Date: Thursday , November 01, 2018
ASUS is most likely a company you’ve heard of unless you are new to building your own PC. ASUS is one of the most influential and innovative companies in the computing arena today. The company has a diverse product portfolio which includes but is not limited to, motherboards, graphics cards, servers, workstations, laptops, routers, computer peripherals and even smart phones.
ASUS has greatly expanded its Republic of Gamers offerings to include not only more models but a wider range of products as well. This expansion has diluted the brand some-what but it is no doubt driven sales as the brand is now for more mainstream that had been in the past. PC’s as we knew them 20 years ago are a thing of the past. Now PC gaming is one of the few reasons to build a desktop PC anymore. Even those are getting smaller and smaller as the full tower of old is a waste of space and very hard for most people to justify.
ASUS certainly wasn’t the first company to come up with a mini-ITX motherboard but there one of the first companies to bring full featured mini-ITX motherboards to gamers which catered to their needs, offering far fewer compromises than we have seen previously in mini-ITX motherboards. Most motherboard manufacturers used very few VRM phases and offered little in the way of gaming-oriented features. ASUS was a pioneer offering full-size motherboard power delivery in a mini-ITX package. This was at a time when motherboard manufacturers are using extremely large number of power phases for power delivery. In today’s market, things have changed with an emphasis being on quality rather than a larger number of phases.
The motherboard design is simple and looks very much like ASUS’ ROG STRIX X470-I Gaming we reviewed not too long ago. At a glance, these two motherboards are very much alike. While the ROG STRIX B450-I Gaming is a budget offering, it is packed with the essential features one expects in a gaming motherboard. It features quality network controllers, decent onboard audio, and plenty of connectivity options to satisfy nearly anyone.
The ASUS ROG STRIX B450-I Gaming is another mini-ITX offering with a ridiculously long name. The ASUS ROG STRIX B450-I Gaming is based on AMD’s B450 chipset and is compatible with all current socket AM4 CPUs. The B450 chipset is very similar to the X470 chipset. The main difference is fewer USB 3.1 ports and less SATA Express connections. The PCIe lane configuration is more restrictive in that it doesn’t allow the division of the PCIe x16 slot into a 2x8 lane configuration for multiple GPUs. There are fewer chipset based general purpose PCIe lanes as well. 6 vs. 8 specifically. Otherwise you can think of the chipset as a slightly lower cost option which brings the motherboard down into a more reasonable price point.
This is a brilliant move for use in mini-ITX systems where the chipset’s limitations aren’t as big of a deal. PCIe slots aren’t as big of a concern when your expansion area has a single slot. Mini-ITX motherboards generally only have four SATA ports, and as a result, the lack of additional ports that would be present on a higher end chipset is of no concern here. You can have six SATA ports on a mini-ITX motherboard, but motherboards that do are few and far between. Among the supported features are ASUS’ SafeSlot technology, ESD Guards, Q-Slot, Q-DIMM, Q-LED, and DRAM overcurrent protection.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The packaging is identical to what ASUS uses for every other mini-ITX motherboard in the ROG STRIX family. The packaging is standard fair with a cardboard insert and an anti-static bag protecting the motherboard during shipping. Inside the box you’ll find the following items and accessories: Driver disc, user guide, sticker sheet, bag of M.2 screws, zip ties, RGB extension cable, wireless antenna, SATA cables, and I/O shield,
The PCB layout is what you would expect from a mini-ITX motherboard. However, ASUS still managed to give the ROG STRIX B450-I Gaming 4x fan headers. One of which is a dedicated pump header. Despite the tiny layout, ASUS did a good job with the layout. The CMOS battery is in a decent location as is pretty much everything else. The only issue I have relating to the layout is the placement of two of the SATA 6Gb/s ports. As usual, ASUS decided to make it so you have to drape SATA cables over the RAM to use all the available SATA ports. Unlike the X470 version, the I/O shield isn’t integrated.
ASUS uses high quality capacitors and power components with the design of the ROG STRIX B450-I Gaming. Our sample PCB was marked "Rev 1.00." Because there is insufficient space for a POST code LED readout, basic LEDs are mounted on the PCB to decipher POST code messages. ASUS calls this feature Q-LED. A thermal sensor connector and two RGB stripe headers are also provided.
The CPU socket area is clear of any major obstructions. This is impressive given the limited PCB real estate. The ASUS ROG STRIX B450-I uses a 4+2 phase power configuration. Next to the CPU socket you can see three fan headers. The MOSFET cooler is compact and sits out of the way of the CPU socket. It isn’t nearly as beefy as what we’ve seen on higher end motherboards. It wasn’t as effective as I’d like either, but more on that later.
There are 2x 288-pin DIMM slots supporting up to 32GB of DDR4 memory at speeds up to DDR4 3600MHz through overclocking. Since there are only two slots, color coding each slot doesn’t make any sense. Because of the motherboard’s small stature, ASUS employed single-sided locking tabs for memory module retention. ASUS calls this "Q-DIMM." Ordinarily I would expect to see steel reinforcement of the memory slots, but that’s not the case here.
The chipset is cooled with ASUS’ double decker style heat sink. The chipset doesn’t interfere with the expansion slot, so chipset height isn’t a problem. This heat sink has a removable top cover which contains a hidden M.2 slot. Beneath that is the motherboard’s audio solution. The cover can be reinstalled and acts as a heat sink for the installed M.2 drive. Interestingly enough, ASUS has paid for attention to these M.2 SSD heatsinks so that those now only cover the controller on the drive instead of the MLC or TLC memory modules as well. The controller works better when it is cool, but the FLASH likes to operate at higher temperatures and shows longer life as well.
There is only one expansion slot, so the layout is irrelevant. ASUS does use its "SafeSlot" reinforcement technology. This metal bracket prevents PCB plate bending and distortion during graphics card installation. On the back of the PCB you’ll find another M.2 slot. Both slots are limited to type 2280 (80mm) long devices. One slot supports PCIe and SATA type devices while the other is for PCIe based devices only.
Unfortunately, ASUS chose not to use an integrated I/O shield on the ROG STRIX B450-I Gaming motherboard. It uses a traditional stamped I/O shield. However, the I/O shield is nicer than some of the ones I’ve seen. There isn’t much on the back panel. You have 4x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 2x USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, 1x HDMI port, 1x GbE RJ-45 LAN port, 2x wireless antenna connections and 3x mini-stereo jacks. These jacks are black plastic, but do have RGB LED’s inside which are color coded to denote what each jack is used for.