Motherboard manufacturer ASRock has done what many said couldn’t be done, including AMD: It’s added support for the latest Ryzen CPUs to its antiquated X370 motherboards. The company has enabled this support via a new BIOS that will let its four year old motherboards run the latest and greatest AMD chips, which is a pretty awesome situation for those who have been holding off on upgrading to the newest version of AMD’s AM4 socketed motherboards. It also flies in the face of what AMD has said is officially possible and/or allowed, raising the question of whether other motherboard manufacturers such as Asus and Gigabyte will follow suit, and if they will be risking AMD’s wrath if they do so.
AMD’s stance on this issue may be changing as AM4 approaches end-of-life; company spokespeople have acknowledged investigating X370 support for Ryzen 5000 CPUs fairly recently.
The controversy stems from AMD announcing way back in 2016 that its AM4 chipset would enjoy a long five-year life cycle, then somewhat reversing that decision two years ago when it realized it wasn’t feasible for a variety of reasons. AM4 has still had a very long life, and is still thriving even today in 2022, but AMD’s reversal caused some anger within the CPU enthusiast community, and that’s what ASRock is trying to rectify with its BIOS update.
According to Tom’s Hardware, the first motherboard from ASRock to get the new BIOS is its X370 Pro, and the update also comes with a warning that applying it will remove support from the board for Bristol Ridge APUs, which were released in 2017. It also recommends caution if you’re using a Pinnacle, Raven, Summit or Bristol Ridge CPU currently.
As for what is causing the limitations on the number of CPUs a chipset can support, it seems to come down to storage space. The chips that hold BIOS information don’t have enough capacity to keep allowing new lines of code. AM4 has lived so long and supported so many CPUs that its embedded 16MB SPI ROM that holds BIOS data is full. One workaround for this problem is some BIOS manufacturers have actually removed features from their BIOSes to make room for updated CPU compatibility. One example of how this works is to remove the fancy GUI-based BIOS in favor of a text-based one that requires less code.
The news of ASRock going off the reservation follows reports from late 2021 that Asus and Gigabyte had enabled support for Zen 3 CPUs on the entry-level A320 motherboards, which is like putting a Ferrari engine into a Toyota Yaris chassis. Along the same lines, people were previously modding their 300-series motherboards with bootleg BIOSes, which is a bad idea for a number of reasons.
Still, AMD has said publicly that it’s not totally opposed to the idea of officially allowing the 300-series motherboards run 5000-series CPUs. In an interview with Tom’s linked above, David McAfee, AMD’s Corporate VP and GM of the Client Channel business, said it’s something they are very aware of, but they need time to figure out how to do it properly, if at all.
He also stated the obvious, which is taking a brand-new $500+ CPU and dropping it into a five-year old motherboard is not the best combination of parts. McAfee stated it as follows, “So you’re going to drop it in there [Ryzen 5950X], and it’s not going to deliver the performance the product is capable of. But by the same token, providing the opportunity for somebody to do that, if they wanted to, is not a matter of if the board is functionally capable of supporting that or not; it’s really about will it get the most performance? At the moment, the official answer from AMD would be these 300-series motherboards are not a supported configuration in our engineering validation coverage matrix. There are potential issues that could be in there that we’re simply not aware of at this point in time.”
Clearly it’s a complicated situation, and not as simple as AMD just saying, “make it happen,” as the companies will still need to validate all these older boards on all the new CPUs that might suddenly become supported. Though people were clearly upset by AMD’s reversal on AM4’s lifespan, it doesn’t seem like the company was acting out of bad faith, and AM4 has had an astoundingly long lifespan compared to what Intel has come up with over the past five years.
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