AMD and partners detail motherboards in the lead-up to Ryzen launch

AMD is gearing up for a Ryzen launch soon, and before we dive into some of the motherboard announcements from AMD’s partners, I’d like you all to pencil in 1 March 2017 as the potential Ryzen launch date. In AMD’s earnings call this week, Lisa Su said they’ll have “a full month of Ryzen sales on their balance sheet for Q1”, which means that along with their final architecture unveiling on 3 March at their GDC 2017 lecture, they’re putting up Ryzen, Bristol Ridge, and a good selection of motherboards up for sale on the first day of March. We don’t have long to wait. In the meantime, let’s drool together over some of the new motherboards that AMD’s partners confirmed yesterday!

ASUS has a new CROSSHAIR and AORUS board family

ASUS started off the presentation with their new CROSSHAIR X370 motherboard. CROSSHAIR as a brand has been around for ages, mainly reserved for the AMD family, and its return is quite welcome. ASUS introduced the Crossblade Ranger branding for socket FM2+ in 2015, but that motherboard may have been a bit too premium for some.

The CROSSHAIR VI HERO is an ATX motherboard for the AM4 platform, with SLI and Crossfire support, and a third PCIe slot at the bottom for use for PCIe solid state drives, running at PCIe 2.0 x4 speeds. The rest of the connectivity seems fairly standard – there’s space for an M.2 drive, native USB 3.1 with front-panel headers, 802.11AC WiFi, what appears to be an audio OPAMP and a DAC for better audio quality. Like similar boards on the Intel Skylake and Kaby Lake families, the CROSSHAIR VI supports 3D printed shields that can be screwed into the board, allowing for more personalisation.

ASUS also promised that they’d have a less premium, but no less high-end, PRIME X370 motherboard for enthusiasts who want all the necessary stuff that X370 offers without extraneous features. The PRIME X370 will be the most expensive offering in their mainstream lineup, sporting a black and white colour scheme, an isolated audio design, all the same fan controls as the Crosshair VI X370, and the same amount of connectivity. Interestingly, like MSI’s new Kaby Lake boards, ASUS motherboards will carry four-pin PWM headers, because software-driven fan controls are sometimes preferable over hardware fan controllers.

ASUS ended off saying that they’d have a complete lineup of motherboards ready for the Ryzen and Bristol Ridge launch, from the X370 family all the way down to the A320. Many of these boards will have compatibility with ASUS’s AURA, a software-driven command centre that matches up RGB LED products you may own to colour-code them from a single application.

Ryzen and Gigabyte AORUS to up the RGB LED  count even more

RGB LEDs are everywhere. They’re in your monitor. They’re in your keyboard and mouse. They’re in your mousepad. They’re in your cables, your motherboard, your graphics card, your RAM, your headset and power supply, and now Gigabyte is going to put more of them in your motherboard! Gigabyte showed off the AORUS AX370 Gaming 5, which comes with their latest version of RGB Fusion, a system that allows you to do much the same as ASUS AURA, but it doesn’t have an all-in-one control panel yet. On the AX370 Gaming 5, there are LEDs embedded into various places all around the board, as well as a light strip on the side of the board that lights up a piece of plexiglass.

Gigabyte told everyone that the plexi overlays would be available for people to purchase separately, but also noted that it would be possible to make one of your own. Lighting aside, the AX370 Gaming 5 looks like a fine board, with ten power phases dedicated to the CPU, SLI and Crossfire capability, and what looks like two SATA Express ports, just to cover all of the competing storage formats.

One new thing popped up that was new is Gigabyte’s second-generation USB DAC-Up 2 technology. This is Gigabyte’s approach to improving USB power throughput on AMD motherboards, and builds on the first version of USB DAC-Up which aimed to allow users to power more power-hungry headsets on the A88X G1 Sniper motherboard. DAC-Up 2 introduces configurable voltages to support devices that might need a smidgeon more power to operate properly. You can supply extra power to either the front or the rear USB 3.0 ports, up to +0.3V for peripherals like a VR headset.

Finally, while Gigabyte only had the AX370 Gaming 5 to show off during the presentation, they did promise to have a lineup of all-new motherboards under the AORUS brand at launch, all the way down to the mATX GA-AB350 Gaming.

MSI and Ryzen set to make another splash

MSI’s long-term partnership with AMD has lead to them being among the first board vendors to have launch products ready for the Ryzen release. MSI was the first to allow their socket AM4 boards to be photographed at CES 2017, and they have a full lineup waiting in the wings just like ASUS. MSI will have boards across their range, which is now separated into the Enthusiast Gaming, Professional Gaming, Arsenal Gaming, and Pro Series motherboards.

Like their Kaby Lake lineup, MSI is doing some interesting things, notably bundling a heatsink for M.2 SSD drives, having USB ports reserved for driving VR headsets, implementing a closed-off island for their RAM slots to improve stability when overclocking, and offering two metal layers that protect against ESD and electrical shorts. They’re ticking other applicable boxes as well with Mystic Light, a RGB LED syncing tool that works similarly to ASUS AURA. Just like ASUS and Gigabyte, MSI has on-board support for LED strip headers, and will colour-code your RGB products as closely as possible. They also talked briefly about their CPU cooler that has bracketed support for socket AM4, the Core Frozr L, which you can pre-order separately through Evetech.

Disappointingly, MSI didn’t show off any motherboards, but with any luck we might be invited to another local hardware launch in the coming months to see them in person. This is the first time in over a decade that both AMD and Intel have had similarly capable motherboard platforms, so MSI is probably spending a little more time getting things properly right before the Ryzen launch.

A brief discussion about CPU coolers and other things

Before closing the presentation and going to the Q&A segment, AMD spent a little time discussing CPU cooler options. Firstly, the good news – every motherboard on the AM4 platform, at least in the first year, will ship with a longer retention clip that allows coolers that use the now-ancient AM2 mounting system to work on the new chips. That means that any cooler that doesn’t use its own mounting system, like AMD’s Wraith cooler, do not need necessarily need to be replaced. All you need to do is replace the clip.

If you’re building a new system, though, your options are going to be limited. Only seven CPU coolers will ship with day one support for the AM4 socket, and the rest will either need new brackets, or will be replaced eventually with a redesigned bracket that covers Intel’s LGA1151 and AMD’s AM4 mounting system. Several companies, namely Cooler Master, Arctic Cooling, and Noctua have announced that they will have brackets separately available for some cooler models, which you’ll either have shipped to you for free, or pay for through a participating retailer. That makes building out a Ryzen system a little trickier, especially because no-one knows how AMD is handing the bundled cooler situation yet.

AMD noted that the X300 series chipset, separate from the X370, is mainly going to be used in mini-ITX motherboards designs, although an X370 chipset could be used on a mini-ITX board as well. The difference is mainly for power reasons, as the X300 might be less feature-packed. On a related note, a question posed to Gigabyte asked how many power phases should be used for systems that are going to be overclocked, and the reply was any motherboard with ten phases was probably enough for most overclocks. However, even the lowest-end A320 motherboards will have enough power to run the full-fat Ryzen eight-core chip with sixteen threads, so power isn’t an issue for any of the boards that will go on sale.

AMD also mentioned two new details that hadn’t been announced before. The first was that Raven Ridge, the Ryzen and Vega-based APU family, would ship with four cores and hyper-threading, which means that the top-end Raven Ridge chip will be possibly as powerful as an Xbox One APU. That’s pretty exciting! There’s also Windows 7 support for Ryzen across the range, because the platform is shared by Bristol Ridge, which has had Windows 7 support since its launch into the OEM market. This makes Ryzen an appealing choice for businesses who are looking at upgrading their computers, and with Skylake and Kaby Lake not officially on the supported hardware list for Windows 7, may make it the only choice for some.

AMD’s Ryzen processors will probably launch on 1 March 2017. You can officially board the hype train starting now!