The AMD B550 chipset – successor to the B450 chipset – aims to bring the power of Ryzen’s 3rd-Generation of CPUs to non-enthusiast AMD fans. Venerated motherboard manufacturer, ASUS, has offered their take on the B550 chipset aimed at gamers to us, but has it achieved what it needed to? Let’s find out.
For those who have read my tech reviews should know my undying love for new motherboards. A new motherboard is almost like getting a whole new PC – sure, the other components remain the same but the improvements typically made in refresh models make the experience just so much nicer.
The B550 is more than just a simple refresh, though, but actually brings plenty of enthusiast-grade features to mainstream users, such as Dual GPU Support which was only previously found on X470/X570 tier motherboards, along with upgraded PCIe 3.0 general purpose lanes, which 400-series motherboards only supported up to PCIe 2.0. Of course, B550 brings with the exciting new promise of PCIe 4.0 support for both GPU and NVMe bays.
To top it all off, these are the first set of motherboards that have been designed specifically for AMD’s 3rd-Generation Ryzen processors – while previous models have always released support for 3rd-Gen via an update, this is the first board designed from the ground up with AMD 3000 processors in mind! Finally, B550, and more specifically, the ROG Strix B550-E Gaming, will be compatible with future AMD CPU generations that support the Zen 3 architecture.
The ROG Strix B550-E gaming sports a futuristic, Cyberpunk-ish design, something that ASUS has nailed across their line-up of gaming-centric motherboards. With fairly large heatsinks for better VRM cooling that boast the ROG eye, with branding underneath, and super-slick branding etched into the top of the I/O shield. Surrounding the AM4 socket we see the large heatsinks we spoke about earlier, with capacitors lined up neatly, like soldiers ready to charge into battle.
Towards the bottom we have the chipset heatsink, which not only sports the same ROG branding as the I/O shield, but with a custom design that subtly flaunts the ROG eye. Overall, the design of the motherboard emanates a battle-ready gaming station, capable of tackling the most intense gaming sessions you can imagine – all while treating itself as a calm and collected art piece, ready to be paraded.
The ROG Strix B550-E Gaming is built for the 3rd-Gen Ryzen CPUs, sporting the same AM4 socket since the initial launch of Ryzen. The ROG Strix B550-E Gaming can support 2nd-Gen Ryzen CPUs but cannot support 1st-Gen chips – though, it has been confirmed to already support the upcoming Ryzen 4000 series CPUs, or whatever the naming convention will be for AMDs future series of processors with the much-anticipated Zen 3 architecture, making the motherboard fairly future-proof. The ROG Strix B550-E Gaming is pretty big on cooling, with beefier VRM heatsinks, a more efficient chipset heatsink, as well as support for multiple fan headers (AIO Pump included), the motherboard recognizes the importance of staying cool. Moving towards the rear of the board, the integrated I/O shield sports two of my favourite features that are becoming increasingly standard; a Wi-Fi module, and a BIOS Flashback button.
Kicking off our performance testing, we looked at the stability of our RAM OC. For testing, we used a 16GB set of G.Skill Trident Z 3200MHz RAM, and with standard cooling from our case fans, we managed to achieve a solid 3733MHz, which arguably, may not sound like much, but when you remember that the ROG Strix B550-E Gaming is not technically made for enthusiasts, its quite impressive. Our RAM OC was stable without touching the voltage too, so we could have attempted to push further, but again, not a motherboard for enthusiast overclocking.
In keeping with overclocking, we looked at how far we could take our current 2nd Gen Ryzen 7 2700. At Max Boost Clock, the Ryzen 7 2700 clocks in at 4.1GHz, and Ryzen has never really given much headroom for overclocking to begin with, but we still managed a stable overclock of 4.4GHz, which is rather significant. At 4.5GHz, we saw some instability and other issues, so we decided to scale it back. However, 4.4GHz is still excellent on the ROG Strix B550-E Gaming, especially when combined with the 3733MHz clock we achieved with our RAM.
We can confidently say that the ROG Strix B550-E Gaming generated an extra 17% in performance in games – judging off of a baseline of 60fps - thanks to the stability of our overclocking results. The biggest improvements we saw were from CPU-intense games, such as competitive FPS, Hitman 2, and GTA V, and even Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Cumulatively, we got an extra 10fps across the board (excluding competitive titles), pushing our 60fps aggregate target to 70fps.
Moving away from gaming to more productivity-centric tasks, the increased CPU and RAM frequency, combined with the increased speeds and transfer rates of PCIe 4.0 SSDs – in this case, the FireCuda 520 1TB NVMe – made working on design programmes much easier and faster. Rendering times for basic image and video editing were improved by roughly 15%, which of course would be further enhanced with a 3rd-Gen Ryzen chip.
Overall, the ROG Strix B550-E Gaming is a perfect starting point for anyone looking to adopt and AMD ecosystem – whether you are coming from Team Blue, or a new gamer to the PC world. The enthusiast-level features that are more typically found in X570 tier motherboards offer entry PC gamers better performance, while the Cyberpunk/industrialist design gives the modern gamer a pleasing aesthetic. The performance figures speak volumes, and when combined with the other topics mentioned above, a better entry point for B550, I doubt you will find.
Content creators have often been neglected by motherboard manufacturers, being overlooked by gamers and those looking for heavy workstation-based components. Well, now, that seems to have changed, with the ASUS ProArt Z490-Creator 10G – a motherboard that has been designed from the ground up with content creators in mind. But how does it help content creators? Let’s find out.
The ProArt Z490-Creator 10G is based off of the new Z490 chipset (kind of in the name, Rob), supporting Intel’s brand-new LGA 1200 socket. The LGA 1200 socket supports an extra 49 contact pins, which allows for better power delivery, and thus better performance to the new 10th-Gen Intel CPUs, and excitingly, the upcoming 11th-Gen CPUs as well. This is where my first “issue” with the motherboard is, and it’s the same issue I had when I looked at the ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming motherboard, and that’s the lack of support for legacy generation Intel CPUs – but as is the case there, this is more an issue with Intel than ASUS themselves.
The ProArt Z490-Creator 10G is equipped with four DIMM slots, supporting a maximum of 128GB DDR4 RAM, at over 4600MHz frequency, which is a plentiful amount of RAM at a decent speed. This will help ease the time of rendering projects out, as well as speed up certain tasks, and even free up CPU capacity to focus on CPU-intensive tasks.
The ProArt Z490-Creator 10G also features two NVMe drives offering creators an ultra-fast storage solution for raw files and programmes, which not only increases the speed of tasks performed, but will also enhance workflow since creators will not need to worry about long waiting times for programmes to open and perform tasks. The benefits of PCIe Gen 4.0 would definitely have been felt here, which is unfortunate that it is not supported in 10th Gen CPUs, but once it is, performance will be enhanced even further. For mass storage, there are six SATA 6Gb/s ports for SSDs and HDDs, giving creators the freedom to ditch servers and save their files locally, to further increase efficiency – for those who do use servers, though, don’t worry, I will touch on something quite special a little later on.
For mass storage, there are six SATA 6Gb/s ports for SSDs and HDDs, giving creators the freedom to ditch servers and save their files locally...
Up until now, you might have thought – “well, where is the focus on creators?”. Well, the next addition to the ProArt Z490-Creator 10G motherboard will certainly make creators happy, especially Apple fans – Thunderbolt 3. The ProArt Z490-Creator 10G includes two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the rear I/O, offering content creators up to 40Gb/s of bandwidth, and you can even daisy-chain up to six devices per port – this means you can have up to twelve compatible devices hooked up at a single time, excluding NVMe drives, SSDs, and HDDs. If you are a creator, you will know that this can make a massive difference, in both convenience, and getting your content wrapped up as soon as possible.
Remember when I spoke about that something quite special? Well, included with the ProArt Creator 10G is a Hyper 10G LAN Card which plugs into a single PCIe slot, offering an additional 10Gb/s of bandwidth. With this, content creators who currently work remotely, who constantly need to read and write off of a server, and who spend a large amount of time uploading large files, such as 4K videos, can have a dedicated portal to do that through. Essentially, what this means, is that you can work – in real-time – off a remote server, as if it were stored locally on your system.
To put it simply, the software optimizes multi-tasking so that you can get more done at the same time.
Hardware is not the only focus on creators, but on software as well. ASUS has recognized that content creators not only need powerful hardware to drive content creation, but intelligent software optimization as well. ASUS has adapted their exclusive CreationFirst software to the ProArt Z490-Creator 10G motherboard, which prioritises bandwidth to applications that will need more when active, over those that do not need as much. For example, if you are remotely rendering a video or image, and you still need to transfer files, the CreationFirst software will allocate more bandwidth to the heavy-use application, while still allocating enough to the file transfer. To put it simply, the software optimizes multi-tasking so that you can get more done at the same time. This also goes for software that you are actively working on vs. applications that are running in the background – active applications will be prioritized over background tasks to enhance your workflow.
Overclocking is a term you often hear of when it comes to gaming, but never when it comes to content creation. An overclock is simply pushing your components to the max, so it would make sense to still consider it for content creation. With AI Overclocking software found in the ProArt Z490-Creator 10G, you can get even faster conversion results, or render times, thanks to the system’s ability to read your components and predict the best possible settings and apply them automatically. Not only this, but there are also real-time adjustments as well, so as your workload increases, so does your overclock.
Overall, content creators have a single need from their systems: to create an environment that creates a seamless and enhanced experience, so bolster content creation, and allow them to focus on what matters – creating content. This is what the ProArt Z490-Craetor 10G achieves, with the inclusion of Thunderbolt 3, the Hyper 10G LAN Card, multiple storage solutions, and smart use of AI systems to optimize workflow. The lack of support for PCIe Gen 4.0 is disappointing, as this would have been the cherry on the cake, but this is more Intel fault than ASUS. Its fantastic to see ASUS focus on products specifically for content creators, and impressive to see how well they have done it.
Advertorial disclosure: This review was provided by Robert de Wit, PR Associate at ASUS ZA.
Gaming mice have followed a similar standard for the past couple of years; comfy thumb pad, dpi adjustments, and more mouse buttons than you know what to do with. Oh, and RGB. But what if someone came along and said, “you know what that mouse needs? A joystick”. Well, that is just what ASUS did, and boy, did we not realise how much we needed it before now.
Gaming mice have long been lauded for their ability to enhance a gamer’s experience, from the DPI adjustments, to its design, and most recently, its weight. Though, what gaming mice have never really tried to embrace is something that we never thought would actually add any value – a joystick.
Yes, a joystick – the same thing you use on console’s gamepad. Something that usually replaces the function of WASD keys when jamming on a PC vs. a console, typically used for camera control and movement on console. So what could it possibly do on a PC, you might be wondering, and I wouldn’t blame you.
The ROG Chakram is not only defined by its use of a joystick, but by its all-around incredible use as a great wireless gaming mouse. Chakram uses a 2.4GHz network to connect to your PC, you can be assured of an instant and continuous connection, along with a PixArt 3335 sensor, to ensure every move you make is picked up, at a top dpi setting of 16,000.
The shortened, but taller, back-end and elongated mouse buttons makes a palm rest comfortable.
The shape is comfortable for most hand sizes, and grips – I use a palm grip for the most part, but occasionally I find myself clawing – and the switch between the two is super fluid. The shortened, but taller, back-end and elongated mouse buttons makes a palm rest comfortable. However, since the switches are brought closer to the centre of the mouse, claw grip users will not suffer any false clicks.
The ROG Chakram boasts a relatively clean design, with some slight grooves on each side of the mouse to improve grip texture. A front view of the mouse gives off a slightly “sports-car” aesthetic, giving it a premium, elegant, yet powerful aesthetic. The panels for both mouse click buttons, as well as the rear panel, are a smoked-out translucent colour, giving you an edgy look into the workings of the mouse, pushing a modern industrialist design.
The removable rear panel is where you can store your personalized badge – if you have a gaming logo, are part of a clan, or just want to add your own style, you can replace the ROG badge that comes with the ROG Chakram, which is illuminated by the RGB lighting underneath. This is also where the wireless USB dongle will sit when you are transporting your mouse, providing a safe and secure place for you to keep your dongle – always ready for use, without the worry of remembering where you kept it.
Analog mode offers a traditional 8-way joystick that you would find on a console gamepad, which can be excellent for movement in flight sims.
Coming back to the star of the show – the joystick. Situated where you would usually find the thumb button (often referred to as the “Sniper” Button), the joystick is a full 360-degree moving addition, offering two different modes; analog mode and digital mode. Analog mode offers a traditional 8-way joystick that you would find on a console gamepad, which can be excellent for movement in flight sims. Though, the digital mode – which offers a 4-way D-pad configuration – was more preferable, as I was able to configure the programmable joystick to be hotkeys for actions in competitive gaming.
If you don’t want to use the joystick at any particular time, you can swap out the pre-installed medium-sized joystick for a flat disk, that elegantly conceals the joystick, giving the appearance of a standard gaming mouse, sans thumb button. There is also an added joystick button which is slightly larger and elongated, for those who struggle to get a good grip on the standard joystick configuration.
Outside of gaming, my web browsing and general productivity was made so much easier by the joystick, as moving between tabs, navigating excel spreadsheets, and general office tasks were made so much faster.
Without illumination, the ROG Chakram supports up to 79 hours (you read that right) of play time...
Battery life is also something to rave home about – something that is not always easily said about wireless mice. Without illumination, the ROG Chakram supports up to 79 hours (you read that right) of play time, but with lighting will depend purely on your synchronization with programmes. In my testing, I was never short of a 40 hour play time, though, with lighting on, so you can be rest assured that you will be getting a good amount of playtime off of a full charge. If you don’t have time for a full charge, though, just 15 minutes of charge with the included USB-C connection will net you 12 hours of playtime – though, my testing proved closer to 10 hours but that could be down to lighting. If you are able to get yourself a Qi compatible gaming pad, you won’t even need to worry about putting the ROG Chakram on charge, as it is Qi-charging compatible, so it charges as you play.
Customisation is a big part of the ROG Chakram. Using the Armoury Crate software, you can adjust three separate profiles, each with their own Dpi settings, lighting configurations, as well as macro assignments. These three profiles can be stored on the mouse itself, thanks to onboard storage, which you can change in the Armoury software, along with battery-saving settings such as Sleep Timer and lighting indicators if your battery is running low.
Overall, the ROG Chakram should be praised for being one of the most daring wireless gaming mice out there, with the inclusion of the joystick, providing the best of both worlds – a PC mouse with gamepad capabilities. The battery life has been the most impressive I have ever seen on a wireless mouse, being able to last a full week of gaming and some light office work on a single charge. Edgy gaming aesthetics are apparent, but the large focus has been placed on what matters most; comfort, performance, and longevity. Literally, the only fault I have with the ROG Chakram, is that it needs more of an “edgy gamer” aesthetic that we have become accustomed to with the ROG brand. Otherwise, it’s essentially a perfect wireless gaming mouse.
Advertorial disclosure: This review was provided by Robert de Wit, PR Associate at ASUS ZA.
Intel’s new 400-series platform has kicked off with Z490 platform, promising next generation performance, especially when paired with 10th-Generation Intel CPUs. In this case we are looking at ASUS’ latest dive into the world of PC backbones, and the venerated motherboard manufacturer has really pulled a home run with the ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming.
Off the board (hehe, puns), we can see that ASUS, or Republic of Gamers rather, has poured their company motif into their latest Intel rendition, focusing on the needs of the end user in both innovation and design. A quick look around the board, we can see beefed up VRM and CPU heatsinks, improved cooling for the two available M.2_2 slots, and along with the pre-installed I/O shield – which has become the norm (thank goodness) – we see a large focus has been placed on the aesthetics of the ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming motherboard.
The ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming supports Intel’s newest LGA 1200 socket type which has been optimized for 10th Gen Intel processors, and is already 11th Gen-Intel ready, but cannot support lower generations of Intel’s processors, unfortunately. Moving on from the CPU, the ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming offers four DIMM slots, supporting a maximum of 128GB DDR4 RAM at 4600Mhz max overclock. Underneath this, we have two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, one PCIe 3.0 x16 slot, and three additional PCIe 3.0 x1 slots. Towards the rear, we have pre-installed I/O shield, with a BIOS FlashBack Button, and built-in Wi-Fi module.
Design and Aesthetics:
The ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming sports an edgy, Cyberpunk-ish, industrial look, showing off its performance capabilities while maintaining an essence of “I’m here to kick ass and look good doing it”. The perfect way to describe it would be to imagine Arnold in his youth as the Terminator, but with a few scratches to highlight the mechanical inner workings of the ultimate machine, and displayed in such a way that you don’t mind taking a grenade to the face, as long as it comes from him.
However, my favourite element of the board has to be the branding just right of the M.2_2 heatsinks...
As you open the box, we see the ROG eye staring at us from the I/O shield, with the words “ROG Strix Gaming” emblazoned underneath it. Just below that we have some more branding, akin to a digital billboard we see in sci-fi movies, with the “STRIX” design displayed, in a beautiful pink/blue/purple colour mashup. However, my favourite element of the board has to be the branding just right of the M.2_2 heatsinks, with an illuminating “ROG” logo in amongst their notorious “Republic of Gamers” branding, mixing industrial design with futuristic appeal. The diagonal rotation blends seamlessly into the background of the actual PCB, which extends further into the fins of the VRM heatsinks, and finally into the logo on the I/O shield.
I will start off with the CPU, as the ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming boasts Intel’s newest LGA 1200 socket type for the new Comet Lake series CPUs, which sports an additional 49 pins to improve performance through better power delivery, as well as provide future I/O updates. For the most part, this is a modified version of the current LGA 1151 socket used in Intel’s mainstream gaming range, offering slightly better performance than its predecessor.
On the top end of the CPU range – the Intel 10th Gen i9 10900K – the socket boasts a small 125W power draw while the i3 10100T will draw only 35W, making the LGA 1200 socket versatile for performance and mainstream use. This will obviously be dependent on how far of an overclock you achieve, but we are promised 5.3Ghz on the chips out of the box.
Z490 is a high-performance platform, so we tested to see if it could handle any extreme overclocking, and while we weren’t able to push insane numbers – only due to cooling – we did push a 5.5Ghz single core OC with no stability issues. In fact, when we pushed the chip beyond this, the only thermal throttle came from the chip itself, since our cooler struggled to maintain a stable temperature.
Memory overclocking on the ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming yielded incredible results as well, taking my 16GB G.Skill Trident Z 3200Mhz RAM kit, and kept it stable at 3733Mhz, and was unfortunately limited by the RAM kit itself, so we were not able to test it at the 4600Mhz range. However, the ease of Intel’s XMP profiling, as well as the incredible support from the ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming, we still managed to achieve an increased 17% in memory performance, simply by clicking a button – something I hadn’t been able to achieve on other platforms.
With two M.2_2 heatsinks available on the ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming, I was able to place both of my Seagate NVMe drives directly into the board, giving me 3TB of blistering speeds at all times. Not to mention, the two SSDs and two standard HDDs – I really like storage, okay, don’t judge me – I could plug into the four of six SATA 6Gb/s ports.
Coming around to the rear, we look at the I/O of the ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming. Not only do we have the multitude of USB connections, but we also see a built-in Intel Wi-Fi 6 connection, capable of handling Wi-Fi 6 connections as well as Bluetooth 5, and for those cable aficionados, there is still an Intel I225V-V Gigabit LAN port. Most excitingly, though, is the BIOS FlashBack button and LED that makes BIOS updating so much safer and easier than before.
Hardware focus aside, the AI suite of software built into the ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming is phenomenal. ROG GameFirst VI – which is an ROG exclusive – not only allows you to monitor your network traffic but actually prioritises your online gaming, setting streams and general browsing to the backburner. The best part about it is that it is AI controlled, so you don’t actually have to change a thing – simply launch on online gaming and your network traffic is automatically prioritized to your game! More than this, the AI software will still keep your streams running perfectly in the background, while ensuring that you are as lag-free as possible in online gaming.
Most excitingly, though, is the BIOS FlashBack button and LED that makes BIOS updating so much safer and easier than before.
The ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming also features AI Overclocking, which is a proprietary ROG algorithm that predicts the optimal OC settings for your system, depending on your system components and cooling – which it can automatically detect. This may take the fun of manual overclocking out of it but those who are not confident in overclocking can still get the best out of their system. Lastly, the AI Overclocking suite can make real-time adjustments, according to any scenario.
Some slight issues…
There are some slight issues I had while testing the ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming, and to be fair, these weren’t issues with the board itself, but more so with Intel. Firstly, is the lack of support for PCIe 4.0, which is not currently supported on any 10th Gen Intel, despite some claims from other manufacturers in the market. PCIe 4.0 has been fully supported by AMD for some time now, and while Intel does promise that the 11th Generation will support PCIe 4.0 connectivity, it is a shame that they have not opted for early adoption – or current adoption, rather – forcing end users to wait for 11th Gen Intel CPUs to reap the benefits of PCIe 4.0.
Secondly, is pricing, and this is an argument that gets made quite often when it comes to ROG products, but when you consider that the ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming offers better platform stability, better user functionality, and absolutely stunning design, it’s a premium worth every single cent, especially for the PC enthusiast in us all.
The ASUS ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming is an absolutely incredible motherboard, and echoes ASUS’s heritage as one of the world’s greatest motherboard veterans. The Z490-E Gaming boasts incredible performance with an unparalleled design, and more consumer-centric features than I can count. The lack of PCIe 4.0 support is slightly disappointing but this more on the fault of Intel than ASUS, and hopefully this will be redeemed in 11th Gen. There is the concern of pricing as well, but for the enhanced performance and stability, as well as the ASUS’s venerated motherboard heritage, it is well worth it.
Advertorial disclosure: This review was provided by Robert de Wit, PR Associate at ASUS ZA.