Date: Thursday , April 20, 2017
It's been a long time since we've had a serious AMD processor compatible motherboard on the bench to deal with. Sure, I've reviewed the occasional one-off APU oriented motherboard here and there but it's been years since we looked at anything that was supposed to be a serious offering for the computing enthusiast from the AMD camp. There are essentially two reasons for that. The first is that AMD's Bulldozer CPU and its variants had nothing to offer beyond bottom-of-the-barrel pricing. You had lower IPC, more power consumption, higher temperatures, and no overclocking headroom to speak of. Even the diehard AMD fans had a hard time justifying giving AMD their cold hard cash. The second issue has to do with the motherboard manufacturers not putting too much effort into a platform not many enthusiasts wanted to use.
AMD didn't care either. It left the 990FX chipset as the most recent offering for Vishera and it's more than a bit long in the tooth at this point. To be perfectly honest, AMD has never fully had the platform thing figured out. It had chipsets dating back to the Athlon days which had some issues. AMD left the chipset business, and in a turn of what is now considered irony, AMD left the building of its platforms to companies like its graphics rival, NVIDIA. Eventually AMD returned to the chipset business and companies like NVIDIA gave up on them. AMD has struggled time and time again to reach feature parity with Intel and its platform drivers often leave much to be desired. In fact, coverage of 990FX motherboards was suspended here because we got tired of writing bad reviews. Believe me, a lot more work goes into a "bad review" than a "good one." Ultimately, they serve very few people despite having some entertainment value time and again. It's more useful to compare products that people want with legitimate pros and cons. The idea being that people can get the information they need to make good purchase decisions.
Since AMD's Ryzen launch, the landscape has changed and now AMD's platform is now in demand. If you ask me, Ryzen is a damn good processor. It's not perfect. The fact that it can trade blows with Intel's best at half the cost should be enough to get people excited. People like me aren't likely to abandon their Haswell-E or Broadwell-E builds to go with an AMD based system and there are lots of reasons for that. What gets me excited is the chance to mess with something other than what Intel's been peddling for the last half decade or so. I'm also looking to the future and the fact that AMD is finally able to put some pressure on Intel to get off its apathetic ass and give us some forward momentum in the desktop market again.
Many of you are likely wondering why it took so long for us to publish a review of any AM4 motherboards. After all, there are already lots out there in the wild. We've had non-retail samples on hand and Kyle's had various experiences with those that I'll let him talk about if he chooses. On my end, it's been hard to get a retail board sampled and even more challenging to deal with it. I'll go ahead and get this over with by going ahead and saying, yes. Many of the rumors you've heard about AM4 and its problems are not only true, but you are likely to face some of them if you adopt the AM4 platform today. I've got a few things to say on that front through the article and I'll go ahead and say that I do not blame GIGABYTE or any other motherboard manufacturer for this. The platforms faults are on AMD.
That said, I think Ryzen and AM4 have potential and these offerings are something to be watched if not purchased in the immediate future. Perhaps this article will help you navigate some of the pitfalls of this platform and make decisions about whether or not it’s for you. I won't get too much into Ryzen itself. Kyle's done a fantastic job of telling you how it is both good and bad.
In case you didn't know, GIGABYTE is one of, if not the largest motherboard makers on the planet. Its had ups and downs like others but they've secured their position through building high quality and innovative motherboards and while it's business has expanded in scope over the years, motherboards are always at the core of GIGABYTE's focus. In my opinion GIGABYTE has their crap together better than most. There really isn't any more convincing I need that GIGABYTE knows what it's doing than being able to navigate this mess AMD has laid on the industries door step.
The AX370 Gaming 5 is based on AMD's X370 chipset. I hate the name of the chipset as it's likely to cause a great deal of confusion to people who don't keep up with chipset models or what model goes with what brand. That said, the chipset itself is what it is. I wanted to say it's impressive but it isn't. It's different than Intel's Z270 in many key areas but it doesn't really have anything going for it over Intel's platform on a feature level. If anything, it's behind Intel in many areas even still. Whether or not these deficiencies bother you is another question entirely. AMD still isn't as flexible when it comes to storage options. This was a problem for me but I'll talk more about that later.
The GIGABYTE AX370 Gaming 5 is based on AMD’s X370 chipset. This is AMD’s current enthusiast oriented flagship and the basis for the highest end AM4 motherboards. The chipset supports DDR4 memory, PCI-Express 3.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1, and all of the modern standards we expect out of any enthusiast class platform. There are a few things I find interesting about the platform. The first is that the CPU has 20 PCIe lanes provided by its internal PCIe controller, while the chipset has a more limited number. This is a total reversal of how Intel does things. AMD has dedicated storage on the CPU in the form of 4x PCIe lanes that can be used for NVMe devices or split between additional SATA ports and a 2x PCIe NVMe M.2 implementation. Given the surge in M.2 popularity I seriously doubt many if any motherboard manufacturers will build motherboards that are configured that way. There are dedicated USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports off the CPU as well. Unfortunately, AMD limited themselves by forcing any additional storage to go through a PCIe x4 link the same as Intel does via it's DMI 3.0 bus. Before we knew better, many of us had hoped AMD would have had more than one M.2 slot that wouldn't be bottlenecked by a single x4 link. Sadly, that’s not the case.
GIGABYTE’s many proprietary and cloned features, such as DualBIOS, GameBoost, USB DAC Up 2, RGB Fusion, Smart Fan 5, Anti-Sulfur design, Ultra Durable Armor etc. are all found here. By that I mean, some of its features are simply features found on competing motherboards under another name. There are some features which are more unique as well or at least GIGABYTE’s implementation differs from the masses in significant ways. We’ll go through that as it relates to a particular topic at that time.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The packaging is your average industry standard design. GIGABYTE's artwork is tasteful and even elegant to an extent. Gone are odd space ship designs or giant robots we've occasionally seen in years past. Our sample arrived intact and with all accessories accounted for. Inside the box, you’ll find the following items: AX370 Gaming 5 motherboard, driver disc, G-Connector pack, M.2 screws, HB SLI bridge, I/O shield, Aorus case badge, 3x thermal probes, 2x Velcro straps, RGB extension cable, 2x SATA cables, SATA cable labels, multilingual installation guide and an I/O shield.
The layout of the AX370 is generally good with a few areas for me to nitpick about. I do not like the location of the CMOS battery or the M.2 slot. Otherwise the motherboard layout is well thought out and you'll see the same attention to detail on this motherboard as you would any of GIGABYTE's Intel based offerings. In the past, AMD motherboards have not always had the same level of attention in their designs. GIGABYTE uses high quality capacitors and chokes throughout the design as part of the "Ultra Durable" famil. The AX370 Gaming 5 has 8 fan / water pump connectors, 7 internal temperature sensors and 2 external temperature sensor headers. All the fan headers are of the four-pin variety and support PWM and voltage control mods. 2 AMP fans are also supported.
Aesthetically, the AX370 Gaming 5 has the same white and black color scheme all the other Auros branded motherboards currently have. You will also find plenty of RGB LED lighting if you are into that. RGBW And -UB light strips are supported.
AMD's AM4 socket has 1,331 pins and is unfortunately a ZIF socket instead of an LGA socket. We think nothing of it today, but when LGA sockets hit the market everyone was concerned they would be too fragile. Some people even glossed over the fact that their expensive CPUs got a lot more durable physically and cited the motherboard's socket damage as being totally unacceptable. It didn't matter that those same people were using $300 motherboards and $600+ CPUs. I know which I'd rather have an accident with. In any case I don't know why AMD stuck with the zero insertion force socket. (Editor's note: I still suggest using a bit of force when installing a Ryzen into a "Zero Insertion Force" socket.) When you throw on a heat sink and thermal paste the socket often can't hold the CPU in place when you try to remove the cooler. This has led to bent pins and breakages for some. Naturally, a twisting motion applied to the cooler before pulling up on it should solve this but even I don't always think about it when I start swapping CPUs or get excited about an upgrade.
The CPU socket area is clear of any significant obstructions and should allow the installation of most air coolers without too much trouble. As usual the DIMM slots are too close to the CPU socket and tall memory could create clearance problems for some people. AIO units are often the best option for this reason alone.
The motherboard has 4, 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots supporting a total of 64GB of RAM. GIGABYTE claims speeds of up to DDR4 3200MHz are supported via overclocking. GIGABYTE's steel armor is utilized on the memory slots to help prevent PCB warping during memory installation.
The chipset is found in the same location on the PCB it’s found on Intel motherboards. Were it not from the 1990's era CPU socket design you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between an AM4 or Z270 based motherboard by glancing at them. In front of the chipset you will find the usual batch of SATA and SATA Express ports as well as a single U.2 connector. Directly behind the chipset you'll find a single M.2 slot which lays right underneath the graphics card. This is important as there are no APUs for these yet so you will be turning the heat up on your M.2 based SSD's if you use this motherboard.
The expansion slot area is well thought out as far as your card placement goes. Again, I don't care for the M.2 or CMOS battery placement. That said, I'm also disappointed that AMD chose to make the PCIe lanes off the chipset PCIe 2.0 lanes like it's 2014. Like Intel's offerings, anything that ties into the chipset's PCIe lanes is forced over a PCIe x4 link. The diagram for X370 lists this as "PCIe 3.0 x4" rather than something like DMI. The PCIe x16 form factor slots all have GIGABYTE's PCIe Armor which is a fancy name for a single piece steel bracket that braces the slot against a wider area of the motherboard PCB to prevent warping during expansion card installation. I've never been sucked into the marketing hype but it does work even if it's value as a feature is often over estimated. The valid PCIe slot configurations are 16x0, 8x8, or 8x8x4.
The I/O panel cover is a cheap piece of stamped tin and nothing to write home about. In this price bracket its par for the course and not something I'm going to hammer them about the way I would on a $500 motherboard. The I/O panel has the following ports on it: 1x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, 1x HDMI port, 1x USB Type-Cآ™ port, with USB 3.1 Gen 2 support, 3x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A ports (red), 6x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 2x RJ-45 ports, 1x optical S/PDIF Out connector, and 5x audio jacks.