AMD's Ryzen series of CPUs, currently comprising Ryzen 3, 5 and flagship 7 lines, has only been around for a couple of months and motherboard manufacturers are already putting their own unique spin on the platform. Case in point - ASUS Republic Of Gamers, who are this week releasing the two STRIX branded gaming motherboards which bring premium features to the high-end and mid-range chipsets currently available.
At the top of the pile sits the ROG Strix X370-F Gaming, which as the name suggest inherits many of the improvements to the baseline X370 platform innovated by the ROG Crosshair VI Hero. Like all AMD X370 motherboards the Strix X370-F Gaming supports the entire range of AM4 Ryzen CPUs from Ryzen 3 through to flagship Ryzen 7 1800X, CPU and memory overclocking, and explicit dual-GPU configurations from both NVIDIA and AMD; unlike basic models however, the STRIX designs benefit from 5-Way Optimisation and a host of proprietary software tools to push overclocks to the max.
Predictably, the Strix X370-F Gaming skimps on neither hardware support nor storage options. Memory speeds up to DDR4-3200 will be possible out the box, whilst a plethora of tweaking options may allow you to surpass even that formidable barrier. High-speed M.2 storage - accessing up to 4x PCIe 3.0 lanes for 32Gbps of bandwidth - can be installed, actively cooled by fans mounted to a 3D printed fan bracket. You'll also get an internal USB 3.1 front panel connector, even before most chassis support it, and your usual array of back panel USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports.
Cooling shouldn't be an issue thanks to five independent onboard chassis fan headers, and those pushing for bespoke water cooling can also take advantage of two additional dedicated headers for water pumps (supporting both AIO coolers and stand alone pumps).
Of course, it wouldn't be a modern ASUS Strix design without more than a nod towards aesthetics. Although monochromatic with matte blacks and silver tones, RGB lighting can provide just a highlight of colour around key areas (but only if desired). The motherboard could be a blank canvas to build on, or just the minimalist look you're after in of itself.
Moving on to the ROG Strix B350-F Gaming, it could be viewed to some extent as a slimmed down versions of the X370-F, but the devil is always in the detail. The clearest differentiating factor is in SLI support, where like all B350 chipset models the Strix B350-F Gaming is limited to supporting single GPUs and not AMD Crossfire or NVIDIA SLI. But lets go deeper.
Although CPU frequency overclocking and DDR4-3200 memory are both support alongside ASUS 5-Way Optimisation tools, the B350-F loses support for ASUS PRO Clock. Debuted last year, ASUS PRO Clock is a dedicated clock generator which cleans up signalling, tightens timings, and increases the number of overclocking options available to the enthusiast. It certainly makes stepping up to the X370 model a tempting proposition if you need to squeeze every last MHz from the platform with a minimum of frustration.
The position of the M.2 storage slot has also changed, moving it towards to the CPU socket and above the PCI-Express lanes. Although potentially more suitable for typical chassis air flow patterns, this does effectively nix the innovative 3D-printed fan bracket option present on the X370-F. In fairness, we're not sure how much of a factor M.2 slot component cooling will be in motherboard design in the future or if drive throttling is a huge concern to all consumers, but it's definitely worth noting here.
Beyond that, only the top slot of the B350-F supports the full 16-lane PCIe 3.0 specification, whilst additional elongated slots are limited to 4-lane support. General cooling options are reduced only slightly with one fewer header, as the B350-F supports five plus one tailored to water pumps (which can be repurposed for air cooling). Finally, aesthetic options are tweaked slightly: the monochrome colour scheme remains, but the chipset heatsink gets the RGB lighting zone this time around. Two RGB headers also allow a certain amount of additional customisation.
Both the ROG Strix X370-F and B350-F Gaming models feature SupremeFX S1220A audio, are fitted with Intel’s I211-AT Gigabit Ethernet controller, and support Aura Sync illumination software. Now familiar one-clock overclocking is of course a part of both designs too, as well as the broad selection of control tools and firmware which ASUS ROG make available throughout their motherboard range.
There's one further difference between the two motherboards of course, and that's the price. The ROG Strix B350-F Gaming has an MSRP of £119.99 (inc. V.A.T.), whilst the ROG Strix X370-F Gaming is a more premium option at £199.99 (inc. V.A.T.). Either would be a considered purchase and tempting partner to any number of AMD Ryzen 5 or 7 CPU models, even were it not for the valued-added commonplace to the ASUS ROG range for enthusiasts and especially overclockers.
More information on these models can be found at ROG.ASUS.COM.