Now that the dust has settled a bit, it’s time to delve into our first AM4 motherboard review for AMD’s new CPU family and platform. Say what you will about AMD, but they sure know how to stir up conversations online, be it for better or worse. Ryzen is here, and this is what one of the better motherboards on the market for the platform looks like.
Socket and CPU support: PGA 1331 AM4 (Bristol / Summit / Raven Ridge CPUs)
Given just how many CPU and platform release cycles Intel has had from 2006, from when the domination began up until this point, I’ve always been aware of the fact that AMD would have a challenging time releasing to market without any hiccups. After all, it’s been years since AMD’s released a brand-new, high-end desktop platform, and even Intel’s launches, despite all their experience, don’t always go off without a hitch. For the most part, vendors couldn’t come up with problem-free motherboards for the X79 platform, for instance – though it has to be said that ASUS, above and beyond all other competing vendors, had functional and worthwhile X79 offerings. Most of the rest were just not up to the task, and it was only in the twilight of the platform’s life cycle that we reviewed a motherboard from EVGA which was capable. Even then, it was better than the rest, but still not up to the standard that ASUS boards offered from the first day.
AMD’s X370 chipset and AM4 platform differs in that it proved challenging for all vendors without exception. This is partially (if not entirely) due to the nature in which AMD has been interacting with its partners. It’s clear that AMD was pressed for time, having already missed the initial Q4 2016 launch window. One can only speculate that AMD’s much-anticipated Ryzen CPUs couldn’t afford to slip into Q2 2017, or perhaps even Q3. Thus, AMD did what they could to bring it to market, and today we’re looking at a work-in-progress platform for the most part. Of course, enthusiasts who wish to be at the forefront of desktop computing will take advantage of this and endure the teething issues. More casual users may be better suited waiting for a newer revision, or perhaps newer SKUs and future motherboards which will certainly bring this platform to where it was initially supposed to be.
With that said, this is one of those rare occasions where the most surprising, unassuming motherboard is also one of the most stable and desirable. This is, of course, the AORUS GA-AX370-Gaming 5. When this motherboard arrived, it featured the original F3 retail firmware and it had some issues to say the least. These were not unique to the Gaming 5, as other vendors had similar challenges. However, there was one particular bug related to some microcode which would cause the real-time clock to drift on the Gaming 5. As such, it was possible to get inflated performance figures from the Gaming 5, even though actual performance wasn’t any better. This was casually referred to as the “sleep bug”. Basically, when the PC was put to sleep or hibernated, it would resume normally, but the “clock drift” would have been triggered and as such, the system timer would operate slower than it should’ve. You’d not notice this if all you did was run performance tests. However, simple tasks such as playing a video or comparing a stopwatch with the system watch would reveal the issue.
That issue has fortunately been sorted out, and what we now have with the Gaming 5 is a stellar motherboard that not only delivers rock-solid performance, but has over the course of a few updates become one of the better, trouble-free offerings available for the platform.
Unlike some other competing boards, this one doesn’t feature an external clock generator, which means the DRAM frequencies are limited to the dividers or memory multipliers AMD has within the CPU. Memory can scale from DDR4 1,333MHz right up to 3,200MHz. It may prove a little challenging to get the memory above 2,933MHz though. However, once you’ve figured out the method with which to do this manually, you can reliably operate your computer at this frequency with no problems. Since that’s a performance discussion, we’ll deal with it later on. For now, let’s look at the aesthetic and physical qualities of the Gaming 5.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that it’s designed in a similar fashion to the AORUS Z270 motherboards. It features the same white-and-black colour scheme, and of course has full RGB LED programmability.
Just as with the other boards from AORUS, the Gaming 5 features a host of features which should make it appealing to the discerning gamer. It’s in many ways similar to the Z270X Gaming 7 (link to this review) we looked at a while ago. For your money, what you get is USB 3.1 Type-C / Type-A support and M.2 / U.2 drive connectivity (these can’t be used in tandem – using either one of these connections disables the other one). SATA Express is there as a legacy interface, and it’s outfitted with the usual SATA ports, so nothing unusual there. What’s worthy of your attention is the dual Gigabit Ethernet ports (one from Qualcomm, the other from Intel), which is rather odd for a motherboard at this price point. With that you also receive two of the newest Realtek ALC1220 codecs for your audio needs. This may not be as advanced of a codec as what Creative offers, but with the Sound Blaster software bundle, it does a more-than-respectable job. For your gaming and multimedia (is that still a thing?) needs, it really is more than enough.
As with their other recent boards, temperature monitoring and fan control has been overhauled, so not only do you have more temperature sense zones, but you have a total of seven fan headers. Thus, your fans can respond to a variety of temperatures accordingly, and this gives you great control over the noise level of your PC. You can control all these fans via the UEFI or within Windows. The RGB Fusion application works this way as well, with near full control available to you both in the UEFI and the operating system.
GIGABYTE hasn’t done anything radical here, and they’ve stuck to the formula that seems to have worked with their Z270 offerings. Given that this is their premium gaming board, many of these features were expected, so no surprises there.
On to more interesting things then, as it’s time to deal with performance. Seeing as this is the first AM4 board I’ve tested, it’s worth noting that many of the performance figures, while repeatable and accurate, do not necessarily represent how the chosen 1700X CPU will perform on another motherboard. You’d think this is a given, but there are some performance discrepancies (as you likely know) between competing boards and even online reviews. As such, take this as a representation of what the AX370-Gaming 5 in particular can deliver. A separate 1700X CPU review will follow in the coming weeks.
As mentioned earlier, because the Gaming 5 board doesn’t feature an external clock generator, memory frequencies and the reference/base clocks are fixed to 100MHz. So the only dividers available are the ones that are exposed by the CPU natively. Despite the reports, it’s unlikely that this will change with any kind of update. That said, 3,200MHz is still viable and well worth using as it has some tangible performance gains. Especially since the AMD infinity fabric is tied to this frequency.
AMD Ryzen 1700X
EKWB Predator X360
Skill TridentX DDR4 3866MHz 2x 8GB
GIGABYTE GA-AX370-Gaming 5 (F5c + F5f)
Samsung PX941 512GB M.2 SSD
NVIDIA TITAN X (Maxwell) – 1430/3800 (378.60)
Corsair AX1500i PSU
Windows 10 64-bit (build 15048)
Ambient room temperature: 27 °C
This isn’t shown in the screenshots, but it’s important to note that there’s a particular order in which overclocking must be undertaken. This is especially true for the F5c/F5b BIOS, and less of an issue with the most recent F5e/f update. What this essentially entails is changing one setting at a time and rebooting the machine. For instance, if you change your DRAM frequency from “AUTO” to “2400MHz”, that may cause the system to fail at POST and you’ll get POST Code LED errors like “F9” or “d2”. Usually the system will shut down several times and then recover. You’ll obviously want to avoid this, so the best thing to do is manually set the DRAM frequency to 2,133MHz, which is the same as the AUTO setting. It sounds unnecessary, but once the system is able to set the memory frequencies, you can go ahead and select the higher multipliers. Thus far it seems to be a fail-proof method for selecting speeds above the reference 2,133MHz.
Once that’s done, you can move on to the DRAM timings. Keep in mind that if, for example, you set CL15 or CL13 on your memory you’ll end up with CL16 or CL14. The reason for this is beyond the scope of this review, but it’s something of which you should be aware, so it’s best to stick with the even-number CAS latency values. This doesn’t apply to tRCD and tRP though, so you’ll be able to set 14-13-13-36 for example, but not 13-13-13-36.
That’s about the only thing you really need to know when it comes to overclocking and working with the Gaming 5. As stated before, there’s no external clock generator, so your tuning options are limited, which simplifies matters a great deal.
When looking at the results of the benchmarks, keep in mind that they were all done with the system using the balanced performance profile in windows. Popular advice is that one should use high-performance mode where possible, but that doesn’t always produce the desired result, and in some instances actually lowers the performance.
Moreover, while disabling SMT would normally boost performance, it isn’t as simple as enabling and disabling it in the BIOS as and when you need to boost gaming performance or are running highly threaded applications. You may need to power the system off completely and in some instances reset the CMOS to enable SMT mode again. This is an arduous task, and one that’s a lot more involved than simply enabling or disabling hyper-threading on an Intel system. As such there are no results with SMT disabled represented here.
As you can see, the AX370-Gaming 5 scales performance with memory frequencies rather well. We can only wonder what would be possible with an external clock generator for those higher memory speeds. This is something that the K5 model is apparently capable of. We’ll have to wait and see if that holds true. As it stands though, the AX370-Gaming 5 is a solid performer and is for the most part without issue. Once you get the system dialled in to your liking, it’ll bring out the best (within its constraints) in any Ryzen CPU. When the motherboard initially showed up, it had some issues, but with every firmware update it’s gotten better and the dreaded “sleep bug” is gone as well. Right now, it’s sublime and functioning not only efficiently, but with great stability too. There’s room for improvement, but if you were to go out and buy an AM4 board right now, this is certainly one of the better ones available. At the going price, there just isn’t much to dislike here. Initially this wasn’t a motherboard I’d have recommended, but things are very different now and it’s become somewhat of a gem. It’s definitely worth your time and spend. Looking for an AM4 board right now? Do yourself a favour and check out the AX370-Gaming 5.
Gaming features (Killer Ethernet and dual audio chips)
10 USB 3.1 ports
No external clock generator
9A solid AM4 motherboard that’s not only fast, but stable too, with plenty of features at a reasonable price for a premium AM4 board.