Hardware news this week has been largely overrun with major movers: Micron and Intel are set to end their partnership on 3D XPoint, PC sales have grown for the first time in 6 years, Z370 BIOS updates indicate an 8-core CPU on the horizon, AMD Ryzen CPUs could be targeting more than 8C in 2019, Western Digital is shutting down a major hard drive plant, and more.

As always, our show notes for the episode are below, with sources and links to all stories. We've also got a video for those who prefer the visual medium:

We visited EVGA’s suite for a look at the new OC Robot and built-in BIOS stress testing update for the X299 Dark motherboards. For the new X299 Micro 2 motherboard, we also learned the following of the VRM spec:

  • VCCIN : IR35201(Controller1 - 5PH double to 10PH) + IR3556 x10
  • VSA+VCCIO : IR35204(Controller2 - 1+1PH) + IR3556 (1+1)
  • VSM+VPP_C01 : IR35204(Controller3 - 1+1PH) + TDA88240 (1+1)
  • VSM+VPP_C23 : IR35204(Controller4 - 1+1PH) + TDA88240 (1+1)

With B350, B360, Z370, Z390, X370, and Z490, we think it’s time to revisit an old topic answering what a chipset is. This is primarily to establish a point of why we need clarity on what each of these provides – there are a lot of chipsets with similar names, different socket types, and similar features. We’re here to define a chipset today in TLDR fashion, with a later piece to explain the actual chipset differences.

As for what a chipset actually is, this calls back to a GN article from 2012 – though we can do a better job now. The modern chipset is a glorified I/O controller, and can be thought of as the spinal cord of the computer, while the CPU is the disembodied brain. Intel calls its chipset a PCH, or Platform Controller Hub, while AMD just goes with the generic and appropriate term “chipset.” The chipset is the center of I/O for the rest of the motherboard, assigning I/O lanes to devices like SATA, gigabit ethernet, and USB ports.

DDR5 may achieve mass switch-over adoption by 2022, based on new estimates out of memory makers. A new Micron demonstration had DDR5 memory functional, operating on a Cadence IMC and custom chip, with 4400MHz and CL42 timings. It's a start. Micron hopes to tighten timings over time, and aims to increase frequency toward 6400MHz as DDR5 matures. It's more of a capacity solution, too, with targeted densities at 16Gb and 32Gb for the future.

In addition to the week's DDR5 news, detailed in more depth below, we also have roadmap leaks from AMD and Intel that indicate Z490 and Z390 chipsets shipping this year. We're not yet sure what Z490's purpose is, but we know that it's an AMD product -- and the first of the new chipsets to take a Z prefix, just like Intel's performance series.

Our show notes below cover all the stories, or just check the video:

There’s a new trend in the industry: Heatsinks. Hopefully, anyway.

Gigabyte has listened to our never-ending complaints about VRM heatsinks and VRM thermals, and outfitted their X470 Gaming 7 motherboard with a full, proper fin stack and heatpipe. We’re happy to see it, and we hope that this trend continues, but it’s also not entirely necessary on this board. That doesn’t make us less excited to see an actual heatsink on a motherboard; however, we believe it does potentially point toward a future in higher core-count Ryzen CPUs. This is something that Buildzoid speculated in our recent Gaming 7 X470 VRM & PCB analysis. The amount of “overkill” power delivery capabilities on high-end X470 boards would suggest plans to support higher power consumption components from AMD.

Take the Gigabyte Gaming 7: It’s a 10+2-phase VRM, with the VCore VRM using IR3553s for 40A power stages. That alone is enough to run passive, but a heatsink drags temperature so far below requirements of operating spec that there’s room to spare. Cooler is always better in this instance (insofar as ambient cooling, anyway), so we can’t complain, but we can speculate about why it’s been done this way. ASUS’ Crosshair VII Hero has the same VRM, but with 60A power stages. That board, like Gigabyte’s, could run with no heatsink and be fine.

We tested with thermocouples placed on one top-side MOSFET, located adjacent to the SOC VRM MOSFETs (1.2V SOC), and one left-side MOSFET that’s centrally positioned. Our testing included stock and overclocked testing (4.2GHz/1.41VCore at Extreme LLC), then further tested with the heatsink removed entirely. By design, this test had no active airflow over the VRM components. Ambient was controlled during the test and was logged every second.

Multi-core enhancement is an important topic that we’ve discussed before – right after the launch of the 8700K, most recently. It’ll become even more important over the next few weeks, and that’s for a few reasons: For one, Intel is launching its new B and H chipsets soon, and that’ll require some performance testing. For two, AMD is launching its Ryzen 2000 series chips on April 19th, and those will include XFR2. Some X470 motherboards, just like some X370 motherboards, have MCE equivalent options. For Intel and AMD both, enabling MCE means running outside of power specification, and therefore thermal spec of low-end coolers, and also running higher clocks than the stock configuration. The question is if any motherboard vendors enable MCE by default, or silently, because that’s where results can become muddy for buyers.

As noted, this topic is most immediately relevant for impending B & H series chipset testing – if recent leaks are to be believed, anyway. This is also relevant for upcoming Ryzen 2 CPUs, like the 2700X and kin, for their inclusion of XFR2 and similar boosting features. In today’s content, we’re revisiting MCE and Core Performance Boost on AMD CPUs, demonstrating the differences between them (and an issue with BIOS revision F2 on the Ultra Gaming).

NZXT today announced its first-ever motherboard, the NZXT N7, a $300 Z370 board with integrated HUE RGB and GRID fan controller. This is NZXT’s first attempt at a motherboard, and seems to take a very NZXT-approach to everything: It’s visuals first, with this one, using the company’s newfound perforated design aesthetic across a steel surface plate on the board. NZXT has a lot of interesting – and odd – design decisions in the N7 motherboard. We’ll walk through some of those today.

The NZXT N7 motherboard is an ATX Z370 option, and we think we found NZXT’s OEM partner – we’ll save that for the end.

GamersNexus secured an early exclusive with the new Gigabyte Gaming 7 motherboard at CES 2018, equipped with what one could confidently assume is an AMD X470 chipset. Given information from AMD on launch timelines, it would also be reasonable to assume that the new motherboards can be expected for roughly April of this year, alongside AMD’s Ryzen CPU refresh. This is all information learned from AMD’s public data. As for the Gigabyte Gaming 7 motherboard, the first thing we noticed is that it has real heatsinks on the VRMs, and that it’s actually running what appears to be a higher-end configuration for what we would assume is the new Ryzen launch.

Starting with the heatsink, Gigabyte has taken pride in listening to media and community concerns about VRM heatsinks, and has now added an actual finstack atop its 10-phase Vcore VRM. To give an idea, we saw significant performance improvement on the EVGA X299 DARK motherboard with just the finned heatsinks, not even using the built-in fans. It’s upwards of 20 degrees Celsius improvement over the fat blocks, in some cases, since the blocks don’t provide any surface area.

Recapping our previous X299 VRM thermal coverage, we found the ASUS X299 Rampage Extreme motherboard to operate against its throttle point when pushing higher overclocks (>4GHz) on the i9-7980XE CPU. The conclusion of that content was, ultimately, that ASUS wasn’t necessarily at fault, but that we must ask whether it is reasonable to assume such a board can take the 500-600W throughput of an overclocked 7980XE CPU. EVGA has now arrived on the scene with its X299 DARK motherboard, which is seemingly the first motherboard of this year to use a fully finned VRM heatsink in a non-WS board. Our EVGA X299 DARK review will initially look at temperatures and VRM throttling on the board, and ultimately look into how much the heatsink design impacts performance.

EVGA went crazy with its X299 DARK motherboard. The craziest thing they did, evidently, was add a real heatsink to it: The heatsink has actual fins, through which a heatpipe routes toward the IO and into another large aluminum block, which is decidedly less finned. The tiny fans on top of the board look a little silly, but we also found them to be unnecessary in most use cases: Just having a real heatsink gets the board far enough, it turns out, and the brilliance of the PCH fan is that it pushes air through M.2 slots and the heatsink near the IO.

EVGA’s X299 DARK motherboard uses some brilliant designs, but also stuff that’s pretty basic. A heatsink with fins, for one, is about as obvious as it gets: More surface area means more spread of heat, and also means fans can more readily dissipate that heat. The extra four phases on the motherboard further support EVGA in dissipating heat over a wider area. EVGA individually places thermal pads on each MOSFET rather than use a large strip, which is mostly just good attention to detail; theoretically, this does improve the cooling performance, but it is not necessarily measurable. Two fans sit atop the heatsink and run upwards of 10,000RPM, with a third, larger fan located over the PCH. The PCH only consumes a few watts and has no need for active cooling, but the fan is located in such a way that (A) it’s larger, and therefore quieter and more effective, and (B) it can push air down the M.2 chamber for active cooling, then force that air into the IO shroud. A second half of the VRM heatsink (connected via heatpipe to the finned sink) is hidden under the shroud, through which the airflow from the PCH fan may flow. That’s exhausted out of the IO shield. Making a 90-degree turn does mean losing about 30% pressure, and the heatsink is far away from the PCH, but it’s enough to get heat out of the hotbox that the shroud creates.

Here's an example of what clock throttling looks like when encountering VRM temperature limits, as demonstrated in our Rampage VI Extreme content:

MSI has updated BIOS versions for their Intel 100, 200, and 300 series motherboards. They’re the latest of several manufacturers, including Gigabyte a week ago, to address security vulnerabilities in Intel’s TXE (Trusted Execution Engine). Intel says they have “provided system and motherboard manufacturers with the necessary firmware and software updates,” so it’s now up to those manufacturers to implement them. An Intel tool that detects whether systems are vulnerable is available here, as well as a list of vendors that have already released updates.

Owners of affected MSI motherboards should visit and find their model. BIOS and other downloads can be found under the “service” tab for each board. Instructions are similar for most other manufacturers.

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