More than a year after the release of the Ryzen 5000 chips that have been a staple on our list of the Best CPUs for gaming, AMD tells us the company is now looking at options to allow the chips to be used with 300-series motherboards. "It's definitely something we're working through. And it's not lost on us at all that this would be a good thing to do for the community, and we're trying to figure out how to make it happen," David McAfee, AMD's Corporate VP and GM of the Client Channel business, told Tom's Hardware during an interview.
The move comes after several motherboard makers unexpectedly added support for Ryzen 5000 models to lowly 300-series A320 motherboards last month, but were purportedly blocked from enabling the same support on more capable X370 and B350 motherboards. That led to withering criticism from the enthusiast community.
The issue is a continuation of an old problem for AMD that began almost two years ago. The company promised to support its AM4 ecosystem for five years, but motherboard limitations ultimately restricted its ability to continue supporting every Ryzen chip on every AM4 platform. Those limitations eventually led to AMD's original decision to limit its Ryzen 5000 processors to only new, pricey 500-series motherboards, igniting a firestorm of criticism from its vocal fanbase and casual users alike. That spurred the company to reverse course and compromise by supporting 400-series motherboards.
However, the company still left support for 300-series motherboards off the table, an issue that has now reared its head again with claims that AMD is engaging in unnecessary segmentation. We broached the topic when we sat down with McAfee to talk about the company's CES announcements.
"I know that this has been a topic that, honestly, gets a lot of attention and a lot of discussion within AMD. I'm not joking when I say that — I've literally had three conversations on this very topic today. And I'm not talking about with members of the press; I'm talking about internal conversations within our engineering teams and planning teams to understand what options we have and what we can do, and how can we deliver the right experience for a 300-series motherboard user who wants to upgrade to a 5000-series processor," McAfee responded.
"So, it's certainly something that we're not just leaving on the side and ignoring; we definitely understand there's a vocal part of the community that's passionate about this. And we want to try to do the right thing. So we're still working through it."
Due to the incredible number of processors supported with the AM4 socket (the longest-lived desktop socket yet), AMD has battled with a 16MB SPI ROM capacity limitation. These small chips store the BIOS and associated data that enable chip support, but AMD's massive support matrix led to split support on some platforms. In some cases, motherboard vendors have even resorted to de-featuring BIOS interfaces, discarding fanciful GUIs and moving to simple text-based menus to expand the number of supported chips. But that isn't the only issue.
"It created an awful lot of complexity for sustaining support on products," McAffee explained. "We provide the ODM with an AGESA package that they turn into a system BIOS. And they have the ability to, out of that AGESA, pick and choose which products are supported. Of course, that's tied to our own internal AMD engineering validation matrix of what we've been able to validate and support in our own labs. So that was step one — we had to make some hard choices about what would fit in a particular 16MB SPI ROM footprint, and what product combinations made the most sense to be supported."
"The other thing is between many of those early 300-series motherboards and later boards in the AM4 ecosystem, there have been some fairly significant changes to the IRM definition for the product, the current delivery capability of motherboards, etc. 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."
Enterprising enthusiasts have already found workarounds and hacked firmware that allows Ryzen 5000 chips to run on unsupported 300-series motherboards, but given that those aren't supported configurations, it voids the warranty. It could also expose you to the unintended side effects of an unstable system, like data loss. However, given AMD's obvious focus on this issue, it appears that at least some sort of official support could be on the horizon.