Sometimes less is more, and when it comes to motherboards the mini-ITX form factor has some of the most enthusiastic fan club members. Small form factor systems are becoming more widely used as we’re ushered into a single graphics card setup dominated landscape. and in terms of features to price, the B550 chipset has some of the most cost-effective of any current desktop platform. One such board is the GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX which combines a wave of premium features combined with AMD’s B550 chipset. It includes compatibility for PCIe 4.0 devices with supported processors, dual PCIe M.2 slots, and 2.5 gigabit Ethernet. It’s time to give our verdict on it and see if it can cut it in a very competitive small is more market.
One of GIGABYTE’s most scalable ranges is its Aorus series, which typically aims its feature set and aesthetics at gamers. Often clad in RGB enabled heatsinks and componentry, the Aorus series is now GIGABYTE’s most widely recognizable range, which stretches from the larger E-ATX to small-sized mini-ITX offerings in motherboards, but also covers graphics cards, laptops, and all manner of other components.
Focusing on the mini-ITX form factor, the range on offer is considerably more competitive than the ATX market for a couple of reasons. The first is that there are much fewer small form factor models available, meaning manufacturers are limited in what they can do and need to strive to get the right solution, sometimes at the first time of asking. The second is that with less to choose from, it’s key in getting a model that fits the desired feature set and for the rest of the hardware to fit the whole aspect of a system build.
Less is more in some cases, but fewer PCIe slots available means less room for the addition of controllers such as networking, storage, and other devices. Focusing primarily on what the GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX has to offer, it blends subtle black and grey tones for an elegant look, with the board’s integrated RGB located along the right-hand side of the board for a rainbow infused under glow effect. While having a look that should fit into most systems in terms of aesthetics, the mini-ITX Aorus Pro AX has plenty of features. This includes a PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot located on the front and a PCIe 3.0 x4/SATA M.2 slot on the rear, with four SATA ports, and two memory slots capable of support up to DDR4-5100 memory, with a total capacity of 64 GB. Looking at networking, it uses a premium 2.5 GbE controller with a Wi-Fi 6 interface pairing. Simultaneously, the onboard audio solution is also good, which one expects from a mid-range model.
Putting the GIGABYTE through our testing suite, the B550I Aorus Pro AX performed well in the majority of our system tests, with good showings in all three power tests, as well as in our POST time testing. DPC latency performance was average at best, and it performed competitively when compared to other AM4 based models tested with our Ryzen 7 3700X processor in our CPU and gaming tests.
In our overclock testing, the Aorus Pro AX performed as expected, with its premium 8-phase power delivery consisting of six 90 A power stages for the CPU VCore, and two 90 A power stages for the SoC. We saw good VDroop control under load, with consistent performance increases in our testing as we ran each frequency. Even under full-load with lots of CPU VCore to stress the power delivery, it performed very well for a mini-ITX sized model, with competitive temperatures when compared to other AM4 models.
The GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX plays to the strengths of the X570 chipset, as a B550 mini-ITX board can only include so much, so it benefits from the small form factor with full PCIe 4.0 support as opposed to an ATX sized variant. At present, the B550I Aorus Pro AX is available at Amazon for $179, which is a little cheaper than MSI’s MPG B550I Gaming Edge WiFi model at $185, and ASRock’s B550 Phantom Gaming-ITX/AX at $200. All three of these models, including similar feature sets, including premium integrated audio, 2.5 GbE networking, and Wi-Fi 6 capabilities. The end decision could come down to performance, memory compatibility, and other aspects such as power delivery, rear panel I/O connectivity, which all three models include respectable offerings, but for GIGABYTE’s model, it’s time to see how it stacks up against other model’s we’ve tested.
Read on for our extended analysis and comparison tests.
Looking very closely at the GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX motherboard, it has a small but capable frame with a very neutral aesthetic. It employs a primarily black and grey design, with a silver combined chipset and front-mounted M.2 heatsink, with one section of RGB LED lighting, which lights up the board’s underside along the right. For users looking to add a little more pizazz, GIGABYTE includes an addressable and regular RGB LED strip pairing compatible with a lot of different RGB ecosystems, including Corsair’s iCUE and NZXT CAM. However, GIGABYTE has its own called RGB Fusion 2.0.
Despite being mini-ITX, the GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX has plenty to focus on. Looking at expansion support, there is a single full-length PCIe 4.0 x16 slot, with the capability to install up to one PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot on the front of the board, with a second slot on the rear of the PCB with support for both PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA drives. There are four SATA ports for SATA devices, which are all straight angled and sit directly below the 24-pin ATX 12 V power input. These SATA ports do include support for RAID 0, 1, and 10 arrays, and they don’t share bandwidth with any of the M.2 slots, even when SATA based M.2 drives are installed.
Users familiar with the mini-ITX form factor can appreciate that there will be limitations in connectivity, both internal and external. One of these is prevalent in its support for cooling, with just three 4-pin fan headers available on the B550I Aorus Pro AX model. One of these is dedicated to a CPU fan, while the other two are for chassis fans, although AIO pumps are supported through all three headers.
Memory compatibility looks strong with GIGABYTE’s official support for up to DDR4-5100 memory, with a total capacity of up to 64 GB. Both of the memory slots and the full-length PCIe 4.0 x16 slot come with PCIe armor, designed to reinforce the slot to avoid physical damage to the slots when installing hardware. This also gives the slots better structure for heavier components such as NVIDIA’s latest RTX 3090 graphics card, which is notoriously large and bulky.
For the power delivery, GIGABYTE is using an 8-phase design, which is being controlled by a Renesas RAA229004 PWM controller. The configuration is split into a 6+2 configuration, with six premium Intersil ISL99390 90 A power stages for the CPU and two ISL99390 90 A power stages for the SoC. On paper, this is one of the most capable mini-ITX models from the B550 models in regards to maximum power output to the CPU, with a maximum output of up to 540 A for the CPU. Delivering power to the CPU is a single 8-pin 12V ATX power connector.
The power delivery heatsink is interconnected to the M.2 and chipset heatsink, a common theme on mini-ITX models. It doesn’t include finned heatsinks, so it relies primarily on mass, although the heatsink’s top will catch airflow within a chassis. Unlike the X570 variant, there is no cooling fan above the chipset heatsink, which is a plus as it should be more than adequate without one.
The GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX is using a simplistic yet premium audio setup. It includes three Japanese Nichicon gold audio capacitors, with the driving being done by a Realtek ALC1220-VB HD audio codec. This is cramped in directly next to the end of the full-length PCIe slot, with no EMI shielding and no visible audio PCB segregation. There is also a front panel audio header, which is also powered by the ALC1220HD codec, although it is in this funny little position. This might interfere with the backplates on some of the larger graphics cards.
For a small board such as this one, it has an acceptable amount of connectivity on the rear panel, which is largely down to space restrictions. Starting with USB, the B550I Aorus Pro AX makes use of two USB 3.2 G2 ports, one Type-A, and one Type-C, with four additional USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports. While this in itself isn’t a lot, GIGABYTE does include a USB 3.2 G1 and USB 2.0 front panel heading pairing, which each allows a further four ports (two each) to be added to the system. The networking configuration is premium, with a Realtek RTL8125 2.5 GbE port, with two antenna ports for the Intel AX200 interface with Wi-Fi 6 and BT 5.0 support. Three 3.5 mm audio jacks are driven by a Realtek ALC1220-VB HD audio codec, while a trifecta of video outputs consisting of two HDMI 2.1 and a DisplayPort allows users to utilize the Ryzen 4000 APU’s. Finishing off the rear panel is a Q-Flash Plus button.
Unspringsingly, GIGABYTE’s B550 firmware is practically identical to its X570 models, as we’ve seen previously in our GIGABYTE X570 I Aorus Pro WIFI review. The GIGABYTE UEFI firmware for its AMD 500 series Aorus branded models follows a distinct black and orange theme, with white text and orange highlighting. Looking at the BIOS layout, GIGABYTE has split the firmware into two modes, easy mode for the beginner and advanced for the more experienced user.
Focusing on the Easy mode screen, which is the default screen when POSTing for the first time, displays basic yet relevant information about hardware installed. Towards the top is a list of information, including the motherboard model, the BIOS version (F11g for our test), and the processor and amount of memory installed. Users can select between the different types of devices to check if the hardware is installed correctly, including SATA, PCIe, and M.2 devices, as well as a basic list of Smart 5 fan details for the board’s three 4-pin fan headers. Along the right-hand side, users can select between different functions, including the advanced mode by pressing the F2 key, load up the Smart Fan 5 tuning utility by pressing F6, and the board’s integrated Q-Flash utility for updating the board’s firmware by pressing the F8 key.
The rest of the board’s firmware focuses on the Advanced mode, which can be done by pressing the F2 key. This allows users to select between various BIOS functions, including the Tweaker sections where all of the board’s CPU, memory, and integrated graphics overclocking can be done. Users can adjust CPU frequency, the base clock (BCLK), CPU VCore, among many other voltage settings, including CPU VDDP and DRAM termination voltages. This is also where users can enable XMP profiles at the click of a button or customize memory profiles further for performance tweakers. It should be noted the sweet spot for Ryzen 3000 processors is DDR4-3600, with an Infinity Fabric clock speed of 1800 MHz.
Overall, GIGABYTE’s Aorus UEFI firmware keeps things simple with the basic mode, with a basic looking, but the bountiful and endless list of configurable variables, most of which can be found in the Tweaker section. The firmware itself is responsive and offers users from both the novice and advanced spectrums plenty of options to work with.
All of the major motherboard vendors have equally impressive software packages, with various functions to use all of the boards primarily features. GIGABYTE includes plenty with the B550I Aorus Pro AX model, including the EasyTune software designed to allow users to overclock within Windows, the RGB Fusion 2.0 software to control the board’s RGB capabilities, and the System Information Viewer (SIV). The SIV software allows users to access the Smart Fan 5 utility within Windows and allows for system alerts for over-voltage and various temperatures.
The most prominent piece of software bundled with the GIGABYTE is the Aorus Easy Tune software. This allows users to overclock the memory and CPU within Windows, with plenty of voltage options and important CPU ratio and memory ratio settings. We still recommend all of the overclocking is done within the BIOS, but overclocking software has come a long way over the last decade, and Easy Tune is quite intuitive.
Unfortunately, GIGABYTE doesn’t include any audio software within the bundle, and users looking to make customizations will need to download the Realtek Control Panel directly from the Microsoft Store. Focusing on what is actually there, the bundle offers plenty of customizability. This includes the Fusion 2.0 RGB software for those adding additional RGB LED strips and the Realtek Gaming LAN manager for traffic shaping when used with the RTL8125 2.5 GbE port on the rear panel. It’s not the most comprehensive software suite we’ve seen over the years, but it’s more than enough for a sub $200 model aiming at the mid-range.
The GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX is a mini-ITX motherboard with a premium feature set and takes full advantage of its size regarding PCIe 4.0 support from the Ryzen 3000 and 5000 series processors. It has a single full-length PCIe 4.0 x16 slot from the CPU, with one PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot mounted onto the front of the PCB with a heatsink that doubles up to keep the B550 chipset cool. The second M.2 slot operates at PCIe 3.0 x4 and supports SATA drives, although this slot doesn’t include a heatsink. There are four straight angled SATA slots for other storage devices and peripherals, which include support for RAID 0, 1, and 10 arrays. The board features two memory slots with support for up to DDR4-5100 memory and a maximum capacity of up to 64 GB.
|GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro ITX Motherboard|
|Warranty Period||3 Years|
|Memory Slots (DDR4)||Two DDR4
Supporting 64 GB
Up to DDR4-5100
|Video Outputs||2 x HDMI 2.1
1 x DisplayPort 1.4
|Network Connectivity||Realtek RTL8125 2.5 GbE
Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6
|Onboard Audio||Realtek ALC1220-VB|
|PCIe Slots for Graphics (from CPU)||1 x PCIe 4.0 x16|
|PCIe Slots for Other (from PCH)||N/A|
|Onboard SATA||Four, RAID 0/1/10 (B550)|
|Onboard M.2||1 x PCIe 4.0 x4
1 x PCIe 3.0 x4/SATA
|USB 3.1 (10 Gbps)||1 x Type-A Rear Panel
1 x Type-C Rear Panel
|USB 3.0 (5 Gbps)||4 x Type-A Rear Panel
1 x Type-A Header (2 x ports)
|USB 2.0||1 x Type-A Header (2 x ports)|
|Power Connectors||1 x 24-pin ATX
1 x 8pin CPU
|Fan Headers||1 x CPU (4-pin)
2 x System (4-pin)
|IO Panel||4 x USB 3.1 G1 Type-A
1 x USB 3.1 G2 Type-A
1 x USB 3.1 G2 Type-C
1 x Network RJ45 2.5 G (Realtek)
3 x 3.5mm Audio Jacks (Realtek)
2 x Intel AX200 Antenna Ports
1 x Q-Flash Button
1 x DisplayPort 1.4 Output
2 x HDMI 2.1 Output
Focusing on the premium controller set, the B550I Aorus Pro AX features a Realtek RTL8125 2.5 GbE controller, with wireless connectivity coming via an Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6 interface which also includes support for BT 5.0 devices. The audio is handled by a Realtek ALC1220-VB HD audio codec which adds three 3.5 mm audio jacks to the rear panel, while USB support is limited due to the board’s size. This includes one USB 3.2 G2 Type-C, one USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, and four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports. Also on the rear panel is a pair of HDMI 2.1 video outputs, as well as a single DisplayPort 1.4 output, with a Q-flash button designed to allow users to update the board’s firmware without the need for a CPU or memory installed. Other connectivity includes three 4-pin fan headers, including one for a CPU and an addressable RGB and standard RGB LED header pairing.
As per our testing policy, we take a high-end CPU suitable for the motherboard released during the socket’s initial launch and equip the system with a suitable amount of memory running at the processor maximum supported frequency. This is also typically run at JEDEC subtimings where possible. It is noted that some users are not keen on this policy, stating that sometimes the maximum supported frequency is quite low, or faster memory is available at a similar price, or that the JEDEC speeds can be prohibitive for performance. While these comments make sense, ultimately very few users apply memory profiles (either XMP or other) as they require interaction with the BIOS. Most users will fall back on JEDEC supported speeds – this includes home users and industry who might want to shave off a cent or two from the cost or stay within the margins set by the manufacturer. Where possible, we will extend out testing to include faster memory modules either at the same time as the review or a later date.
|Processor||AMD Ryzen 3700X, 65W, $329
8 Cores, 16 Threads, 3.6 GHz (4.4 GHz Turbo)
|Motherboard||GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX (BIOS F11g)|
|Cooling||Corsair H100i 240 mm AIO|
|Power Supply||Thermaltake Toughpower Grand 1200W Gold PSU|
|Memory||2x8GB G.Skill TridentZ DDR4-3200 16-16-16-36 2T|
|Video Card||ASUS GTX 980 STRIX (1178/1279 Boost)|
|Hard Drive||Crucial MX300 1TB|
|Case||Open Benchtable BC1.1 (Silver)|
|Operating System||Windows 10 1909|
Readers of our motherboard review section will have noted the trend in modern motherboards to implement a form of MultiCore Enhancement / Acceleration / Turbo (read our report here) on their motherboards. This does several things, including better benchmark results at stock settings (not entirely needed if overclocking is an end-user goal) at the expense of heat and temperature. It also gives, in essence, an automatic overclock which may be against what the user wants. Our testing methodology is ‘out-of-the-box’, with the latest public BIOS installed and XMP enabled, and thus subject to the whims of this feature. It is ultimately up to the motherboard manufacturer to take this risk – and manufacturers taking risks in the setup is something they do on every product (think C-state settings, USB priority, DPC Latency / monitoring priority, overriding memory sub-timings at JEDEC). Processor speed change is part of that risk, and ultimately if no overclocking is planned, some motherboards will affect how fast that shiny new processor goes and can be an important factor in the system build.
|Hardware Providers for CPU and Motherboard Reviews|
|Sapphire RX 460 Nitro||MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X OC||Crucial MX200 +
|Corsair AX860i +
Not all motherboards are created equal. On the face of it, they should all perform the same and differ only in the functionality they provide – however, this is not the case. The obvious pointers are power consumption, but also the ability for the manufacturer to optimize USB speed, audio quality (based on audio codec), POST time and latency. This can come down to the manufacturing process and prowess, so these are tested.
For B550, we are running using Windows 10 64-bit with the 1909 update.
Power consumption was tested on the system while in a single ASUS GTX 980 GPU configuration with a wall meter connected to the Thermaltake 1200W power supply. This power supply has ~75% efficiency > 50W, and 90%+ efficiency at 250W, suitable for both idle and multi-GPU loading. This method of power reading allows us to compare the power management of the UEFI and the board to supply components with power under load, and includes typical PSU losses due to efficiency. These are the real-world values that consumers may expect from a typical system (minus the monitor) using this motherboard.
While this method for power measurement may not be ideal, and you feel these numbers are not representative due to the high wattage power supply being used (we use the same PSU to remain consistent over a series of reviews, and the fact that some boards on our testbed get tested with three or four high powered GPUs), the important point to take away is the relationship between the numbers. These boards are all under the same conditions, and thus the differences between them should be easy to spot.
The GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX performs well in our power testing, with solid results all around. We see a reading of 129 W at the wall at full load which puts it close to the ASRock B550 Taichi. In long idle and idle power states, it performed slightly worse than the GIGABYTE X570 ITX model, but it has a stronger controller set.
Non-UEFI POST Time
Different motherboards have different POST sequences before an operating system is initialized. A lot of this is dependent on the board itself, and POST boot time is determined by the controllers on board (and the sequence of how those extras are organized). As part of our testing, we look at the POST Boot Time using a stopwatch. This is the time from pressing the ON button on the computer to when Windows starts loading. (We discount Windows loading as it is highly variable given Windows specific features.)
Looking at our non-UEFI POST time results, the GIGABYTE currently sits as the second-fastest board from all the AM4 models we’ve tested so far. It even beats out the GIGABYTE X570 model and puts the MSI models bang to rights.
Deferred Procedure Call latency is a way in which Windows handles interrupt servicing. In order to wait for a processor to acknowledge the request, the system will queue all interrupt requests by priority. Critical interrupts will be handled as soon as possible, whereas lesser priority requests such as audio will be further down the line. If the audio device requires data, it will have to wait until the request is processed before the buffer is filled.
If the device drivers of higher priority components in a system are poorly implemented, this can cause delays in request scheduling and process time. This can lead to an empty audio buffer and characteristic audible pauses, pops and clicks. The DPC latency checker measures how much time is taken processing DPCs from driver invocation. The lower the value will result in better audio transfer at smaller buffer sizes. Results are measured in microseconds.
We test DPC latency at default settings right out of the box, and the GIGABYTE didn’t perform badly, but not quite as good as the vast majority of AM4 models we have tested.
For our motherboard reviews, we use our short form testing method. These tests usually focus on if a motherboard is using MultiCore Turbo (the feature used to have maximum turbo on at all times, giving a frequency advantage), or if there are slight gains to be had from tweaking the firmware. We put the memory settings at the CPU manufacturers suggested frequency, making it very easy to see which motherboards have MCT enabled by default.
For B550 we are running using Windows 10 64-bit with the 1909 update.
Rendering – Blender 2.79b: 3D Creation Suite – link
A high profile rendering tool, Blender is open-source allowing for massive amounts of configurability, and is used by a number of high-profile animation studios worldwide. The organization recently released a Blender benchmark package, a couple of weeks after we had narrowed our Blender test for our new suite, however their test can take over an hour. For our results, we run one of the sub-tests in that suite through the command line – a standard ‘bmw27’ scene in CPU only mode, and measure the time to complete the render.
Streaming and Archival Video Transcoding – Handbrake 1.1.0
A popular open source tool, Handbrake is the anything-to-anything video conversion software that a number of people use as a reference point. The danger is always on version numbers and optimization, for example the latest versions of the software can take advantage of AVX-512 and OpenCL to accelerate certain types of transcoding and algorithms. The version we use here is a pure CPU play, with common transcoding variations.
We have split Handbrake up into several tests, using a Logitech C920 1080p60 native webcam recording (essentially a streamer recording), and convert them into two types of streaming formats and one for archival. The output settings used are:
- 720p60 at 6000 kbps constant bit rate, fast setting, high profile
- 1080p60 at 3500 kbps constant bit rate, faster setting, main profile
- 1080p60 HEVC at 3500 kbps variable bit rate, fast setting, main profile
Rendering – POV-Ray 3.7.1: Ray Tracing – link
The Persistence of Vision Ray Tracer, or POV-Ray, is a freeware package for as the name suggests, ray tracing. It is a pure renderer, rather than modeling software, but the latest beta version contains a handy benchmark for stressing all processing threads on a platform. We have been using this test in motherboard reviews to test memory stability at various CPU speeds to good effect – if it passes the test, the IMC in the CPU is stable for a given CPU speed. As a CPU test, it runs for approximately 1-2 minutes on high-end platforms.
Compression – WinRAR 5.60b3: link
Our WinRAR test from 2013 is updated to the latest version of WinRAR at the start of 2014. We compress a set of 2867 files across 320 folders totaling 1.52 GB in size – 95% of these files are small typical website files, and the rest (90% of the size) are small 30-second 720p videos.
Synthetic – 7-Zip v1805: link
Out of our compression/decompression tool tests, 7-zip is the most requested and comes with a built-in benchmark. For our test suite, we’ve pulled the latest version of the software and we run the benchmark from the command line, reporting the compression, decompression, and a combined score.
It is noted in this benchmark that the latest multi-die processors have very bi-modal performance between compression and decompression, performing well in one and badly in the other. There are also discussions around how the Windows Scheduler is implementing every thread. As we get more results, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Point Calculations – 3D Movement Algorithm Test: link
3DPM is a self-penned benchmark, taking basic 3D movement algorithms used in Brownian Motion simulations and testing them for speed. High floating point performance, MHz, and IPC win in the single thread version, whereas the multithread version has to handle the threads and loves more cores. For a brief explanation of the platform agnostic coding behind this benchmark, see my forum post here.
For B550 we are running using Windows 10 64-bit with the 1909 update.
World of Tanks enCore
Albeit different to most of the other commonly played MMO or massively multiplayer online games, World of Tanks is set in the mid-20th century and allows players to take control of a range of military based armored vehicles. World of Tanks (WoT) is developed and published by Wargaming who are based in Belarus, with the game’s soundtrack being primarily composed by Belarusian composer Sergey Khmelevsky. The game offers multiple entry points including a free-to-play element as well as allowing players to pay a fee to open up more features. One of the most interesting things about this tank based MMO is that it achieved eSports status when it debuted at the World Cyber Games back in 2012.
World of Tanks enCore is a demo application for a new and unreleased graphics engine penned by the Wargaming development team. Over time the new core engine will implemented into the full game upgrading the games visuals with key elements such as improved water, flora, shadows, lighting as well as other objects such as buildings. The World of Tanks enCore demo app not only offers up insight into the impending game engine changes, but allows users to check system performance to see if the new engine run optimally on their system.
Grand Theft Auto V
The highly anticipated iteration of the Grand Theft Auto franchise hit the shelves on April 14th 2015, with both AMD and NVIDIA in tow to help optimize the title. GTA doesn’t provide graphical presets, but opens up the options to users and extends the boundaries by pushing even the hardest systems to the limit using Rockstar’s Advanced Game Engine under DirectX 11. Whether the user is flying high in the mountains with long draw distances or dealing with assorted trash in the city, when cranked up to maximum it creates stunning visuals but hard work for both the CPU and the GPU.
For our test we have scripted a version of the in-game benchmark. The in-game benchmark consists of five scenarios: four short panning shots with varying lighting and weather effects, and a fifth action sequence that lasts around 90 seconds. We use only the final part of the benchmark, which combines a flight scene in a jet followed by an inner city drive-by through several intersections followed by ramming a tanker that explodes, causing other cars to explode as well. This is a mix of distance rendering followed by a detailed near-rendering action sequence, and the title thankfully spits out frame time data.
Aside from keeping up-to-date on the Formula One world, F1 2017 added HDR support, which F1 2018 has maintained; otherwise, we should see any newer versions of Codemasters’ EGO engine find its way into F1. Graphically demanding in its own right, F1 2018 keeps a useful racing-type graphics workload in our benchmarks.
Aside from keeping up-to-date on the Formula One world, F1 2017 added HDR support, which F1 2018 has maintained. We use the in-game benchmark, set to run on the Montreal track in the wet, driving as Lewis Hamilton from last place on the grid. Data is taken over a one-lap race.
Experience with the GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX
When it comes to overclocking AMD’s Ryzen 3000, pushing them to even modest all-core frequencies can mean they run very hot. Even with the most recent Zen 3 based Ryzen 5000 processors, Robert Hallock, who is AMD’s Director of Technical Marketing, stated in response to a Redditor that they (Ryzen 5000) could quickly hit up to 95 degrees Celsius under full-load. According to Robert Hallock, this is a part of the design and should allow the Ryzen 5000 series chips to boost longer due to the higher temperature threshold, thus giving better performance all across the board. It is recommended that users looking to overclock Ryzen 3000, or even contemplate using the Ryzen 5000 series, do invest in adequate CPU cooling with premium AIO closed-loop coolers looking like the most strong candidates outside of the expensive custom liquid solutions on the market.
Focusing on our experience with the GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX, the firmware itself is user friendly and responsive as far as a BIOS goes. All of the relevant overclocking settings can be found within the Tweaker section, with options to overclock the CPU, iGPU, and memory all found here. Users can use the CPU ratio mode to make adjustments to the core clock speed, while fine tweaking can be done via the base clock under the CPU Clock Control option. For voltages, the CPU VCore is the most prominent option for pushing more juice to the CPU, while options to change the level of Load-Line Calibration of the 8-phase power delivery can be found under the CPU/VRM settings.
Memory overclocking can be done multiple ways, with X.M.P 2.0 profiles available by enabling the profile on compatible memory for ease of use. Other options for tuning the memory manually with the System Memory multiplier, altering the DRAM voltage, and a section dedicated to tweaking the memory timings. As we’ve previously noted in previous AM4 reviews, AMD recommends a maximum FCLK (Infinity Fabric Clock) to within 2:1 of the memory frequency, with the sweet spot sitting at DDR4-3600 with an FCLK of 1800 MHz.
Our standard overclocking methodology is as follows. We select the automatic overclock options and test for stability with POV-Ray and OCCT to simulate high-end workloads. These stability tests aim to catch any immediate causes for memory or CPU errors.
For manual overclocks, based on the information gathered from the previous testing, start off at a nominal voltage and CPU multiplier, and the multiplier is increased until the stability tests are failed. The CPU voltage is increased gradually until the stability tests are passed. The process is repeated until the motherboard reduces the multiplier automatically (due to safety protocol) or the CPU temperature reaches a stupidly high level (105ºC+). Our testbed is not in a case, which should push overclocks higher with fresher (cooler) air.
We overclock with the Ryzen 7 3700X for consistency with our previous overclocking tests.
Equipped with a solid 8-phase power delivery, the mini-ITX GIGABYTE performs pretty competitively in our overclocking tests. Not only is the B550I Aorus Pro AX more than capable of pushing a Ryzen 3000 beyond its limits comfortably, but it behaves very well in regards to VDroop in our manual testing. Our AM4 testing with the Ryzen 7 3700X stretches starts from 3.6 GHz and goes as far as we can in the headroom. Although our Ryzen 7 3700X, unfortunately, cannot do 4.4 GHz fully stable, 4.3 GHz is still a good overclock all-cores.
Our POV-Ray benchmark performance increased as we tested each frequency from 3.6 GHz to 4.3 GHz, with solid levels of VDroop control when comparing load CPU VCore to the values set within the BIOS. Naturally, as we increased the frequency, we saw higher temperatures a full load, but not as much when we upped the CPU VCore from 1.25 V to 1.30 and beyond. Power also crept up as we increased the frequency and CPU VCore, which is expected as more juice means more power from the wall.
One of the most requested elements of our motherboard reviews revolves around the power delivery and its componentry. Aside from the quality of the components and its capability for overclocking to push out higher clock speeds which in turn improves performance, is the thermal capability of the cooling solutions implemented by manufacturers. While almost always fine for users running processors at default settings, the cooling capability of the VRMs isn’t something that users should worry too much about, but for those looking to squeeze out extra performance from the CPU via overclocking, this puts extra pressure on the power delivery and in turn, generates extra heat. This is why more premium models often include heatsinks on its models with better cooling designs, heftier chunks of metal, and in some cases, even with water blocks.
Out method of testing out if the power delivery and its heatsink are effective at dissipating heat, is by running an intensely heavy CPU workload for a prolonged method of time. We apply an overclock which is deemed safe and at the maximum that the silicon on our AMD Ryzen 7 3700X processor allows. We then run the Prime95 with AVX2 enabled under a torture test for an hour at the maximum stable overclock we can which puts insane pressure on the processor. We collect our data via three different methods which include the following:
- Taking a thermal image from a birds-eye view after an hour with a Flir Pro thermal imaging camera
- Securing two probes on to the rear of the PCB, right underneath CPU VCore section of the power delivery for better parity in case the first probe reports a faulty reading
- Taking a reading of the VRM temperature from the sensor reading within the HWInfo monitoring application
The reason for using three different methods is that some sensors can read inaccurate temperatures, which can give very erratic results for users looking to gauge whether an overclock is too much pressure for the power delivery handle. With using a probe on the rear, it can also show the efficiency of the power stages and heatsinks as a wide margin between the probe and sensor temperature can show that the heatsink is dissipating heat and that the design is working, or that the internal sensor is massively wrong. To ensure our probe was accurate before testing, I binned 10 and selected the most accurate (within 1c of the actual temperature) for better parity in our testing.
For thermal image, we use a Flir One camera as it gives a good indication of where the heat is generated around the socket area, as some designs use different configurations and an evenly spread power delivery with good components will usually generate less heat. Manufacturers who use inefficient heatsinks and cheap out on power delivery components should run hotter than those who have invested. Of course, a $700 flagship motherboard is likely to outperform a cheaper $100 model under the same testing conditions, but it is still worth testing to see which vendors are doing things correctly.
Thermal Analysis Results
The GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX is using an 8-phase design that operates in a 6+2 configuration. It consists of six Intersil ISL99390 90 A power stages for the CPU VCore, and two ISL99390 90 A power stages for the SoC. (insert doubler). Cooling the power delivery is a large single heatsink that molds into the design of the board’s plastic rear panel cover and is connected to the M.2 and chipset heatsink. It relies primarily on brute mass and good passive airflow within a chassis.
Looking at the GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX’s power delivery thermal results in comparison to other AM4 models we’ve tested with our Ryzen 7 3700X processor, it performs pretty well all things considered. We typically see higher temperatures on mini-ITX motherboards which is a direct result of cramped componentry on a small PCB. Where an ATX size model can utilize PCB space to split power deliveries into two elements with one to two heatsinks to dissipate the heat more effectively, the GIGABYTE power delivery operates in a single strip with a single heatsink doing all of the heat removal.
We observed a reading of 61°C from our first K-type probe on the rear, with our second consistent with a slight variance of 59°C. This is also consistent with the reading from the board’s VRM temperature sensor of 61°C, which shows the heatsink is efficiently removing heat as our thermal imaging camera shows the hottest part around the socket reached just shy of 52°C. This is good for a mini-ITX model and it shows GIGABYTE has another highly efficient power delivery design on its hands.
As AMD has finally launched its Ryzen 5000 series processors, which we reviewed in early November 2020, it blew the competition away with its newly designed core based on the 7 nm manufacturing process. Not only has AMD taken the single-threaded performance crown from Intel comfortably, but there could still be uplifts in the future. Despite using the Ryzen 7 3700X in our AM4 testing purely for consistency, the Ryzen 5000 series is supported across various chipsets, including X570 and B550, and A520, with many recent roll-outs of new firmware for B450 and X470 models, albeit without support for PCIe 4.0.
Focusing on the GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX, and GIGABYTE has a pretty competitive offering for the mini-ITX crowd; in a trifecta of ways, including price, performance, and spec. The only PCIe 4.0 limitations to B550 on ITX are those that include two PCIe M.2 slots like this one, with one operating at PCIe 4.0 and the other reverting PCIe 3.0. The CPU drives the full-length PCIe 4.0 x16 slot, and that both NVIDIA and AMD have been consistently pushing users away from multi-card setups, which of course, mini-ITX isn’t compatible with. Other storage options include four SATA ports, all with support for RAID 0, 1, and 10 arrays as per AMD specification, and GIGABYTE has done a good job at utilizing space around the board.
The GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX is very well equipped for a mini-ITX board and drops potential space on the rear panel for video outputs, in fact, three including two HDMI and one DisplayPort 1.4 at the expense of USB connectivity. There is still a total of six USB ports on the rear panel, including two USB 3.2 G2 ports (A+C), with four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A too. The rear panel’s Q-Flash button also allows users to update to the latest firmware without having a CPU, memory, or GPU installed, which I tried for myself for the review, and it worked flawlessly. A method like this should exist for all boards, in my opinion, especially those that require an older CPU to flash to make it compatible for newer CPUs seen on models such as B450 with Ryzen 5000.
Putting it on our testing suite, the GIGABYTE performs well in most of our system based tests, with good power consumption in long idle, idle, and full-load, with fast booting times in our POST time testing. The DPC latency performance was sufficient but not groundbreaking, but on the whole, in our CPU and gaming tests, the B550I Aorus Pro AX was very competitive in all of our benchmarks.
Regarding overclocking performance, we saw similar performance to other GIGABYTE models, and unfortunately, we still couldn’t push our Ryzen 7 3700X beyond 4.3 GHz stable. Touching more on the specifics, the GIGABYTE has excellent levels of VDroop control at default LLC settings, and we saw nothing out of the ordinary. Even the VRM thermal temperatures were well within the expected range, which shows that GIGABYTE’s mini-ITX option doesn’t just look good, but it can handle its own under testing conditions.
GIGABYTE B550 versus X570 Models, B550I Pro AX Is a No Brainer
Looking beyond the striking similarities in design between the B550I Aorus Pro AX and the X570 I Aorus Pro WIFI, which we reviewed in March 2020, both share a near-identical PCB layout. The benefits of the newer B550I model, though, come through the power delivery, with a solid 8-phase design using the higher-spec Intersil ISL99390 90 A power stages over the 70 A variants the X570 model uses. While one of two PCIe M.2 slots is locked down to PCIe 3.0 x4, GIGABYTE hasn’t just improved the board for B550, but it’s priced much more competitively, and if users aren’t going to utilize the more expensive PCIe 4.0 drives, then B550I offers much better value all-around. Networking is also better on the B550I with a Realtek RTL8125 2.5 GbE port and Intel’s AX200 Wi-Fi 6 interface with support for BT 5.0 devices.
To summarize it up, I feel GIGABYTE has improved over its premium X570 mini-ITX model, and the B550 model even outshines it in regards to both specifications and price. The B550I Aorus Pro AX is currently on Amazon for $180, which is much cheaper than the X570 I Aorus Pro WIFI at $213. If a second PCIe 4.0 M.2 slot is necessary, then X570 is the way to go, but with better networking support (2.5 Gb v Gigabit), a better power delivery’s hard to look past the B550I Aorus Pro AX. It’s the cheapest premium B550 mini-ITX model, and GIGABYTE hits it right out of the park with a solid feature set, competitive performance, and an all-around good showing.