I recently tested a ton of Intel Z590 motherboards for VRM thermal performance. This allowed me to take a look at how each board is configured right away. Z590 motherboards run mostly 11th generation Intel processors without enforced performance restrictions, which is perfectly fine and within the loosely defined Intel specification.

I've found that Asus, MSI, and Gigabyte Z590 motherboards all run with no performance limitations, or at least limitations that severely limit the performance of parts like the Core i9-11900K. Depending on the motherboard, the 11900K is raised to and maintained at an all-core frequency of 4.7 to 4.8 GHz.

However, Asrock follows the Intel Base Specification, commonly referred to as the "TDP Specification". This means that the 11900K will rise to 4.8 GHz for a period of up to 56 seconds before dropping to 4.3 GHz, where it operates at a case power of 125 watts. In other words, Asrock Z590 motherboards will clock 11th Gen CPUs around 10% slower than competing brands for sustained core-heavy workloads.

Even so, Asrock works within the Intel specification, they just happen to use the minimum specification while Asus, MSI and Gigabyte take full advantage of this. It's not great, but ultimately we're just talking about a ~ 10% frequency discrepancy with sustained workload and real-world scenarios that should normally have little or no effect in today's games.

However, the focus of today's article is not on Z590 motherboards, but on Intel's B560. These new B-series motherboards make a lot more sense on paper than they did before. You are now enabled for memory overclocking. Since K-SKU processors are a little pointless due to the limited overclocking headroom, locked parts like the i5-11400 offer the greatest value and therefore make the most sense.

There is little point in pairing a locked Intel CPU with a Z-series motherboard, especially at a premium. So I focused on finding the cheapest B560 boards … and what a frustrating journey it turns out to be.

I found testing Intel B560 boards so frustrating that I had to stop testing to write this article and cautioned readers of the potential pitfalls in purchasing such a board. What I discovered is quite alarming and something that all potential Intel buyers need to be made aware of.

Depending on the B560 motherboard, locked 65 watt parts like 11400 and 11700 can degrade by over 30%. Right, these are not parts like the Core i9-11900K, but processors that you use with an inexpensive B560 motherboard.

Prior to this review, the only B560 board I looked at was the MSI B560 Tomahawk, which we used to review and rate the 11400F for our test. The performance was identical to the Z590 boards I had tested from Asus, MSI, and Gigabyte. MSI even told me it was to be expected that B560 motherboards would offer the same performance as their Z590 counterparts, but it turns out that it doesn't always do so. Far from it.

With the MSI B560 Tomahawk, the 11400F maintained the same 4.2GHz all-core frequency we saw on the Z590 boards, and therefore performance stayed the same. However, the Tomahawk is a $ 200 B560 motherboard that isn't cheap, so the results were as expected. I also tried the Gigabyte B560M Aorus Pro AX ($ 180) which again mirrored the performance of the Z590 boards.

However, since we were looking for the best budget motherboards we wanted to see how well the cheaper boards handle parts like the i5-11400 and i7-11700. Finally, you can run a Ryzen 9 5950X with no performance restrictions on $ 110 worth of AMD B550 cards like the Gigabyte B550M DS3H and MSI B550M Pro-VDH WiFi.

So I went out and bought the Asrock B560 Pro4, which is $ 125. I also have the MSI B560M Pro, which should be priced closer to $ 100, and the Gigabyte B560M DS3H AC, another baseboard we haven't seen in retail.

We're assuming that entry-level Intel B560 boards can run parts like the Core i9-11900K with applicable power limitations (125 watt TDP spec), and of course the motherboards are listed to officially support the Core i9 part. I wasn't entirely sure how they would configure 65W parts like the Core i5-11400F, but I was expecting it would be possible to run the 6-core processor with no performance limitations for maximum performance, and that is technical.

Core i5-11400 test: Cinebench and SoTR

Here's a look at how these motherboards work out of the box with the Core i5-11400F. The $ 200 Tomahawk and the $ 180 Aorus Pro AX work as expected, with a score of approximately 10,000 in Cinebench R23.

Both support an all-core frequency of 4.2 GHz. It's also worth noting that this frequency is sustained indefinitely as long as there is adequate CPU cooling, and we see that after 30 minutes of grinding the multi-core test, the score has largely stayed the same.

The cheaper models Asrock B560 Pro4, Gigabyte B560M DS3H AC and MSI B560M Pro enforce the 65 watt TDP limit by default. However, this does not mean the same thing for all boards. Due to slight variations in voltage tuning and the efficiency of the card's VRM, the all-core frequency will vary within this 65W envelope.

The Asrock B560 Pro4, for example, ran the 11400F at 3380 MHz. That means the Tomahawk and other B560 cards that don't enforce performance limits will instantly clock the processor 24% faster. But the Pro4 wasn't the worst. The MSI B560M Pro clocked even lower at just 3100 MHz, more than 1 GHz lower than the Tomahawk, which clocked 35% higher. Then we have the Gigabyte B560M DS3H AC, which has an all-core frequency of 3500 MHz, or 13% higher than the MSI B560M Pro.

In other words, on all-core workloads, the B560 Tomahawk is 27% faster than the B560M Pro or worse. The clock frequencies just mentioned were recorded at the end of the 30-minute stress test. So if we ignore the first run where the B560 cards did not do the entire test in PL1 performance state and look at the result recorded after 30 minutes of looping the test, we see that the B560 Tomahawk is actually 35% faster is than the B560M Pro.

That's a big difference in performance. It is a different level of CPU performance than what you would normally expect when upgrading from a 6-core to an 8-core CPU of the same architecture.

For those of you who are solely focused on gaming, the difference isn't that big, at least for most games that aren't making maximum use of the 11400F. When testing with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, we see a 12% increase in performance from the B560M Pro to the Tomahawk. That's still a reasonable difference, but not nearly the 35% margin we saw in Cinebench.

It is possible to remove the performance limits and unlock the 11400F on these B560 entry-level cards. How you do this depends on the motherboard. Some are easier than others. With the MSI B560M Pro, simply change the cooler option in the BIOS from "Box Cooler" to "Water Cooling". If you have a decent cooler, the CPU will increase to 4.2 GHz for all-core workloads.

You may be thinking if it does, then what is the big deal? With the Core i5-11400F, this is more of a nuisance than anything and will track down inexperienced users who are struggling to figure out why their system is not performing as claimed by reviewers and other users with better boards.

It's a bit of a mess, but it gets a lot worse when it comes time to upgrade. The next logical step for those looking for a bit more processing power would be a locked version of the Core i7-11700, and this is where things go very wrong …

Core i7-11700 test: Cinebench and SoTR

The Tomahawk and the Aorus Pro run the 11th generation processor without any performance limitation and clock the 11700 at 4.4 GHz, which allowed a score of just over 14,000 points.

The cheaper B560 boards weren't nearly as impressive, though. The Gigabyte B560M DS3H AC lowered the clock frequency to 3180 MHz in this test, then the Asrock B560 Pro4 only held 3155 MHz and the MSI B560M Pro was the worst with only 2890 MHz.

Incredible, that means that under a sustained workload where the Cinebench loop runs for 30 minutes, the Tomahawk was 43% faster than the B560M DS3H AC and 44% faster than the Asrock B560 Pro4, that's insane. If you were to buy the MSI B560 Tomahawk with the Core i7-11700 instead of the MSI B560M Pro, you would have done well and instantly got 53% more performance.

Testing game performance turns out to be less demanding, but it depends on the title. In this example, the Tomahawk is 14% faster than the MSI B560M Pro, 9% faster than the Asrock B560 Pro4 and 8% faster than the Gigabyte B560M DS3H AC.

If we break the performance limits and allow the Core i7-11700 to run at full speed like the Core i5-11400F did, things don't go according to plan and this time we run into a show stopper, the VRM performance of the motherboard, just that what I wanted to test …

The MSI B560M Pro can handle a case power of 125 watts quite well, but beyond that the board gets into trouble and has to throttle the CPU to avoid a disaster. Without power limitation, the i7-11700 increases the case power to approx. 140 watts, depending on the voltage used by the board.

Lifting the performance limits on the B560M Pro with the i7-11700 installed resulted in VRM thermal throttling, and while the average clock speed was still raised to 3.8 GHz – an increase of 900 MHz – the throttling often drops to 800 MHz, when the throttling is done for a terrible experience. This also means that the 11700 is still 16% higher on boards like the Tomahawk, even if we ignore the VRM throttling issue.

The Gigabyte B560M DS3H AC could not avoid throttling either, although it only dropped periodically to around 2 GHz, which does not meet the specifications. This meant that the average frequency achieved was 4.1 GHz or 300 MHz behind the target. Interestingly, the Asrock B560 Pro4 didn't give VRM throttle, it only managed 4.3 GHz when the performance limits were removed, although that's only a 100 MHz deficit.

The crazy part is that with the 125-watt Core i5-11600K, these boards immediately worked significantly better, clocking no less than 250 MHz below the 4.6 GHz all-core frequency. The reason for this is the higher TDP of 125W versus 65W, so there is hardly any need to break the performance constraints on a part like the 11600K as you only gain around 200MHz on heavy all-core workloads, which is a decrease of less than 4 % corresponds in frequency.

Setting these boards to 125W seems like the way to go if you are using parts like the i7-11700. While you won't get maximum performance, you'll get very close while avoiding VRM throttling.

Bottom line

We found that if you're ready to tinker with the performance limits, you're pretty good at manually dialing most of these budget boards, but the point is, without some fairly knowledgeable user intervention, the platform is a total mess is for builders.

The fact that out-of-the-box performance can vary by up to 50% between B560 motherboards using the same processor is insane. Let's make it clear that this isn't a single motherboard manufacturer or model, it's just Intel.

We could beat up MSI for making the B560M Pro, and if we did we would have to go for Asrock for the B560M-HDV, or Gigabyte for the B560M Power, or Asus for the B560M-P, all of these boards are going to suffer same problems and there are probably more. Technically, all of these boards meet the Intel specification, the base specification, or the TDP specification as it is often called.

For their entry-level boards, every manufacturer has ensured that the VRM can meet the performance requirements of the base specification, and that's about it. Essentially, these are OEM motherboards, or rather OEM motherboards.

11th generation Intel Core i7 series

Even the MSI B560M Pro, which clocks the i7-11700 with only 2.9 GHz, is within the incredibly loosely defined specification from Intel. This is because the 11700 has an official base clock frequency of just 2.5 GHz. As long as the clocks do not fall below this, it is within the specification. We only exceeded the specs as the performance limits were removed as this reduced the base clock to 800 MHz under load and used VRM throttling to protect the board from thermal runaway.

In the case of the Core i7-11700, we've had boards with load frequencies from 2.9 GHz up to 4.4 GHz, and Intel will let you know that they all run within spec. This was caused by Intel's efforts to continue from their 14nm process. The loosely defined TDP specification wasn't a problem in the days of Kaby Lake when Intel only offered a 4C / 8T processor in the mainstream desktop lineup. But as they started adding more cores without major fixes to the TDP, we saw a gap between the base and the Boost clocks widening further.

For example, the 65w Core i7-7700 only saw a 17% difference between base and boost clocks, then that value rose to 44% with the 65w Core i7-8700, and now we're at a ridiculous 96% with the Core i7- 11700.

Intel Core i7 series

This is the situation we face when recommending locked Intel CPUs on budget B560 motherboards. Going forward, my job will be to figure out how little you can spend on a B560 motherboard and still get the right performance with parts like the Core i7-11700, ideally without having to manually adjust the performance limits.

The out-of-the-box experience should be the same as motherboards like the MSI B560 Tomahawk and Gigabyte B560M Aorus Pro, but without paying $ 200 for the privilege. Whether or not this is possible remains to be seen, but we plan to have some answers for you in an upcoming B560 VRM benchmark feature that will cover many more boards. Until then, it's safer to avoid Intel B560 motherboards under $ 140.

Purchasing links:
  • Intel Core i5-11600K on Amazon
  • Intel Core i7-11700K at Amazon
  • Intel Core i5-11400F at Amazon
  • Intel B560 motherboards on Amazon
  • AMD Ryzen 5 5600X on Amazon
  • AMD Ryzen 7 5800X on Amazon