The GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX Motherboard Review: All The Small Thingsby Gavin Bonshor on December 7, 2020 10:00 AM EST
Sometimes less is more, and when it comes to motherboards the mini-ITX form factor has some of the most enthusiastic fan club members. Small form factor systems are becoming more widely used as we're ushered into a single graphics card setup dominated landscape. and in terms of features to price, the B550 chipset has some of the most cost-effective of any current desktop platform. One such board is the GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX which combines a wave of premium features combined with AMD's B550 chipset. It includes compatibility for PCIe 4.0 devices with supported processors, dual PCIe M.2 slots, and 2.5 gigabit Ethernet. It's time to give our verdict on it and see if it can cut it in a very competitive small is more market.
GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX Overview
One of GIGABYTE's most scalable ranges is its Aorus series, which typically aims its feature set and aesthetics at gamers. Often clad in RGB enabled heatsinks and componentry, the Aorus series is now GIGABYTE's most widely recognizable range, which stretches from the larger E-ATX to small-sized mini-ITX offerings in motherboards, but also covers graphics cards, laptops, and all manner of other components.
Focusing on the mini-ITX form factor, the range on offer is considerably more competitive than the ATX market for a couple of reasons. The first is that there are much fewer small form factor models available, meaning manufacturers are limited in what they can do and need to strive to get the right solution, sometimes at the first time of asking. The second is that with less to choose from, it's key in getting a model that fits the desired feature set and for the rest of the hardware to fit the whole aspect of a system build.
Less is more in some cases, but fewer PCIe slots available means less room for the addition of controllers such as networking, storage, and other devices. Focusing primarily on what the GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX has to offer, it blends subtle black and grey tones for an elegant look, with the board's integrated RGB located along the right-hand side of the board for a rainbow infused under glow effect. While having a look that should fit into most systems in terms of aesthetics, the mini-ITX Aorus Pro AX has plenty of features. This includes a PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot located on the front and a PCIe 3.0 x4/SATA M.2 slot on the rear, with four SATA ports, and two memory slots capable of support up to DDR4-5100 memory, with a total capacity of 64 GB. Looking at networking, it uses a premium 2.5 GbE controller with a Wi-Fi 6 interface pairing. Simultaneously, the onboard audio solution is also good, which one expects from a mid-range model.
Putting the GIGABYTE through our testing suite, the B550I Aorus Pro AX performed well in the majority of our system tests, with good showings in all three power tests, as well as in our POST time testing. DPC latency performance was average at best, and it performed competitively when compared to other AM4 based models tested with our Ryzen 7 3700X processor in our CPU and gaming tests.
The GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX undergoing thermal VRM testing
In our overclock testing, the Aorus Pro AX performed as expected, with its premium 8-phase power delivery consisting of six 90 A power stages for the CPU VCore, and two 90 A power stages for the SoC. We saw good VDroop control under load, with consistent performance increases in our testing as we ran each frequency. Even under full-load with lots of CPU VCore to stress the power delivery, it performed very well for a mini-ITX sized model, with competitive temperatures when compared to other AM4 models.
The GIGABYTE B550I Aorus Pro AX plays to the strengths of the X570 chipset, as a B550 mini-ITX board can only include so much, so it benefits from the small form factor with full PCIe 4.0 support as opposed to an ATX sized variant. At present, the B550I Aorus Pro AX is available at Amazon for $179, which is a little cheaper than MSI's MPG B550I Gaming Edge WiFi model at $185, and ASRock's B550 Phantom Gaming-ITX/AX at $200. All three of these models, including similar feature sets, including premium integrated audio, 2.5 GbE networking, and Wi-Fi 6 capabilities. The end decision could come down to performance, memory compatibility, and other aspects such as power delivery, rear panel I/O connectivity, which all three models include respectable offerings, but for GIGABYTE's model, it's time to see how it stacks up against other model's we've tested.
Read on for our extended analysis and comparison tests.
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romrunning - Monday, December 7, 2020 - linkAlmost all, if not all, of the better B550 ITX boards ($180+) released in June/July of this year have 2.5Gb ports. For onboard 10Gb, you would have to go with some specialized solutions, like the ASRockRack mini-ITX server boards. They have EPYC-based mini-ITX boards and even a X570 board (X570D4I-2T) with 10Gb.
Olaf van der Spek - Tuesday, December 8, 2020 - linkJust buy a PCI-E NIC. Oh wait...
Dug - Tuesday, December 8, 2020 - linkor wait.. Bifurcation
mkarwin - Tuesday, December 15, 2020 - linkOh wait.. similar approach could almost be used here... If only they added even more higher speeds USB outs (eg. with TB support) one could use them and plug in some USB NIC dongle as a stop gap interim solution... but the amount of 10/5gbps connectors is at a premium here as well ;)
mkarwin - Tuesday, December 15, 2020 - linkEspecially since 2.5GbE does not force replacement of cabling... and AFAIK costs on the NICs are somewhat similar if not equal. Heck, I wonder why premium ATX boards come with 2 multigig NICs and premium mITX or mATX do not (besides those AsrockRack server'y solutions that skimp on all the other QoL integrations we've come to expect from home/desktop PC parts).
lorribot - Monday, December 7, 2020 - linkI would like to see more variation in the features not offered on ITX boards so they could be cheaper. mATX boards are the cheapest you can buy, but also come with a wide range of options, ITX seem to only come fully loaded.
First I would delete any Video out capability as most AMD processors have none built in for the majority of users this is pointless. 2.5Gb networking is not required for most people, 2.5GB switches are few and fa between and definitely of no use in the UK for any internet capability and no router in the UK comes with that so you would have pay out for expensive switches, if you really need to move a lot of data. How about no wireless or only wireless? Or dual gigabit.
Task based designs rather than one size fits all.
mkarwin - Tuesday, December 15, 2020 - linkI almost agree... though not entirely.
I'd leave one display output, just to appease corporate overlords and PR departments so they could check the box near the "applicable for Ryzen with integrated Radeon solutions"... As to which one to use, that's another question. Perhaps leave only HDMI would appease most users as this is one standard that's proliferated among displays' connectors the widest... Plus, I'd allow sending digital audio from the integrated audio card through the same HDMI connection. But I'd add such a setting on the BIOS level, so as to remove dependency on OS drivers. That'd tick another box on the feature lists... Alternatively, I'd consider using USB-c connected to the CPU - for the port to be used as a DP over USB3-c as it is done on laptops, or as a iGPU output akin to the USB-c port on the new Radeons... Then again if not used in such a manner allow it to be switched to a very fast general purpose USB with connectivity nearly straight to CPU right within the BIOS to again remove any obstacles from driver/OS reworks/compatibilities...
As to networking - I disagree whole-heartedly. I'd say go with dual multigig ports, preferably X550-class based 10GbE. And if 10GbE is too far, go with 2.5 and 5GbE solutions instead. The internet speeds are not the important, most devices are connected to LANs. And here, higher speeds matter much, especially in mITX forms. Why? Cause one could use external storage of NAS variety - it's easier to add tons of disks and copious amounts of space to NASes than to your PC's small mITX cases ;) Plus, you may want to work more using various network appliances, or in enthusiast markets home servers. And for that purpose, high quality high bandwidth NICs are a must. I'd even go one step further, and consider using 2.5/5GbE on all consumer boards and switching to (Q)SFP+ slots to reduce the costs a bit (though I understand that this instead requires more space which is at a premium in smaller builds/MBs). After all the market adoption is driven by the masses, and currently we're having a chicken and egg situation here - most home networks are still at 1GbE speeds cause there aren't many devices most people are using that come with higher speed wired NICs so there's no push towards higher network gear, and since there's no push this not a lucrative enough market for the netowrk appliance manufacturers to start offering faster devices that could support those higher speeds at the prices an average Joe could find enticing. BTW. the enthusiast market as well as pro market have already gone forward and people are already thinking of jumping ship to 10GbE, either in CAT6A/CAT7 or FC forms. Just check the popularity of Mikrotik's 10GbE SFP+ switches... Plus you need to remember that due to smaller consumer base with mostly enthusiasts and pros, companies can easily price those products accordingly and still sell out batches of products - once the speeds become more widespread the rules of competition and market push would enforce price drops for mass-produced offerings. Plus, you'd really need to use 2.5GbE+ wired speeds to keep up with the WiFi6 speeds ;)
And onto the WiFi debacle - I'd still leave the antenna ports, but instead of WiFi/BT module on board, I'd suggest adding M.2 port for those WiFi/BT devices on the back side or on top of M.2/chipsets - that way they'd get the chance to sell another additional product option, one that is tested and used widely in laptops already with success, one used in their NUC-alikes as well, one that's easily replacable or upgradable, and one that could reduce the pricepoint for those not wanting to shell out on sucha feature... That's a fair bit more interesting boxes to tick for the PR people and the "start small go big" mantra...
And speaking of M.2 connectors, I'd really appreciate if more devices actually came with support for 22110 sized ones - even though 2280 has become the defacto standard for M.2 NVMe drives, the 22110 is the one used by the more pro-oriented/server-grade markets due to those usually packing PLP circuitry on board.. That's a tiny QoL feature that could easily differentiate the devices on offer and again allow the PR reps to show how one product stacks better than the competition...
And speaking of server-grade stuff that most MB manufacturers are already doing very well in their server departments, why not dig deeper into those roots as well and start adding BMC in those prosumer solutions? Those in the know would appreciate it, others might find it an extra feature... Sure, Intel has vPro and AMD has joined the game with their Pro series but neither can replace a full BMC solution for remote working/helping...
Now going wireless only solution could sound great on paper but would require a lot work - they'd have to allow WiFi connection management including security/WPS on BIOS level to allow eg. PXE. Furthermore, they'd have to polish the BT issues/stack on BIOS level - so eg. they could allow BT keyboard/mice for system management, so OS agnostic. Furthermore, they might have to instead get in touch with various key/mice manufacturers and license built-in RF transmitters to speak with those devices - its doable and possibly easier than getting BT stack working fully on BIOS/firmware level... Than maybe they'd have to discuss opening to NFC communication. And going back to BT, they'd have to get AptX and similar certs to speak better with wireless audio devices - and that's additional costs many CEOs wouldn't agree to unless presented with a clear ROI numbers... and possibly market adoption of competition's products with similar feature sets. Similarly going the wireless route would necessitate digging into the HDMI over WiFi/WirelessHDMI standards which are not yet adopted widely. I dare say that it's easier to sell the idea of going full 10GbE wired product stacks than finding the wireless HDMI solution markets. Of course having a built-in LTE/5G modem could well play the "going wireless" game in any product stacks but there is another issue going wireless requires - MBs would have to get option to create WiFi networks and act as APs/WiFi routers thus the BIOS would have to get at least a simple WiFi sharing functionality....
Dual gigabit? Nah, that's too restrictive - either think of 4x1GbE or 2x2.5/5GbE or 10GbE. Don't let yourself be rooted in the years old standard that should have already been replaced in all cabled devices.
Now the task based designs could fare great if their implementation was made correctly...
But I'd just consider some copanies thinking of the fact that nowadays smaller boards are not chosen mostly by average users, rather these are power users, enthusiasts, pros... And they need something more for a product to be seen as a premium offering. For example, Gigabyte could have easily gone the Xtreme Waterforce route and create and sell a mITX board with integrated full-board monoblock+pump+res (or monoblock only) that covers CPU+VRM+SoC+M.2 - I bet such a product could easily find new homes among the target consumer group ;) Especially if they priced it right. Heck, Asus could just reach out to EkWB/Bitspower for a cooperation and release boards with blocks out-of-the-factory... I'd say nowadays those smaller monoblocked boards would sell like cupcakes (provided they are priced reasonably) and they could push more people towards custom loops, thus also proliferating monoblocked GPU sells. Or maybe go even one step further and get in touch with both block maker and AIO manufacturers - I think every company would like to consider such cooperation offer to sell truly integrated solutions... for the AIO companies that would have necesiteated only slight adjustments to pump/block/reservoir-combo units to adjust for the full coverage solutions, but you could get far better temps throughout the lifecycle and these would still sell well for the mITX market or even mATX - 240mm/280mm/360mm rads would suffice to cool such full coverage heat sources...
DiHydro - Monday, December 7, 2020 - linkHave you tried to use Smart Fan 5? I found it to be horrible! I have a Noctua CPU cooler and it had the fans spinning at near max, even when the CPU temp was down in the 50°C range.
Gigaplex - Tuesday, December 8, 2020 - linkI suspect you're doing it wrong, then. SF5 is working great for me. The fan curve follows the temperatures I set just fine. Each fan port gets its own fan curve, so maybe you're setting the curve on the wrong port?
DiHydro - Sunday, December 13, 2020 - linkI did see that it has per fan curves, but the out-of-the-box curves are terribly aggressive. Even in the so called silent mode.