Chipsets and Motherboards: 300-series and AM4

Users keeping tabs on the developments of CPUs will have seen the shift over the last ten years to moving the traditional ‘northbridge’ onto the main CPU die. The northbridge was typically the connectivity hub, allowing the CPU to communicate to the PCIe, DRAM and the Chipset (or Southbridge), and moving this onto the CPU silicon gave better latency, better power characteristics, and reduced the complexity of the motherboard, all for a little extra die area. Typically when we say ‘CPU’ in the context of a modern PC build, this is the image we have, with the CPU containing cores and possibly graphics (which AMD calls an APU).

Typically the CPU/APU has limited connectivity: video outputs (if an integrated GPU is present), a PCIe root complex for the main PCIe lanes, and an additional connectivity pathway to the chipset to enable additional input/output functionality. The chipset uses a one-to-many philosophy, whereby the total bandwidth between the CPU and Chipset may be lower than the total bandwidth of all the functionality coming out of the chipset. Using FIFO buffers, this is typically managed as required. The best analogy for this is that a motorway is not 50 million lanes wide, because not all cars use it at the same time. You only need a few lanes to cater for all but the busiest circumstances.

If the CPU also has the chipset/southbridge built in, either in the silicon or as a multi-chip package, we typically call this an ‘SoC’, or system on chip, as the one unit has all the connectivity needed to fully enable its use. Add on some slots, some power delivery and firmware, then away you go.

Platform = SoC + Chipset (Optional)

The AM4 platform will cater for both Ryzen CPUs (Summit Ridge, SR) and the second generation of Excavator APUs (Bristol Ridge, BR). As a result, the capabilities of the two have share some commonality in order to be interoperable with the same motherboard products. As a result, there is only a few minor differences:

Here is Bristol Ridge, with eight PCIe 3.0 lanes for add-in cards, two SATA 6 Gbps, four USB 3.0 ports, two PCIe x1 lanes, and a PCIe x4 lane for the chipset. The chipset is optional, as those four lanes could be put to use elsewhere (or bifurcated into x1/x1/x2 as required) when extra IO is not needed.

What differs with Ryzen and Summit Ridge is numbers: sixteen lanes for add-in cards and four SATA 6 Gbps ports plus an x2 NVMe (or two SATA plus an x4 NVMe). What AMD is doing with AM4 is a half-way house between a SoC and having a fully external chipset. Some of the connectivity, such as SATA ports, PCIe storage, or PCIe lanes beyond the standard GPU lanes, is built into the processor. These fall under the features of the processor, and for the current launch is a fixed set of features. The CPU also has additional connectivity to an optional chipset which can provide more features, however the use of the chipset is optional.

PCIe is Fun with Switches: PLX, Thunderbolt, 10GigE, the Kitchen Sink

Another thing about the x16 link or x8/x8 links, rather than say a total of 28/40 lanes, is that it can be combined with an external PCIe switch. In my discussions with AMD, they suggested a switch that bifurcates a x8 to dual x4 interfaces, which could leverage fast PCIe storage while maintaining the onboard graphics for any GPU duties. There’s the other side, in using an x16 or x8 to x32 PCIe switch and affording two large x16 links.

Here’s a crazy mockup I thought of, using a $100 PCIe switch. I doubt this would come to market.


Ian plays a crazy game of PCIe Lego

The joy of PCIe and switches is that it becomes a mix and match game - there’s also the PCIe 3.0 x4 to the chipset. This can be used for non-chipset duties, such as anything that takes PCIe 3.0 x4 like a fast SSD, or potentially Thunderbolt 3. We discussed TB3 support, via Intel’s Alpine Ridge controller, and we were told that the AM4 platform is currently being validated for systems supporting AMD XConnect, which will require Thunderbolt support. AMD did state that they are not willing to speculate on TB3 use, and from my perspective this is because the external GPU feature is what AMD is counting on as being the primary draw for TB3 enabled systems (particularly for OEMs). I suspect the traditional motherboard manufacturers will offer wilder designs, and ASRock likes to throw some spaghetti at the wall, to see what sticks.

The AM4 Socket

One of the common perceptions of AMD is that they like to keep a socket for many, many generations. Both AM3/3+ and FM2/2+ have existed for at least three generations of CPUs a piece, and the main thinking here is that backwards compatibility was important. Because Ryzen requires DDR4 memory, enables PCIe, and perhaps some other magic, more pins and a new socket is needed, breaking that trend. The new CPU uses 1331 pins, up from the 939-941 we’ve had before, but essentially in the same dimensions, meaning that the pins are smaller and now easier to break / accidentally smear thermal grease into and not be able to get it out.

The socket then changes to accommodate the pins, however AMD is still using a zero insertion force (ZIF) method for contact. Which means every so often, if I have a good seal between the CPU and the heatsink, removing the heatsink also removes the CPU – not a critical issue, but not the preferred state of things.

The socket hole mounting does change however, from AM3 to AM4. On AM3 the dimensions were, center hole to center hole, 96mm x 48mm. This led to a very cumbersome rectangular design for sure. AM4 makes the design more square, down to 90mm x 54mm, but is still very square. With the new mounting holes, users will need brackets for existing CPU coolers or buy new coolers with the new brackets. More on that in a second.

It is worth noting that AMD has still kept the same mounting mechanism from AM3 for coolers that use a spring loaded mount on AMD’s plastic clips. So users with a spring loaded mount cooler, will still be able to use it as the plastic clip on the new boards is in the right place. Some motherboard manufacturers are also taking the initiative, and implementing both sets of AM3 and AM4 hole mounts such that the older coolers will be able to be used. However, using an older cooler might result in a few issues depending on the screw height, as reviewers have already been complaining about bad contact. In our review today, we used a Noctua DH-U12S SE-AM4 cooler that implements rails and then a secondary screw system, and it has none of the issues we just described. Ultimately all motherboards will end up just with AM4 holes, but it should facilitate smaller form factor motherboards where AM3 was perhaps too rectangular.

Coolers Supporting AMD Ryzen Processors in AM4 Form-Factor
Manufacturer Already
Compatible
Requires New
Mounting Kit
Upcoming
ARCTIC Alpine 64 Plus
Alpine 64 Pro
Alpine 64 GT
Freezer 7 Pro
Freezer 13
Freezer 13 Limited
Freezer 13 CO
Freezer Extreme
Liquid Freezer 120/240/360 (kit to be available in April) Freezer 12
Freezer 33
Be Quiet! Pure Rock
Pure Rock Slim
Shadow Rock LP
Dark Rock 3
Dark Rock Pro 3
Dark Rock TF
Shadow Rock 2
Shadow Rock Slim
Silent Loop
 
Corsair H60
H110i
H100i
All the remaining Hydro coolers.
Customers can claim their retention bracket here for free, no proof of purchase is required.
 
Cryorig - C1
R1 Universal/Ultimate
H5 Universal/Ultimate
H7
H7 Quad Lumi
M9a
C7
A40
A40 Ultimate
A80
 
Cooler Master MasterLiquid 240
MasterLiquid 120
MasterLiquid Lite 120
Hyper 212 LED Turbo
Hyper T4
Hyper TX3 (Plastics)
Hyper TX3 EVO (EU Ver.)
Hyper TX3 EVO (JP Ver.)
Hyper TX3 EVO
Hyper T2
Hyper 101 PWM U
BLIZZARD T2
BLIZZARD T2 MINI
MasterLiquid Pro Series
Nepton Series
Seidon Series
MasterAir Maker 8
MasterAir Pro 4
MasterAir Pro 3
Hyper 612 Ver.2
Hyper 412 Series
Hyper 212 LED
Hyper 212 EVO
Hyper 212 X
Hyper D92
 
DeepCool Beta 10
Beta 200ST
CK0AM209
Gammaxx
Gamma Archer
Ice Blade 100
Ice Blade 200M
Ice Edge Mini FS 2.0
Assassin II
Beta 11
Beta 40
Captain Series
Frostwin Series
Gabriel
HTPC-200
Ice Blade Pro 2.0
Lucifer Series
Maelstrom Series
Neptwin Series
 
Enermax   ETS-T50A-BVT
ETS-T50A-WVS
ETS-T40F-TB
ETS-T40F-BK
ETS-T40F-W
ETS-T40F-RF
ETS-N30R-HE
ETS-N30R-TAA
ELC-LMR240-BS
ELC-LMR120S-BS
 
MSI Core Frozr L    
Noctua NH-D15 SE-AM4
NH-U12S SE-AM4
NH-L9x65 SE-AM4
NH-C12P
NH-C12P SE14
NH-C14
NH-C14S
NH-D14
NH-D14 SE2011
NH-D15
NH-D15S
NH-D9L
NH-L12
NH-L9x65
NH-U12
NH-U12F
NH-U12P
NH-U12P SE1366
NH-U12P SE2
NH-U9
NH-U9B
NH-U9B SE2
NH-U9F
NH-U12DX
NH-U12DX 1366
NH-U12DX i4
NH-U9DX i4
NH-U9DX 1366
NM-AM4 upgrade-kit  
NH-U14S
NH-U12S
NH-U9S
NM-AM4-UxS upgrade-kit  

Anton helpfully put this table together of the recent public statements from the various cooler companies regarding support of users who currently own their products. The statements range from nothing yet to offering a free bracket with proof of purchase of CPU, to proof of purchase with cooler. We suspect more information will come out in due course.

Motherboards

There’s going to be a wide ranging mix of AM4 motherboards available, and AMD has already been promoting them as early as January. Recent reports put the number at around 80-85 boards (some for specific regions/customers), using either the X370, B350 or A320 chipsets. In the review samples that the tech press were given, it was a random allocation of either the ASUS Crosshair VI Hero, the MSI X370 XPower Titanium, the ASRock X370 Taichi or the GIGABYTE AX370 Gaming 5. Other vendors such as ECS and Biostar will also be joining the fray on the shelves.

Pricing for AM4 motherboards is expected to start from as low as $50 USD, all the way up to $350 and perhaps beyond. We’ll do a bigger motherboard analysis piece later.

Microarchitecture Thoughts and Comparisons AMD Stock Coolers and Memory: Wraith v2 and DDR4
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  • Crono - Thursday, March 02, 2017 - link

    A Hero Has Ryzen Reply
  • Sweeprshill - Thursday, March 02, 2017 - link

    Lived up to the hype. Ryzen is a beast. Intel needs massive price cuts on their 2011-v3 chips. Well done AMD, best price/performance CPUs on the market and as fast or faster than Intel performance. Reply
  • sans - Thursday, March 02, 2017 - link

    Hey, what you have found which features improving on AMD's crap has been found in Intel's products for years. Reply
  • Nem35 - Thursday, March 02, 2017 - link

    Yeah, and it's beating the Intel. Funny, right? Reply
  • Sweeprshill - Thursday, March 02, 2017 - link

    Yeah these new AMD chips are monsters. Wondering how large the price cuts are that Intel will bring to their 2011-v3 chips to compete. Reply
  • czerro - Friday, March 03, 2017 - link

    Intel already slashed prices pretty drastically 4 days ago, to kinda deflate Ryzen's release. Before price cuts, Ryzen had a huge price and performance advantage at all metrics, and Intel would have looked ridiculous.

    I can't believe people aren't reporting the price-cutting right before Ryzen release more. Intel only did it to save face on graphs and confuse people. Ryzen definitely had Intel by the balls a week ago before the price cuts.

    It's great that we all have options now, but this really smeared Ryzen's release in a cheap way that anybody can point out all those Intel chips were 100-200 dollars more expensive less than a WEEK ago.
    Reply
  • SodaAnt - Saturday, March 04, 2017 - link

    No, Intel hasn't slashed prices. There was a sale at microcenter a few days back, but there's no across the board official price cut on Intel chips. Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Monday, March 06, 2017 - link

    @ SodaAnt

    Agreed, I see no Intel price drops either.
    Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Friday, March 03, 2017 - link

    @ Nem35

    Incomplete review.

    After seeing a gaming-focused review, I'd say the AMD procs are just OK. I welcome AMD is back with a fighting chance, but about half my purchase choice will be game-inspired.

    Quote:

    "For gaming, it’s a hard pass. We absolutely do not recommend the 1800X for gaming-focused users or builds, given i5-level performance at two times the price."

    I'm not a 'fanboi', as I'd have no trouble fitting a 1700X in a build I wouldn't game in. But otherwise, like another reviewer said, its a hard pass.
    Reply
  • Alexvrb - Saturday, March 04, 2017 - link

    For gaming builds the upcoming Ryzen 5 and 3 series will offer a lot more bang for your buck and will compete much more aggressively. However, the Ryzen 7 still offers decent gaming performance and excellent performance everywhere else. The gobs of cores may come in handy in the future too, even in games - as more threads will be available on more rigs, devs will take notice. This year AMD is definitely lowering the pricing for 8-16 thread processors, clearing a path for the future of gaming.

    With that being said I still think that when strictly considering gaming, their Ryzen 3/5 quadcore models will be a far better value, especially as current-gen games aren't often built in such a way that they can take advantage of the Ryzen 7.
    Reply

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