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AMD AM4 Motherboards - A520 vs B550 vs X570

An AMD gaming PC build in 2021 means lots of motherboard options. We look at the best AM4 A520, B550 and X570 boards for budget and features.

 

AMD AM4 Motherboards ? A520 vs B550 vs X570

 

To follow up our Intel motherboard article, we wanted to cover the socket AM4 AMD motherboard options for those who want a Ryzen gaming PC build instead. For a Ryzen 5, 7, or 9 gaming PC, there are a few differences across motherboards you will need to know before you buy. The hottest topic around AM4 right now, however, is how compatible these boards will be with the new Zen 3 CPUs coming out in early 2022. This article will cover all of the above, and address some elephants in the room as far as compatibility goes.

What Is AM4?

AM4 was introduced by AMD in 2016 to consolidate all of the socket types - AM3+, FM2+ and FS1b - into one platform that can accept multiple CPUs and allow a unified approach to improvements and upgrades in motherboard technology.

This approach was welcomed by the technology world, because in simple terms it is as logical as a USB – by making a universally accepted socket, you eliminate confusion for consumers, who can make a purchase decision purely on specification and budget.

The 40mm Socket AM4 has 1331 pins for CPU connection and is the first AMD socket to support DDR4 RAM, and both PCIe 3.0 and 4.0. Up to 4 DDR4 SDRAM sticks can be installed in a dual-channel setup.

Just when we got used to the AM4 unification, AMD switched things up and announced a new socket would be coming in 2022. Although the new socket doesn’t have a name yet, we can probably go ahead and guess it will be called AM5.

Will My AM4 Motherboard Be Compatible With Zen 3 CPUs?

When AMD announced there was a new socket on the way in 2022, and Zen 3 / Zen 4 chips to boot, the internet rumbled and growled, wondering if they were purchasing an AM4 motherboard too soon. Would there be Zen 3 backward compatibility for their new, top-spec AM4 motherboard? Would AMD’s V-Cache Enhanced Zen 3 Ryzen CPUs be compatible with AM4 motherboards?

Thankfully, AMD ensured these questions (and more) were answered for their loyal consumer base.

 

 

AMD's 3D V-Cache Enhanced Zen 3 Ryzen CPUs Will Be AM4 Compatible

Not only are the new Zen 3 Ryzen chips designed to offer a performance jump of 15% in gaming builds, the chiplet technology has actually been designed for AM4 motherboards. The new CPUs we’re getting in early 2022 will see the introduction of AMD’s V-Cache technology, but they have not been designed to roll out with the new socket, excluding AMD’s staunch supporters who already own expensive AM4 motherboards. In a sensible move, they designed Zen 3 with AM4 in mind.

AMD unveiled their 3D V-Cache technology at Computex 2021 and displayed their innovative stacking of a 64MB SRAM chip onto an existing Zen 3 silicon, tripling the size of its L3 cache, thereby increasing the capacity and bandwidth potential of Zen 3 L3 cache. On AMD's 12-core Ryzen 9 test CPU, AMD demonstrated the use of 2x Zen 3 chiplets, creating an “enhanced” Ryzen 9 5900X with 192MB of L3 Cache.

AMD 3D V-Cache technology, then, introduces us to a brand-new world of performance for gamers, offering direct SRAM accessibility with no significant increase in latency, according to AMD. The company’s partnership with TSMC means the silicon processing is well taken care of, and AMD get to focus 100% on the engineering – their main strength in CPU manufacturing.

 

AMD 3D V-Cache prototype reveal at Computex 2021

 

AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution – or FSR - is something you will have heard about if you are interested in the Zen 3 chips coming our way and are a prime example of AMD’s marketing prowess.

 

 

Godfall FidelityFX demonstration by AMD screenshot

Godfall FidelityFX demonstration by AMD screenshot

 

AMD's also benchmarks showed a 25% improvement in Monster Hunter World using DX11, using a prototype 12-Core 3D chiplet on a Ryzen 9 5900X chip, which is a significant leap for a game that is often used in benchmarks and FPS comparisons.

 

3D V-Cache performance uplift

3D V-Cache performance uplift

 

AMD headlined that FSR will be available on all Radeon RX 6000, RX 5000, RX 500 and RX Vega – as well as all Ryzen processors with Radeon graphics. The major news was, of course, the compatibility with competitor graphics cards.

During this keynote from AMD, the audience was delighted to see they chose a GTX 1060 as the GPU that would show off the FidelityFX Super Resolution, which also happens to be the most used GPU by gamers on Steam. This is such an incredible move from AMD, showing that they don’t expect everyone to just upgrade an entire specification just to take advantage of a new CPU. Compatibility across older and newer gamer builds is very important to them – even with competitor products - and this will positively affect their market penetration in the first quarters of 2022.

 

Most popular GPU on Steam 2021

Credit: Steam Video Graphics Survey Sept 2021

 

This is great news for everyone, it seems, and anyone rocking an AM4 motherboard and Nvidia/Radeon graphics can potentially benefit from FSR next year, even if they are using integrated graphics in an APU processor.

All of this means that buying an AM4 motherboard right now will not impede your performance gains next year if you are shopping around for a new CPU in 2022 onwards. AMD is committed to keeping their fans happy, and this is most apparent with the 3D V-Cache and FSR announcements.

AM4 Motherboards Compared

Release Dates

X570 – Released: July 2019

B550 – Released: June 2020

A520 – Released: August 2020

Specifications

 

CPU Support and Overclocking Comparison A520 B550 X570

 

Storage, TDP and Architecture Comparison A520 B550 X570

 

PCIe and USB Comparison A520 B550 X570

 

* PBO: Precision Boost Overdrive is a feature to extend CPU parameters for performance on a Ryzen CPU such as SoC power, Temperature, and VRM Current. PBO is AMD’s inbuilt overclocking features baked into your CPU.

AMD AM4 X570 Motherboards

The one feature you will see banded around by review websites and technical writers is the onboard fan which all of the best X570 motherboards have for cooling the chipset. The X570S chipset motherboards do not have a fan, a decision made by manufacturers to reduce any fan noise on early boards – a problem most system builders assumed they would have. In actual fact, with BIOS tweaks alone, the fan noise was not noticeable on X570 motherboards, so the “S” version was a bit of a lame duck. With other fans in the case whirring away, these small motherboard fans were pretty quiet.

The X570 motherboard is comparable to Intel's Z590 motherboards, and the price jump appears to be the same in the Intel corner, too. With those extra specs come a price difference, but a standard X570 motherboard comes in at under £150 at the low end, and up to £700 for a ROG masterpiece.

 

Gigabyte X570 GAMING X AMD Socket AM4 Motherboard

Gigabyte X570 GAMING X AMD Socket AM4 Motherboard

 

At under £150, the Gigabyte X570 GAMING X Socket AM4 AMD motherboard supports AMD Ryzen 5000 Series/ Ryzen 5000 G-Series/ Ryzen 4000 G-Series/ 3rd Gen Ryzen/ 2nd Gen Ryzen/ 2nd Gen Ryzen with Radeon Vega Graphics/ Ryzen with Radeon Vega Graphics Processors. You won’t have as many options in terms of USB connectivity, audio jacks, fan headers, M.2 slots or supported memory bus speeds that the higher priced boards may have, but it will certainly do the job at the low budget end.

Both the X570 and Z590 AMD boards can run PCIe 4.0 16x for the GPU, and PCIe 4.0 4x NVMe, which is really all a system builder is initially looking at in terms of high-performance gaming, and you’ll get up to 128GB RAM supported, too, across 99% of X570 chipset boards.

When it comes to processors, you can install any AM4 CPU from the Zen+, Zen 2 and Zen 3 CPU architecture, meaning AMD Ryzen 2000, Ryzen 3000 and Ryzen 5000 CPUs on X570 motherboards.

AMD AM4 B550 Motherboards

The best B550 motherboards will always be compared to the X570, and this is probably an unfair fight. The B550 was designed to ensure X16 PCIe Gen 4 GPU uplink over the B450’s X16 PCIe Gen 3. The B550 also benefits from PCIe Gen 4 support for SSD storage, which sets users up for Windows 11’s DirectStorage capabilities (when developers begin to adopt it) and forms the foundations of high-end gaming builds.

 

  B450 B550 X570
CPU Graphics Support X16 PCIe 3.0 X16 PCIe 4.0 X16 PCIe 4.0
Dual Graphics Support No Yes Yes
CPU Storage Support PCIe 3.0 PCIe 4.0 PCIe 4.0
General Purpose Lanes PCIe 2.0 PCIe 3.0 PCIe 4.0
CPU Chipset Uplink PCIe 3.0 PCIe 3.0 PCIe 4.0
CPU USB Ports USB 3.1 Gen 1 USB 3.1 Gen 2 USB 3.1 Gen 2

 

We haven’t covered the B450 in these comparisons, as the lack of PCIe Gen 4.0 support is not really worth the cost saving in terms of “futureproofing” your build for the next few years of hardware launches and game releases.

The B550 is the perfect balance of budget and performance for gaming builds, but if you are trying to save a few pounds by purchasing an older processor, you’ll need to check compatibility. The B550 chipset supports current and future Zen 3 processors, but at launch the motherboards did not support Ryzen 2000 or earlier processors, or the Ryzen 3000 APUs such as the great value AMD Ryzen 5 3400G & Ryzen 3 3200G. What this means is, if you already bought an older Ryzen 2000 CPU or Ryzen 3000 APU, you will need to check with AMD on the product page to ensure it is compatible with your B550 out of the box. Some B550 motherboards outright say they are not compatible in the specifications, too.

Unfortunately for the B550, ROM size limitations mean motherboard manufacturers are unable to support all current, future, and past Ryzen processors within one firmware package. You may need to update your B550 BIOS with a different CPU *before* you install your new processor. This encumbrance is not ideal for those who want an easy install when building a PC themselves.

Choosing a good value B550 motherboard is straightforward enough, and it will be a case of matching your performance & connectivity needs with the prices of each board.

At the very top end of the scale there are AMD motherboards like ASRock B550 Taichi and ASUS ROG Strix B550-XE Gaming WiFi, which are both around the £250 - £260 range. The specifications on these higher priced boards are outstanding, but may be superfluous for general use and gaming, so it is worth checking. The ASRock Taichi and ASUS ROG Strix B550-XE both have fairly similar specs, but even with a price difference of around £20, there are clear and significant differences depending on your needs.

As you can see from the below table, the two B550 motherboards at the top of the scale do have several differences; we have left out all the specs that match on both boards.

 

Description ASRock B550 Taichi AMD Socket AM4 Motherboard ASUS ROG Strix B550-XE Gaming WiFi AMD Motherboard
USB Ports 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C
  1 x USB 3.1 Type-A 2 x USB 3.1 Type-A
  4 x USB 3.0 1 x USB 2.0 Type-C
  2 x USB 2.0 5 x USB 2.0 Type-A
DisplayPorts 1 x DisplayPort 1.4 1 x DisplayPort 1.2
Antenna Connectors 2 x SMA Antennas  
S/PDIF Port 1 x S/PDIF Optical Out  
SATA Connectors 8 x SATA III 6 x SATA III
Internal USB Connectors 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C header 1 x USB 3.1 header (supports 1 Type-C port)
  2 x USB 3.0 headers (supports 4 ports) 1 x USB 3.0 header (supports 2 ports)
  2 x USB 2.0 headers (supports 4 ports) 2 x USB 2.0 headers (supports 4 ports)
Speaker 1 x Speaker header  
Cooling Fan Support 1 x CPU fan header 1 x CPU fan header
  1 x CPU/Water Pump fan header 1 x CPU_OPT fan header
  5 x Chassis/Water Pump fan headers 1 x AIO_PUMP header
    3 x Chassis fan headers
Thunderbolt Port(s)   1 x Thunderbolt header
Power Connector Port 1 x 20+4-pin ATX 1 x 20+4-pin ATX
  2 x 4+4-pin EPS 1 x 4+4-pin EPS
    1 x 4-pin EPS
Other Connectors 1 x M.2, Socket 3, M Key (Type 2242/2260/2280/22110) 2 x M.2, Socket 3, M Key (Type 2242/2260/2280/22110)
  1 x M.2, Socket 3, M Key (Type 2242/2260/2280) 2 x 3-pin ARGB headers
  2 x RGB LED headers 2 x 4-pin RGB headers
  2 x Addressable LED headers 1 x Thermal Sensor header
Memory Bus Speed 5200+(OC) / 5100(OC) / 5000(OC) / 4933(OC) / 4866(OC) / 4800(OC) / 4733(OC) / 4666(OC) / 4600(OC) / 4533(OC) / 4466(OC) / 4400(OC) / 4333(OC) / 4266(OC) / 4200(OC) / 4133(OC) / 4000(OC) / 3866(OC) / 3800(OC) / 3733(OC) / 3600(OC) / 3466(OC) / 3200 / 2933 / 2667 / 2400 / 2133 MHz 5100(O.C) / 4800(O.C.) / 4600(O.C) / 4400(O.C) / 4266(O.C.) / 4133(O.C.) / 4000(O.C.) / 3866(O.C.) / 3600(O.C.) / 3466(O.C.) / 3200 / 3000 / 2800 / 2666 / 2400 / 2133 MHz
SLi/Crossfire Features Supports AMD Quad CrossFireX, 3-Way CrossFireX and CrossFireX Supports NVIDIA 2-Way SLI Technology
    Supports AMD 3-Way CrossFireX Technology
Memory Speed 5200 MHz 5100 MHz
Number of SATA Ports 8 ports 6 ports
Motherboard Power Connectors 8 + 8-Pin 4 + 8-Pin

 

Most notably, we can see that the cheaper of the two, the ASUS ROG board, offers 1x Thunderbolt header, which is going to be a huge bonus to those using a PC for graphic design, video editing or if they need to transfer huge files on to a USB device to move the data. Memory bus speed is also a factor, with the ASRock having much more options available – though this might not be such a deal-breaker if you already know which RAM you’re going to be buying before you buy a motherboard.

The differences above will be specific to your needs, and while I don’t need 4x USB 3.0 ports, I know plenty of people who do in the office. It’s horses for courses again, folks.

Down at the lower end of the market, we can see the B550 represents great value with the MSI B550M-A PRO at around £76.

 

MSI B550M-A PRO AMD AM4 motherboard

Prices correct at time of publishing

 

You are not sacrificing too many features at this end of the scale, but it is worth checking the main specifications for a gaming PC, which would be: -

· Maximum 64GB DDR4 RAM

· Not compatible with AMD Ryzen 5 3400G & Ryzen 3 3200G

· 1 x PCI Express 4.0 x16

· 1 x PCI Express 3.0 x1

· Supports Integrated Graphics (APU)

· HDMI

· DVI

AMD AM4 A520 Motherboards

Although not many manufacturers have decided to make too many different models of A520, the ones that are available have the benefit of similarity in specification. This narrows down our buying options and makes things a little easier. AMD launched the A520 in 2020 and the headline is that this chipset supports the current generation of Ryzen 5000 processors, based on the Zen 3 architecture. The A520 chipset also supports the Ryzen 3000 processors (Zen 2 architecture).

An entry-level chipset, the A520 is purely for budget conscious PC builders who are looking at savings in other areas, perhaps to put toward RAM and GPU in a build. Most importantly, however, is the fact that the A520 is mostly available in mATX and ITX form factor, for the smaller case build.

As a small form factor motherboard, the A520 is slimmed down on the features, but SFF builders are well-used to this trade off. Affordability and build size are the factors here.

With few models available from the various manufacturers, our choices are limited, but in a good way. When the playing field is so small, it is easy to see which products stand out more than others.

The two best A520 AMD motherboards we’ve seen rated highly on many review sites and YouTube channels are the lower budget Gigabyte A520 Aorus Elite and the mid-range ASUS Prime A520M-K.

 

Gigabyte A520 AORUS ELITE AMD Motherboard

Gigabyte A520 AORUS ELITE AMD Motherboard

 

Gigabyte A520 AORUS ELITE AMD Motherboard

The Gigabyte A520 Aorus Elite is an example of why Gigabyte can compete at any level in the motherboard market, and particularly shines in the A520 chipset range from AMD. This board has a 5+3 power phase design which aids system stability and offers better passive cooling for the VRMs. Connectivity is excellent, with 1 x USB 3.1, 3 x USB 3.0, and 4 x USB 2.0. There are multiple fan headers, with 1 x CPU fan header, 1 x Water Cooling CPU fan header, and 3 x System fan headers for superior cooling in your gaming build. The A520 is PCIe 3.0 only, with 2 x PCI Express 3.0 x16 (@ x16, x2), and 3 x PCI Express 3.0 x1.

 

ASUS Prime A520M-K AMD Socket AM4 Motherboard

ASUS Prime A520M-K AMD Socket AM4 Motherboard

 

ASUS Prime A520M-K AMD Socket AM4 Motherboard

The ASUS PRIME A520M-K features a 6-phase power design, a single 8-pin connector but does not have heatsinks to cool VRM temperatures. This A520 mATX board comes with full support for Zen 3 Ryzen CPUs and features standard specs such as 2 DDR4 DIMM slots for up to 64GB with maximum memory speed of 4600 MHz. CPU overclocking and PCI express 4.0 for both SSDs and graphics cards are not supported, which makes this motherboard entry level in our comparisons. 4 SATA III ports and 1 M.2 socket, type 2242/2260/2280 (PCIE 3.0 x4 and SATA modes) are available, and there are plenty of slots at the back, with 4 USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, and 3 USB 2.0/1.1, along with the standard I/O. Great value at entry level, the Prime A520M-K is priced perfectly for those who do not demand too many features in their mATX build.

A520 vs B550 vs X570 – Which One Is Best?

Overall, you are not going to be spending much extra for the kind of features you will need moving forward in gaming, but PCIe 4.0 will be the kicker. With this in mind, a B550 motherboard with careful consideration for which processor you’ll be using represents the best value and performance balance.

Depending on your budget, am X570 will give you much more in terms of fast SSD and GPU performance, so, starting at £150, the prices are not out of the range of most PC enthusiasts.