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AMD AM4 Ryzen Motherboard Buyer's Guide

By: Steven Bassiri | Guides | Posted: Jul 3, 2017 12:50 pm

Storage Considerations

 

The motherboard does many things, but one of its major functions is to facilitate storage. These days most builders tend to use an HDD for storage and an SSD for OS and applications, but there are now different levels of SSDs. No longer is the 2.5inch SSD the king of speed, as it's limited by SATA 3 (6Gbps) and its ~570MB/s limit. These days most of the faster NVMe storage devices come in the M.2 form factor, and they reach sequential read speeds (large file read) upwards of 3.5GB/s (almost seven times faster), which is actually the limit of the M.2 slot's bus. You want a nice x4 M.2 slot rated for 32Gbps, and almost every motherboard provides one. However, there are also many other motherboards that have more than one M.2 slot, but it's not as fast as the other slot. That is because the platform's PCI-E 3.0 comes only from the CPU, and the CPU only offers x4 PCI-E 3.0 for an M.2 drive, the other link goes to the chipset, which only offers PCI-E 2.0. I will explain later.

 

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SATA is still very relevant, and the X370 chipset offers up to eight SATA6Gb/s ports, while the B350 chipset offers a total of six. However, on many B350 motherboards, most vendors only implement four. The B350 chipset gets two fewer SATA6Gb/s ports than the X370 chipset, but both get two SATA Express ports that can be used as four SATA6Gb/s.

 

 

SATA Express is basically a PCI-E x2 connection over SATA, so I assume they reconfigure two SATA ports as PCI-E for other devices, which I assume is the reason most B350 motherboards only have four SATA6Gb/s ports. Some motherboards also offer a U.2 port, and by default, it must use x4 PCI-E 3.0, so it is always going to disable the x4 PCI-E 3.0 M.2 slot when it's in use (and vice versa).

 

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Some vendors add in SATA6Gb/s ports (SATA Revision 3.0) using a chip such as the ASMedia ASM1061 (which uses one PCI-E 2.0 lane to produce two SATA6Gb/s ports). The single PCI-E lane comes from the chipset. The most SATA ports I have seen on an X370 motherboard is ten as pictured above. The ASMedia ASM1061 is not going to offer the same speeds as the built-in ports, but it will be just fine for HDDs.

 

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Not all M.2 slots are the same, but the one pictured above offers 32Gb/s of bandwidth, but it's not super simple to know the bandwidth of an M.2 slot. M.2 slots all look identical, but they can come as 32Gb/s (x4 PCI-E 3.0 from CPU), 16Gb/s (x2 PCI-E 3.0 from CPU), 20 Gb/s (x4 PCI-E 2.0 from chipset), or 10Gb/s (x2 PCI-E 2.0 from chipset), or 6Gb/s SATA Revision 3.0 (from chipset). The best M.2 slot on any AM4 motherboard is that routed directly to the CPU's x4 PCI-E 3.0 meant for an M.2 slot, as it supports all types of M.2 storage devices. If you want to know what type of slots a motherboard you are researching uses, read the manual, it's a great resource.

 

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While the SoC does provide x4 PCI-E 3.0 for an M.2 slot, many motherboards offer a second M.2 slot that has to be routed to the chipset, but it's going to be a slower slot since the chipset only offers PCI-E 2.0. The slot on the left is routed to the chipset at x4 PCI-E 2.0, so 20Gb/s of bandwidth. That might be okay with a slightly slower M.2 drive like the HyperX Predator series (which are still almost 3x faster than SATA), but a super-fast Samsung 960 Pro can easily saturate it. You might not experience too much of a performance difference in real life unless you are transferring huge files. It's actually still very nice to have the second slot, so if you are going to go with a motherboard with two M.2 slots for storage, at least you can save some money on the second M.2 drive.

 

There are also other types of M.2 slots, such as the WIFI slot pictured on the right. All three M.2 slots pictured in this article are found on the same motherboard. I will mention that I have also seen second M.2 slots that only offer SATA6Gbps connections and only work with SATA based M.2 drives, so it's really important to read the manual before purchase.

 

 

USB Considerations

 

One you have chosen your storage devices (hopefully an M.2 NVMe SSD to really take advantage), then you can focus on connectivity such as USB 3.1. However, not all USB 3.1 is the same, and the components used can tell a lot about support and performance. All Ryzen SoCs are equipped with four USB 3.0 ports, so almost all motherboards put four USB 3.0 ports on the rear. However, the chipset also offers USB 3.0, X370 offers six extra and B350 offers two extra. All three higher tier chipsets provide six USB 2.0 ports. The X370 and B350 chipsets both offer two USB 3.1 ports.

 

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The rear IO on this motherboard is loaded with support for four USB 3.1 (10Gb/s) ports. USB 3.1 ports are sometimes red, sometimes teal, and sometimes even the same shade of blue. Blue ports are almost always USB 3.0 (5Gb/s). If you are wondering about motherboards with USB 3.1 Gen 1 and USB 3.1 Gen 2, don't be, they are just renaming USB 3.0 (5Gb/s) to USB 3.1 Gen 1 and USB 3.1 (10Gb/s) to USB 3.1 Gen 2. You can thank USB-IF for that name change late in the life of the USB 3.0 protocol. Not all type-C ports are USB 3.1 either; sometimes they could be USB 3.0 or even USB 2.0, so you will need to double check product specifications.

 

The motherboard above also has a special feature that allows you to control the voltage of the two yellow ports. Special feature ports, such as for BIOS flashing with a CPU installed, are usually indicated in specifications or the manual.

 

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The X370 and B350 chipsets each offer two USB 3.1 (10Gb/s) ports. However, they don't just directly connect to the ports on the rear IO, as 10Gb/s over a far distance requires redrivers. In the image on the left, we see a single Pericom PI3EQX1002BZLE, and it re-drives the USB 3.1 signal from the chipset and then feeds it to the ASMedia ASM1543, which is a type-C port switch controller. Every type-C port must use a controller, as type-C is reversible, but the pin assignment might change depending on the configuration of the client device. On the right, we have a type-C port switch chip, the Texas Instruments HD3220. The ASMedia ASM1143 is found on this motherboard; it provides two extra USB 3.1 ports in addition to the two USB 3.1 ports from the chipset. The ASMedia ASM1143 is, however, not the most current generation USB 3.1 controller.

 

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Here we see an ASMedia ASM2142 controller, which is newer and should perform better than the ASM1143. There is even a newer controller called the ASMedia ASM3142, but you won't find that on an AM4 motherboard as PCI-E lanes are sparse and the chipset already provides two decent USB 3.1 ports. The ASMedia ASM1143 is significantly more widespread than the ASM2142 on AM4 motherboards, but some select motherboards carry the ASMedia ASM2142. Most users won't notice the difference, as both controllers are still being fed PCI-E 2.0. You can find out what chip is used in the motherboard's manual or one of our reviews.

 

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Some motherboards offer features such as USB port power control or re-drivers to improve performance. I have found evidence of this on a few motherboards from different vendors, and they do implement hardware to do things such as offer fast charging or control USB port voltage. The circuit pictured on the left supports increasing of USB voltage for very long cables or disabling of power to reduce noise. The circuit on the right is designed for fast charging is offers 12v/1.5a (QuickCharge 2.0) and 5v/2.4a (Apple). If you need those features, so far I have looked and confirmed there is hardware to back up marketing claims. In the BIOS section, we will discuss another type of USB port, one designed to facilitate recovery BIOS flashing even without a CPU.

 

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There is also a new type of header to keep in mind, the type-C internal header that supports USB 3.1. It's brand new and not very common, but we will see it proliferate when case vendors start to implement the cables it in all their cases.

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