With how things have been in the PC DIY space over the last decade, I can comfortably say it’s been ages since I felt that there was an AMD platform motherboard that deserved a perfect score. After spending over a month testing the ROG Crosshair VII boards, however, I’m convinced that it’s unlikely to get much better for this generation than what ROG has put together here.
It’s near impossible to get anyone excited about a motherboard, as these things are, by and large, very similar to one another. By default, the reference boards that AMD and Intel provide to their partners (from which our retail boards are based) are already solid and ever-improving. That not only makes the vendors’ boards that much harder to justify, but it narrows and funnels the competition down to simply adding the most obscure functionality and nice-to-have features.
Given this environment, one would imagine that the minds at ROG would have their work cut out for them. After all, how do you follow up on the Crosshair VI – a board that was, for the most part, pretty close to perfect? Teething issues aside (in particular the rare signal corruption on early Crosshair VI offerings when flashing the BIOS), the Crosshair VI still remains the best X370 motherboard around.
True to ROG roots though, we have a successor that, believe it or not, is an improvement on the previous model in numerous ways. These improvements, combined with the latest firmware, may very well make it the fastest X470 board money can buy.
Let’s start with the power circuitry on the Crosshair VII series. The Wi-Fi and the non-Wi-Fi models are pretty much identical, except for the presence of a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth controller on the former. This generation of Crosshair has the VRM reconfigured in a way that optimizes thermal performance. The previous 8+4 power phase configuration (8 phases for the CPU core and an additional 4 phases for the SOC) has been revised, and in its place is a 10+2 configuration (10 phases for the CPU core and 2 phases for the SOC).
You still have 12 phases in total, but the difference in thermals is illustrated in the thermal imaging diagrams below. The previous 8+4 phase configuration essentially lined up the CPU phases in an L shape, concentrating heat in the middle of these components. Meanwhile, the SOC phases remained cool and, in reality, these were over spec’d. This led to higher-than-necessary temperatures for the VRM. It’s nothing you’d notice with the heatsinks on the motherboard, but it was a less-than-ideal situation nonetheless.
In contrast to this, the Crosshair VII employs even higher efficiency 60 amp IR3555 power blocks. The SOC phases have been reduced to two and are now placed between the CPU core phases, which means the entire system has better thermal balancing. In other words, we no longer have those annoying hot spots. Temperatures in the images show lower VRM controller readings by as much 12 °C, which is rather dramatic.
This won’t change how you use your computer at all, nor does it lead to a perceivably better computing experience, but it’s an example of how far the ROG team is willing to go in their attempt to differentiate their products from the rest of the market.
What may make a noticeable difference to your system’s performance are the new clock modes, or rather the addition of an asynchronous base clock. This allows the CPU to use one reference clock for the CPU and another clock for the DRAM and PCIe. As such, you can use the base clock to adjust frequencies without affecting PCIe device operation and DRAM frequency. It’ll be handy for extracting the most out of your overclocking, but more importantly it allows you to circumvent (in a roundabout way) the limitations imposed by AMD’s CPB and XFR2 mechanisms.
I will go into this in detail in another editorial, but suffice to say it’s a useful feature, especially for performance tuning.
Why this motherboard resonates with me (insofar as such a thing can, at least) is because of the built-in profiles and tuning options that the motherboard provides. All vendors have some sort of auto-overclocking options which facilitate this already rudimentary process. However, usually the approach to this is exceptionally basic and doesn’t really do anything that you couldn’t have done yourself in a couple of minutes.
On the Crosshair VII motherboards, this isn’t the case. You’ve got access to four different performance-boosting options. The first two essentially follow AMD’s specifications, but the ones you want to focus on are the last two. Naturally, these won’t work on every single CPU (especially the highest-level boost, which requires exceptional silicon quality), but even though I was testing an average CPU sample, I was still able to get the third level of performance enhancement functioning as expected.
This mode basically allows you to get maximum overclocking frequency while maintaining your XFR2 single-core / lightly-threaded frequencies. You can see the performance benefits of this in the charts, where this mode delivers far better performance than the system otherwise would. It isn’t a matter of just adjusting the multiplier either.
These options, along with the memory profiles (which I would strongly recommend you use if you attempt to tune memory) make for an exceptionally easy-to-use motherboard. In particular, it’ll be great for those who want to extract every last bit of performance from their system, but don’t want to sacrifice single-threaded or lightly-threaded application performance.
Returning to the physical aspects of the board, the Crosshair VII changes another small but useful function by providing much-improved voltage monitoring and using hole-through points for your digital multimeter rather than using surface pads. The important bit here is the improved voltage monitoring, because it means you get far more accurate readings than before. This isn’t just a wild claim either: I checked it numerous times, and with each firmware/BIOS update the reading precision improved, essentially matching the DMM readings. This increased precision is reflected not only in the BIOS, but in software as well. Whereas the previous board relied on the Super IO chip (SIO), the Crosshair VII uses a combination of sensors, including the CPU on-die sensor, the VRM controller’s reading, and differential sensing.
After all this, you may still be asking yourself if the Crosshair VII in any way offers better performance than the board it replaces. Well, the obvious answer to that is no. However, I would say that it isn’t a relevant question, as there’s nothing on any chipset or board that would magically make a system faster. Instead, great motherboards such as this one give you access to the ability to tune performance in incredible ways, via UEFI and sometimes Windows software. I would’ve liked to say that the second-generation Ryzen CPUs, along with the X470 boards, have better memory overclocking (for example), but this isn’t necessarily true. What is true, however, is that I’ve not seen any other motherboard reach DRAM frequencies as high as I’ve seen on this motherboard.
I’m not talking about the AMD DDR4 validation done on a Ryzen 2400G APU, but legitimately useful memory frequencies that can be applied to boost benchmarks and perhaps gaming. To that end, the best I could achieve on the Crosshair VII was DDR4 3,866MT/s, with the CPU cooled with liquid nitrogen. It turns out that 3,933MHz is also possible, again thanks to the detailed performance and memory tuning options made available on the Crosshair VII.
As far as extreme overclocking goes, there really isn’t a better motherboard out there – and it’s not just me who’s found that to be true. Right now, all the performance records for AMD’s second-generation Ryzen CPUs are based on the Crosshair VII, including the ones that I’ve managed, such as the 6GHz CPU frequency validation, GPUPI 1B at 2 minutes and 3 seconds (new record is 2 minutes and 2 seconds, done on the very same board), Geekbench 3 (50,481 multicore score), Cinebench R15 (2,622 points), and others. The overclocking credentials are strong with this one, which of course goes a long way towards achieving the perfect score.
For those who aren’t so much interested in the performance as they are in the aesthetics, you’ll be happy to know that the Crosshair VII features a new Stealth Mode. This mode makes all the indicator and AURA LEDs configurable, so you can have every single LED disabled if you so choose, or only enable the indicator LEDs, or have them automatically disable after system POST. This way you can have only the colours and LEDs you want active in your system, and the board won’t in any way interfere with your lighting scheme. It’s a small but meaningful change for case modders and anyone else who’s passionate about the look of their gaming build.
That pretty much summarises what the Crosshair VII is and what it brings to the table, especially compared to the outgoing Crosshair VI. It’d obviously make little to no sense for someone who already owns a Crosshair VI to go out and buy this board, but if the opportunity were to arise and you’re able to choose between the two, I would strongly recommend the Crosshair VII, and in particular the Crosshair VII Wi-Fi model, as the price difference between this one and the one without Wi-Fi is negligible.
Motherboards are generally a boring affair, but once in a while one comes along that’s truly worth your time and attention, and this is one such board. There’s almost nothing that I can find fault with here. As far as I can tell, this is the benchmark by which all other X470 (or any AMD platform for that matter) shall be measured. I’d say this is an instant buy.