Finally, AMD’s more budget-minded B550 motherboards are on sale. A lot has been said about the B550 chipset and all of the supporting boards for weeks, and we can now share our findings with you. The MSI B550M mortar, the MSI B550 Tomahawk, the Gigabyte B550 Aorus Pro and the Gigabyte B550 Aorus Master are available for testing today.
As before, our focus will be on testing VRM thermal performance with the aim of finding the best B550 boards that will comfortably support the Ryzen 9 3900X and 3950X as these processors will provide useful second-hand upgrade options later . Unfortunately, we don’t have any of the entry-level B550 boards right now, but these will come at some point.
Before we start testing, let’s briefly discuss why B550 motherboards are more expensive than expected. For this discussion, we’ll be using the MSI B550 series as a reference for several reasons: they had some of the best B450 boards with Tomahawk and Pro Carbon, we have two of their new B550 boards to test, and they also provided us with a detailed breakdown of theirs entire B550 range, including VRM configurations and pricing.
The previous generation B450 Tomahawk hit shelves for around $ 110 and typically sold for $ 110 to $ 120 over the course of its life. The most expensive MSI B450 board was the Pro Carbon, and it sold for around $ 130 to $ 140. Because of this, the prices for the new B550 boards haven’t been well received: the B550 Gaming Carbon WiFi is $ 220 while the new B550 Tomahawk gets you $ 180. The B550M mortar we have on hand is $ 160, the Gaming Plus $ 150, the A Pro $ 140, and the Bazooka $ 130.
On the surface these prices are pretty shocking, but once you start looking at what these boards are on offer, you will find that the price hikes are not nearly as extreme as they first appear. Now we are not trying to defend price increases, we are always pushing for better prices, but we are happy to do so while being realistic in our demands.
The main reason the B550 range costs more than the B450 is simple: it’s much better. The B550 Tomahawk, for example, is not just the B450 Tomahawk with the newer chipset. This is where branding can get a little tricky as the Tomahawk name doesn’t target a specific price. The Z490 Tomahawk is $ 180, the X299 Tomahawk is around $ 250, and the X570 Tomahawk is $ 200. What are some of the reasons the B550 version of the Tomahawk is ~ $ 60 more than the B450 version?
Although it was one of the best B450 boards in terms of VRM quality, the Tomahawk was still a base board with a 4 phase Vcore with doubled discrete On Semiconductor Mosfets. The same VRM can be found on the $ 130 B550M Bazooka. The B550 Tomahawk, on the other hand, has been upgraded beyond every B450 board with a massive 10-phase Vcore VRM with 60A Intersil power days – the same applies to the excellent X570 Tomahawk, which offers two more power days for a 12-phase vcore VRM. In theory, the B550 Tomahawk has 83% of the current capacity of the X570 Tomahawk.
In terms of features, you get an additional M.2 slot that supports PCIe 4.0 SSDs, and of course the primary PCIe x16 slot also supports PCIe 4.0. Other features include USB 3.2 Gen 2, 2.5 Gigabit LAN, front USB Type C, M.2 shielding, better circuit board, pre-installed I / O shielding, much larger VRM cooling for the larger VRM, a better board layout and generally just a higher quality motherboard. There really is no comparison between the two generations as they are at completely different tiers and the pricing reflects that.
This means that the closest ATX model to the B450 Tomahawk is the B550-A Pro. It costs $ 140, or ~ 20% more, but you get more motherboard again. The VRM uses many of the same components, there are just more, and now doublers are included, creating a 10-phase Vcore VRM with 25% more power capacity. There are even more functions on board. USB 3.2 Gen 2 and PCIe 4.0 are also included here. There are two additional USB ports on the I / O control panel, and you get USB Type-C support from the front. The VRM heat sinks are bigger too and you get a better PCB with 2 ounces of thickened copper. The ~ 20% premium doesn’t sound unreasonable given these upgrades.
The MSI B550M Bazooka costs $ 130, slightly more than the B450 Tomahawk, and has the same VRM. However, it still offers an additional M.2 slot that supports PCIe 4.0 x4 bandwidth, front USB Type-C, and the thickened copper board, although USB 3.2 Gen 2 and two of the SATA 6 Gbps ports no longer exist be used.
It’s also worth noting that the B450 Tomahawk and its Max variant aren’t going away overnight either. So after the B550 is released, you can still buy B450 boards for a while. MSI will likely do this to fill in the void until the B550 prices filter down, which it usually does with motherboard platforms over time.
There are a number of AMD X570 boards whose price has dropped since it was released, although admittedly pricing and availability are currently very confusing due to the pandemic. For example, the entry-level Asus TUF Gaming X570 Plus, which hit the market for $ 190, dropped to $ 165 a few months later and stayed there despite rave reviews. There appear to be other X570 boards at this $ 160 price point too. We expect something similar to happen to the B550, with introductory prices higher for a few months and falling until the holiday season.
What we may be seeing here is increased demand for Ryzen products, and board makers are keen to get involved. Ryzen has survived this period of uncertainty since the first generation. As a result, B450 sales were significantly higher than B350, which by all accounts worked very well.
So, with the strong demand for B450 boards priced above $ 100, motherboard makers are confident that B550 can fetch higher prices so they can make better, more expensive motherboards. At some point we will know whether this experiment will pay off. But enough about pricing for now and let’s move on to testing the VRM thermal performance of the four boards we already have.
Test setup and notes
For this test, we’re going to mirror the setup we used with the X570 motherboards to compare this thermal data. Note that X570 cards were tested some time ago with earlier AGESA versions, so there may be small deviations there. This is a pretty extreme VRM test setup as the idea was to load high end X570 cards to make sure they could handle all conditions. We planned to rerun the tests on the Ryzen 9 3950X as the 3900X was the highest quality AM4 CPU at the time of testing, but the 3950X doesn’t use much more power than the 3900X so we didn’t care.
Instead of installing the boards in an ATX case, as is so often the case, we use an open-air test bench with no direct airflow. However, through further testing, we found that the results are actually worse in a poorly ventilated case. We suspect this is not an absolute worst case scenario, no pun intended. The CPU is being stressed by Blender, which is running the Gooseberry workload. The temperatures are reported after an hour.
To record the temperatures, we use a digital thermometer with K thermocouples and indicate the maximum temperature of the rear circuit board. We also don’t report Delta T via Ambient, but instead maintain a room temperature of 21 degrees as this is by far the most accurate method of running these tests. The ambient temperature is monitored using a thermocouple next to the test system.
Here are our baseline results with essentially out of the box Ryzen 9 3900X performance with PBO enabled. The motherboards must determine the corresponding voltages themselves. So it’s a very simple overclocking that anyone can do with the help of AMD’s Ryzen Master software.
The best result we’ve recorded so far from an AM4 motherboard was the Aorus Xtreme at 55 ° C, while the technically worst result came from the MSI MPG X570 Gaming Edge WiFi, which the CPU had to throttle to its own during this test To ensure survival. The X570-A Pro ran hotter, but avoided throttling in this test.
What’s amazing here is how cool these B550 boards run, even the mortar that was on par with the X570 Aorus Pro WiFi under these test conditions, and this board costs almost $ 100 more.
Gigabyte’s own B550 Aorus Pro ran a few degrees cooler than the X570 board with the same branding and is around 30% cheaper. The MSI B550 Tomahawk was also excellent at just 60 ° C, which is 2 degrees hotter than the X570 Tomahawk and only 5 ° C hotter than the $ 700 Aorus Extreme.
Then we have the B550 Aorus Master, which matches the X570 Aorus Xtreme with a peak temperature of 55 ° C. You may be wondering how a $ 280 B550 board manages to match a $ 700 X570 board from the same company? The answer: it uses the exact same VRM with the same real finned heat sinks, oh, and it’s just over 20% cheaper than the X570 Aorus Master.
Looking at overclocked results with the Ryzen 9 3900X, which runs all cores at 4.3 GHz and 1.4 V. Again, we use high voltage to load the boards and weed out the runts like X570-A Pro and Gaming Edge WiFi, the unfortunate mistakes made by MSI.
Despite these extreme test conditions, the B550M mortar passed relatively easily and reached a maximum value of only 80 ° C. This put somewhat more expensive Asrock and Gigabyte models such as Steel Legend, Pro4 and Gaming X to shame. With low airflow, there is no AM4 CPU that this board cannot handle with ease. In this case, the Gigabyte B550 Aorus Pro and Master were hugely impressive, as was MSI’s B550 Tomahawk.
What we learned
In short, these new B550 motherboards are certainly a significant upgrade to the now two-year-old B450 platform. MSI and Gigabyte did an excellent job with the specific models we tested today, and we’re very keen to review the base models to see how they handle the 3900X. It looks like you can buy a motherboard that supports PCIe 4.0 along with high-end AM4 CPUs for just over $ 100.
This makes the lag on the B550 platform all the more frustrating for those who bought a Ryzen 5 3600 with a new motherboard. In addition to supporting PCIe 4.0 graphics cards and memory, these B550 cards provide a more seamless transition to Zen 3 processors in the future.
If you bought a Ryzen 5 3600 a year ago, there is a real chance you’d want to buy a Zen 3 part with more cores, but we suspect that is a story for later in the year.
Meanwhile, the new AMD B550 chipset can be seen as another nail in the coffin of the 10th generation Intel Core series. The B550 Tomahawk, for example, is a little cheaper than the Z490 Tomahawk, but you get PCIe 4.0. Boards like the MSI B550-A Pro will be the real killers at $ 140. This looks like a very solid board, and we can’t wait to try it out alongside entry-level boards from Gigabyte, Asus, and Asrock.
There will also be cheaper A520 boards, but if nothing special happens we will largely ignore these for future testing, as we did with the A320 boards. As we saw with the latter, you often only saved $ 10 while losing CPU and memory overclocking. Plus, CPU support and overall board quality were almost always poor, making it an easy run-through.