So, you are looking to buy and build a Ryzen system, and you can't figure out which motherboard is the right fit for you. Well, breathe a sigh of relief because I am going to explain what to look for in an AM4 motherboard, down to the chip level, and I will explain my reasoning along the way. Many guides are high-level and superficial, and only say, "yea that motherboard has four USB 3.1 ports", but they don't tell you the quality/performance of the ports as there are so many different USB 3.1 hardware configurations.
The AM4 platform currently has a few chipsets in two categories. The first category includes chipsets with IO (SATA, USB, PCI-E), and the second just provide security features. The second set of chipsets is meant for small form factor PCs that use mini-ITX and pico-ITX motherboards, and they are significantly smaller than their IO-bearing counterparts. The X370 and B350 chipsets are some of the most popular, and this guide will focus on those two.
The X300 and A/B300 chipsets aren't out yet, but both will be tiny and only offer TPM, secure boot, and other security features. The X300 and X370 support SLI and CrossFireX. The CPU has a lot of built-in IO, including x16 lanes for GPUs, x4 USB 3.0 ports, system management capabilities, BIOS connection (SPI bus), SuperIO/Embedded Controller connection (LPC bus), and audio codec connection (AZ/I2S bus). The CPUs also offer up x4 PCI-E 3.0 lanes for an NVMe M.2 drive, or they can also be used for SATA. The chipsets that add IO provide USB 3.0, USB 3.1, SATA, PCI-E 2.0 lanes, support for more than one GPU, and overclocking. I have produced a rudimentary flow chart in case the table above doesn't provide enough information.
Pardon some of the logic flow within the chart. There are many different questions you have to ask yourself to decide which chipset you will use. If you need to overclock, you are stuck with the B350 or X370 chipsets (and X300), and if you want to run more than one GPU, you need an X370 (or X300) chipset motherboard.
The B350 is similar to the X370, but it does provide less USB 3.0, PCI-E lanes, and SATA ports. Many people decide to save money and go with B350 because they still get overclocking and USB 3.1, although you lose some extra IO and multi-GPU capabilities. The A320 chipset is really a more basic chipset that offers enough but doesn't go over the top. It's more suited for an office environment. Most people end up with and X370 or B350 chipset motherboard, but today I will focus mainly on X370.
What to Expect
This guide will go over the different layouts, systems, circuits, and features that different X370 and B350 motherboards provide. It will also provide insight into factors you should beware of, such as the fact that if you have two M.2 slots, one of them will run slower than the other. Some motherboards also have special designs to accommodate different things, such as a single USB or RGB header placed near the socket for easy access for Wraith Max cooler's RGB control wires. I will cover these differences between motherboards and different chips used, and attempt to rank certain things. This guide will not tell you exactly what model to buy, for that you have our reviews, but this guide will give you more insight into reviews, motherboards, and the AM4 platform in general.
I also strongly encourage anyone who is looking to buy a motherboard to download the user manual from the product website. Motherboard manuals are extremely useful, and vendors put a lot of effort into making them mistake-free. The manual will alert you to everything from switching and sharing of bandwidth to the type of fan headers used on the motherboard.
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