AMD Revises Position On Zen 3 Backwards Compatibility For B450/X470

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅19.05.2020 16:08:52

Motherboards such as the ASUS PRIME B450-A should receive Zen 3 support after all

One of the highlights of April in technology was the introduction of a trio of new products from AMD. While the launch of a pair of entry-level Zen 2 CPUs was relatively uncontroversial, an info-dump coinciding with B550's public unveiling revealed an important caveat for future CPU support on all Socket AM4 motherboards: Zen 3 CPUs will not be supported on 400-series and earlier motherboards. Cue an enormous outcry on the official AMD subreddit, support forums, social media and amongst the tech media at large.

Prompted by this rather unprecedented fan backlash and general bad PR for a move that many likened to Intel's anti-consumer Kaby Lake launch practices (restricting support to the then-new 100-series motherboards despite no significant hardware change), AMD have come forward today to substantially revise their position on Zen 3 support for B450 and X470. In short, they will work with motherboard vendors to provide an AGESA & BIOS update that will unlock Zen 3 support on B450/X470, but this will likely necessitate disabling support for any older CPU generations on that board.

Our experience has been that large-scale BIOS upgrades can be difficult and confusing especially as processors come on and off the support lists. As the community of Socket AM4 customers has grown over the past three years, our intention was to take a path forward that provides the safest upgrade experience for the largest number of users. However, we hear you loud and clear when you tell us you would like to see B450 or X470 boards extended to the next generation “Zen 3” products.

As the team weighed your feedback against the technical challenges we face, we decided to change course. As a result, we will enable an upgrade path for B450 and X470 customers that adds support for next-gen AMD Ryzen™ Processors with the “Zen 3” architecture. This decision is very fresh, but here is a first look at how the upgrade path is expected to work for customers of these motherboards.

1. We will develop and enable our motherboard partners with the code to support “Zen 3”-based processors in select beta BIOSes for AMD B450 and X470 motherboards.

2. These optional BIOS updates will disable support for many existing AMD Ryzen™ Desktop Processor models to make the necessary ROM space available.

3. The select beta BIOSes will enable a one-way upgrade path for AMD Ryzen Processors with “Zen 3,” coming later this year. Flashing back to an older BIOS version will not be supported.

4. To reduce the potential for confusion, our intent is to offer BIOS download only to verified customers of 400 Series motherboards who have purchased a new desktop processor with “Zen 3” inside. This will help us ensure that customers have a bootable processor on-hand after the BIOS flash, minimizing the risk a user could get caught in a no-boot situation.

5. Timing and availability of the BIOS updates will vary and may not immediately coincide with the availability of the first “Zen 3”-based processors.

6. This is the final pathway AMD can enable for 400 Series motherboards to add new CPU support. CPU releases beyond “Zen 3” will require a newer motherboard.

7. AMD continues to recommend that customers choose an AMD 500 Series motherboard for the best performance and features with our new CPUs.

There are still many details to iron out, but we’ve already started the necessary planning. As we get closer to the launch of this upgrade path, you should expect another blog just like this to provide the remaining details and a walkthrough of the specific process.

The now defunct support matrix for AMD motherboard chipsets

AMD found themselves in this position due to a combination of mixed messaging and the apparent delay of B550 for mainstream markets. They may also have come under pressure from motherboard vendors keen to sell new hardware over inexpensive but ageing units.

By stating in 2017 that Socket AM4 would be supported through 2020 many consumers laboured under the belief that a single motherboard purchase would offer long-term compatibility so long as the mainstream CPU lineup continued to use the socket. That turned out to be the case, with Socket AM4 motherboards supporting Zen, Zen+ and Zen 2 CPUs deep into 2020 via BIOS updates, only to be suddenly withdrawn (in their eyes). If Zen 3 was not an AM4 platform, or supported a different memory standard such as DDR5, we might not be having this discussion.

The delay to B550 was much more impactful. It meant that in order to acquire a new but relatively affordable Ryzen system customers had to opt for an X470 or (more likely) B450 motherboard to pair with their 3rd Generation Ryzen CPU. Many of these boards were sold claiming supported for 'next generation (i.e. post-Zen 2) AMD CPUs' thanks to larger than standard BIOS chips, only to have the claim scrubbed from product pages once the realities of B550's info-dump were uncovered.

AMD's new position is the correct one for consumers and is worthy of praise, but will leave a bad taste in the mouths of many of their fans as we collectively brace for an economic downturn.

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