How to Choose the Right Desktop PC Chipset :updated – Guide

Desktop chipsets are among the most complex, ever-changing, but least understood parts of your everyday – or extraordinary – PC. This is intentional, up to a point. The PC chipset, over the years, has acquired more and more functionality and simplified the work of other PC components. As a result, it has become more invisible and more tied to all aspects of what your PC can do. That said, no one buys a new PC, or upgrades or builds one, with the idea: “Hey, I need a new chipset!” It’s not the real impetus behind most updates, but to some extent, it’s the driver of the car. Whether you’re building a new system or doing a major upgrade, the best place to start is by choosing the best CPU for what you do. You wouldn’t want to lose any CPU features sticking it to an old motherboard, which is why most of us would rather hand over a complete platform to a friend or family member than archive or sell the CPU we’re replacing. The CPU and motherboard, and by extension the motherboard chipset, generally go hand in hand. While the abundance of CPUs used on auction sites could indicate that people are trying to get rid of the CPUs they replaced, it could also indicate that they’re splitting. up these parts to make more money. Another possible explanation: CPUs tend to last a little longer than the cards they live on, unless they’ve been heavily overclocked in their lifetime. At the core of any new motherboard, the chipset often defines which of these spectacular new CPUs features are available for use, as well as general connectivity and even storage features that your PC can support. Before we get into which features every modern chipset is unlocked, let’s consider what a chipset is in the current sense of a desktop PC.

Getting Started: Some Chipset Basics

First: that complicated word “chipset”. It can be a bit misleading for those without proper context in the last two decades of PC development. “Chipset” is a legacy term that by convention refers to a set of silicon entities, the “Northbridge” (which normally had a graphics card interface and memory controller) and the “Southbridge” (which normally connects other expansion slots and integrated devices). Northbridge’s functions, however, over the years eventually merged with the CPU, leaving Southbridge as the main logical component of the motherboard. Sometimes referred to as the platform controller hub (PCH), today’s motherboard chipset component is much more focused on what it manipulates and does. In fact, it’s now little more than a PCI Express (PCIe) hub that supports add-on expansion cards and NVMe SSDs. Some additional controllers, such as Serial ATA (SATA), are also kept as part of it. What’s left on the typical chipset here :updated can vary depending on whether you’re talking about AMD or Intel platforms. Intel PCH maintains audio and network codec interfaces as well as some features, but AMD recently relocated even these functions to the CPU package. Note that we said “package”: Having kept using the word “Northbridge” even after moving these functions to the CPU, AMD reversed part of their integration to solder a separate Northbridge component onto the small board that connects the CPU matrix to its socket interface. Chipset models tend to be grouped by socket into top, middle and bottom tiers to meet market demands on a variety of budgets. The letters “X” and “Z” typify the treble, “B” and “H” the middle and the “A” the bass. The number after the letter tends to sync with a given CPU generation, although it’s easier to correlate from AMD’s side than Intel’s. Let’s start alphabetically with AMD.

AMD Socket AM4 Chipsets

AM4 is obviously AMD’s long-lasting socket for their main Ryzen processors. As we noted earlier, we assume here that the impetus for evaluating a chipset is because you have your eye on a particular CPU. Choosing CPU first, on AMD’s side, means it only makes sense to look at the current products: the Ryzen 5000, 4000 and 3000 series, initially released from 2019 onwards. Most of these CPUs are just CPUs, with no on-chip graphics. The graphics-free version of these processors features built-in PCIe 4.0, replacing the built-in PCIe 3.0 of their predecessors. Things get a little more complicated from there, as the X570 chipset offers 20 additional PCIe 4.0 lanes, in contrast to the X370 it replaced. The X470, meanwhile, was basically a renamed X370. Early tests of Ryzen 3000 CPUs allowed PCIe 4.0 signals to pass from the CPU’s 24-way controller through the motherboard to at least one PCIe x16 slot, regardless of the chipset used. AMD later determined that certain pre-X570 motherboards lacked signal integrity for reliable transfer at the higher data rate of PCIe 4.0. As previous motherboards required new firmware to support newer Ryzen processors, but these updates disabled PCIe 4.0, a key feature that previous motherboard owners thought they could achieve with a simple CPU upgrade simply didn’t exist.

AMD X570: Current High End

This is the current high-end chipset for AMD Ryzen CPUs. Connected via four of the CPU’s PCIe 4.0 lanes, the X570’s additional PCIe 4.0 controller provides four times the bandwidth of the X370 / X470. It also costs more to manufacture and consumes about three times the energy. Unlike X370 / X470, most X570 motherboards include a miniature cooling fan on the chipset heatsink. That said, you can see some “X570S” model 2021 cards out there, from common motherboards; these newer variant cards don’t need a chipset fan. The X570 also natively supports eight USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports, while the X370 only supports two ports at this speed, and the Serial ATA port count is also increased by up for 2 ports. Both the X570 and X370 / X470 allowed the CPU “PCIe forking”, which can redirect half the paths from a single PCIe x16 slot connected to the CPU to a second slot, operating in x8/x8 mode. The typical X570 motherboard purchaser values ​​a wide variety of high-speed interfaces or the high-capacity voltage regulators of certain high-end motherboard models. Voltage regulator and cooling capability may be the key to running Ryzen 9 models at optimal frequencies under heavy loads, which is one reason why every buyer looking to pair a high-end CPU with a high-end motherboard based on X570 should read some reviews before spending your hard-earned money.

AMD B550: The Current Ryzen Midrange

B-series chipsets are typically for advanced users on a larger budget. It may not provide the extra PCIe 4.0 ports of its brother X570, but the B550 (and its PCIe 3.0 support) marks a massive bandwidth improvement (twice) over the B450. And with an energy rating close to its predecessor, the X570’s higher cooling requirements simply disappear. None of this interferes with the CPU’s built-in PCIe 4.0 support, so users still get this improved speed for a PCIe x16 slot (typically for a graphics card) and a PCIe x4 NVMe interface (for an internal NVMe SSD). As most users don’t need more PCIe 4.0 lane count than provided directly by the CPU, the lower cost and power consumption of the B550 makes it seem like a bargain to most buyers. Some things that might seem to spoil the deal include better equipped B550 motherboards, which cost more than less optional X570 motherboards. (This sometimes happens on motherboard vendor lines.) But much of this crossover comes down to voltage regulator capability. To expand on this: larger voltage regulators and better cooling devices allow higher-model processors like the Ryzen 9 series to run at a higher frequency under heavier load, while smaller parts can cause throttling of electrical or thermal current. Choosing a motherboard (and looking at reviews) that has been tested with the same processor as your intended (or perhaps a superior model) can offer an additional guarantee that you will get all the performance you expect. Additional minor drawbacks of the B550, such as the B550’s lower potential USB 3.2 Gen 2 count (up ports) are easily identified in the motherboard specs, so no warnings greater than “read comments” need apply to this chipset.

AMD B550A: Midrange Ryzen, Enhanced

Remember what we said a few paragraphs ago about AMD’s concern about older motherboards not providing enough signal integrity to run PCIe 4.0 between the Ryzen 3000 CPUs integrated controller and the graphics card? Seeing that nearly a year has passed between the launch of the X570 and B550 chipsets, some impatient manufacturers have pressed AMD to certify their previous generation B450 models to support this link at full speed. The resulting spinoff chipset, the B550A, was basically a renamed B450, and the new label came with firmware that unlocked the CPU’s PCIe 4.0 capability. Devices connected via the chipset were still limited to PCIe 2.0 as the chipset specs have not changed. However, this will be debatable, for the most part, for everyone except buyers of pre-built systems. As all B550A designs are for systems pre-built by the original manufacturer, buyers of motherboards with a single motherboard will mainly find motherboards based on this chipset used or as liquidation parts.

AMD A520: The AMD Budget Chipset

Now here is the current generation budget option. Neither the Ryzen 3000 nor the Ryzen 5000 series CPUs are supported by the A520’s predecessor (the A320), so the fact that the latest chipset supports PCIe 3.0, while the older one was limited to 2.0, doesn’t matter. Heaviest is that the A520 limits the CPU’s PCIe 4.0 controller to PCIe 3.0 mode. What’s worse is that most motherboards that use this chipset have medium-sized voltage regulators with undersized heatsinks (or none at all).

Final note

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