for a much better processor lineup. That concludes my overview of what you can expect from B550, but just like any other motherboard there is a pretty big catch. You see everyone needs to remember that it is ultimately up to the motherboard manufacturer to implement the full extent of B550’s capabilities. In order to save money and offer different products at separate price points, a lot of these features do tend to get cut-down on lower-end boards. That could mean that a higher-end B550 motherboard could end up offering more connectivity options than a mid-tier or a mid-range X570 motherboard, that’s something to think about.
This makes for a perfect introduction to the ASUS BB50 lineup. Now I do need to repeat this one more time, and that is generally B550 motherboards are much more expensive compared to B450. The reason for that is that PCIe Gen4 signaling requires upgraded PCBs, and a lot of these motherboard manufacturers are packing these boards with features like upgraded VRMs, more heatsinks to support higher core count CPUs, 2.5G LAN, WiFi 6, and a bunch of other stuff.
I want to kick things off with the lower-end Prime series, since their prices have increased the least from B450, but that means there is also less new features added as well. These models have an uptick of $20 to $25 and there is a new B550M-A motherboard that includes a WiFi 6 module. In this price range the micro-ATX form factor is really popular since it cuts down on price without killing off too many features. The B550M-K is pretty typical of what you would normally find in an entry-level board, but it isn’t something that I would want to run a Ryzen 9 CPU on. It does have PCIe Gen4 compatibility for a GPU and a single x4 M.2 slot. Those two items give some good future upgrade options. On the other hand, the Prime B550M-A is supposed to be the sweet spot, but to be honest with you I expect a bit more from a $135 USD motherboard. It actually looks a lot like the B550M-K, with the only differences being an expanded VRM design with heatsinks, two AURA RGB headers, and a single addressable RGB header. The one that I have here has an optional WiFi 6 module, which adds about $15 to the price. Personally, I would gladly pay a small premium for a WiFi enabled motherboard, but that’s just me.
Stepping things up, we are out of the mATX boards and into the full-size ATX B550-Plus model that is supposed to go for $150 USD. It has all the features from the smaller models, but there is also a Thunderbolt 3 header, a USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-C port on the back plate, and a second full-length M.2 slot. Just take note that like all of these B550 motherboards only the top M.2 slot has a high-speed Gen4 connection, while the lower M.2 slot has PCIe Gen3 and SATA support. Speaking of Gen3, that second PCIe x16 slot uses four Gen3 lanes from the chipset, while the top slot gets the CPU’s 16 PCIe Gen4 lanes. Oh, and the B550-Plus doesn’t have WiFi either.
Moving on to the B550 TUF series, and now is when we are starting to see some major price increases compared to the previous gen. Just so you know, I added the TUF B450 Pro models to the list since the new Plus series have features that align more with those than the B450 Plus models. I think these motherboards will be a good balance of price versus compatibilities. They aren’t as expensive as the ROG products, but they also offer more features, better overclocking, and a lot of other upgrades when compared to the Prime series.
I actually really liked the look of these new TUF motherboards, especially in the smaller, more compact mATX format, like B550M-Plus. It has an 8 + 2 phase VRM that is covered in massive heatsinks, one PCIe Gen4 x16 slot, and one PCIe x4 Gen3 slot, along with a single PCIe x1 slot. The M.2 area is interesting, but in an odd way. Even though PCIe Gen4 drives tend to run hotter than other NVMe SSDs, the top M.2 area with its Gen4 connection doesn’t have a heatsink, while the lower one does. Compared to the Prime series, the TUF boards also have an upgraded PCB with a 2 oz copper layer, a better Realtek audio controller, 2.5G LAN, a handy BIOS Flashback button, and in general just more connectivity. The sample that I have here is the B550M-Plus WiFi, which is identical to the standard B550M-Plus, but it has WiFi 6 and as usual you will need to pay a bit more for that.
The TUF B550-Plus is essentially a copy and paste of the mATX model but in a larger ATX spec. The only real changes are a longer M.2 slot, six SATA ports instead of four, a Key E M.2 slot for ASUS’ optional WiFi module, and two more PCIe x1 slots.
Strix ROG Models
Finally, we have come to the ROG Strix series. While these models are starting to get expensive even the flagship B550-E barely reaches a mid-level X570 price. For some people who want tons of features without going X570 a higher-end B550 motherboard might be the way to go. Another thing I need to highlight is the premium for WiFi is $20 here, even though both B550 models are otherwise identical. You also notice a lack of mATX options and the only ITX B550 motherboard that ASUS will be offering at launch. That is really too bad since it seems like ITX is now being considered a premium form factor by a lot motherboard companies these days. Let’s start with the mini-ITX models and see what you can get for $230 USD.
The ROG Strix B550i is just jam packed with absolutely everything ASUS could possibly fit into a smaller form factor. It has an 8 + 2 phase VRM that is actively cooled by a fan, and it also is the only motherboard in the entire lineup that supports memory speeds up to DDR4-5100. For connectivity, you name it and this motherboard has it, other than Thunderbolt that is. The larger boards do have a Thunderbolt header for an optional add-in card, but either way there is WiFi 6 and Intel 2.5G LAN port, plenty of USB 3.2 Gen2 ports, and a built-in I/O shield. The motherboard’s back is also pretty straightforward, but it is where the additional M.2 slot is.
Moving on to the B550-F, this is the lowest priced ROG board and I have to wonder if this thing will cut into some of ASUS’ X570 sales. It has a ton of features like 2.5G LAN, a 12 + 2 phase VRM that is fed by an 8 + four pin CPU power connector, a Thunderbolt header, and unlike the TUF boards both M.2 slots get heatsinks. These are all huge upgrades over the B450-F motherboard, but you also can’t forget that they have pushed this model’s priced by a good $60, or $80 if you add WiFi.
Finally, we have the King of the Hill, the Strix B550-E. You can think of this model like be B550-F on steroids. It has every feature that I have talked about up to now, with the addition of splittable PCIe Gen4 GPU lanes so you can run crossfire or SLI in x8/x8 mode. This is also the only board in ASUS’ B550 lineup that has a Q-Code Debug LED, a 14 + 2 VRM, and WiFi that you don’t technically have to pay extra for. With this motherboard you will need to seriously ask yourself if you need to pay extra for an X570 with the same feature set, or whether B550 is enough. From the way I see it the B550-E has more than most people would ever need in a motherboard.
To conclude, while B550 isn’t necessarily replacing B450 like everyone was hoping for, it certainly compliments those cheaper products. I should also mention that this is an interesting platform that bridges the gap with X570. In some cases I do wonder if some of these new B550 motherboards end up giving entry-level X570 motherboards are run for their money. Not only that, it’s also really difficult to consider spending money on a Comet Lake CPU and Z490 motherboard because that platform offers less than what the B550 platfor does. Either way, I’m excited for this new platform and I’m actually looking forward to working on some budget focused builds.
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