The best ways to upgrade to the latest Zen 2 CPUs. A motherboard ecosystem analysis.

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Ryzen 7 3800X

Upgrading to the latest and greatest Zen 2 processors doesn’t need to be an expensive option. As many are already aware, the new Ryzen CPUs are backwards supported on every one of the AM4 chipsets: B350, B450, X370, X470 and A320 in some cases. Manufacturers continue their support for the AM4 platform by releasing updated BIOSes that work with the Zen 2 architecture CPUs.

The options available to upgrade to Zen 2

Customers in the market for an upgrade generally have three solutions; re-using their current motherboard (if they are on the AM4 platform), getting the latest X570 chipset motherboards that come with out-of-the-box support for the latest Zen 2 CPUs or getting an older motherboard and updating its BIOS to the latest versions. Generally, if you indeed need a new motherboard, the latter presents a less expensive option that brings with it almost all the benefits and performance a new and shiny X570 would. Overall, the biggest note-worthy feature you’re losing by not going with an X570 motherboard is PCIe 4.0 that may not even benefit you; current high-end GPUs don’t yet need the bandwidth of PCIe 4.0, 3.0 being more than enough. PCIe 4.0 comes in handy when customers are in need of very high-speed storage NVMe devices.

Using an older chipset AM4 motherboard? Here’s what you need to do.

If you decide on going with an older chipset motherboard for Zen 2, here are your options for making sure it’s compatible:

  • Look for “AMD Ryzen 3000 Desktop Ready” stickers on the box. That serves as an indication of an up-to-date BIOS and that it will work with any Zen 2 CPU. An example is the MSI B450 Tomahawk MAX motherboard.
  • Ask the local or online store you’re buying from to perform a BIOS update. This service will range in price from a few dollars to more than 20. Sometimes it’s not even worth it for the added price because you could’ve gotten an X570 motherboard easily and not have to deal with this.
  • Do it yourself by using an older first-generation or 2nd generation CPU (Ryzen 1000 or 2000) to upgrade the BIOS on the motherboard. Such CPUs can be borrowed from an acquaintance or you can ask AMD for an upgrade boot kit.
  • Wait for the B550 motherboards that are rumored to be released sometime this fall.
  • Upgrade the BIOS yourself by using a simple method called USB Bios Flashback. This method has the advantage of not needing any CPU or memory to upgrade the BIOS. You just need a motherboard that supports this method, a single USB drive and power from your PSU. A list of older boards that support upgrading the BIOS with USB Bios Flashback can be found below, or our article covering all AM4 motherboards with BIOS Flashback for Zen 2.

MotherboardChipsetUSB BIOS FlashbackPriceForm FactorVRM Quality
ASUS Crosshair VI ExtremeX370Yes$235Extended ATX*****
ASUS Crosshair VI HeroX370Yes$200ATX*****
ASUS Crosshair VI Hero Wi-Fi/ACX370Yes$230ATX*****
ASUS Crosshair VII HeroX470Yes$255ATX*****
ASUS Crosshair VII Hero Wi-FiX470Yes$275ATX*****
MSI B450 Gaming PlusB450Yes$95ATX***
MSI B450 Gaming Pro Carbon ACB450Yes$160ATX****
MSI B450 TomahawkB450Yes$100ATX****
MSI B450-A ProB450Yes$95ATX***
MSI B450M Bazooka PlusB450Yes$80Micro ATX****
MSI B450M Gaming PlusB450Yes$100Micro ATX***
MSI B450M MortarB450Yes$100Micro ATX****
MSI B450M Mortar TitaniumB450Yes-Micro ATX****
MSI X370 Gaming M7 ACKX370Yes-ATX****
MSI X370 XPower Gaming TitaniumX370Yes$200ATX****
MSI X470 Gaming M7 ACX470Yes$235ATX*****

Picking the best AM4 (non-X570) motherboard for Zen 2

These AM4 motherboards will all work with any Zen 2 CPU as long as you update their BIOS. Out of all though, the most suited ones are the boards with the best VRMs (Voltage Regulator Modules); these provide the board’s power delivery for the CPU. Boards with quality VRMs and good cooling for them usually overclock better and support higher end CPUs. Thus, out of all the boards with USB Bios Flashback, the best to get are:

  • MSI B450 Tomahawk. Great VRM phases and cooling. Enough for even the highest end Ryzen 3000 series CPUs.
  • MSI B450 Gaming Pro Carbon AC. As good as the Tomahawk and includes a Wi-Fi module.
  • MSI B450M Bazooka Plus. The Tomahawk of Micro-ATX PCs.
  • Any of the ASUS X370/X470 motherboards listed above in the table. Great quality but they get expensive.

How to perform a BIOS Flashback for Zen 2

Here’s a list of steps that will help you update your motherboard with the USB Bios Flashback feature. This list of steps is for the MSI boards since this feature is most common with them but they also largely apply to the ASUS boards:

  1. Go to https://www.msi.com/support/download/ and input the name of your board.
  2. Get to the Support page (for example, MSI B450 Tomahawk’s is the following: https://www.msi.com/Motherboard/support/B450-TOMAHAWK)
  3. Get the latest BIOS version, unzip it and rename the file to MSI.ROM.
  4. Fat32-format an USB drive and put the MSI.ROM BIOS file in the root.
  5. Once you have the file on the drive you can plug it in the USB port next to the USB Flashback button near the top of the I/O ports.
  6. Connect your 24-pin ATX power and CPU power cables to the board and press the BIOS Flashback button next to the USB drive.
  7. Your board will update its BIOS and restart when its finished.

If you are upgrading to Zen 2 from a Ryzen 1000 or 2000 CPU then chances are that you just need to swap-in a new Ryzen 3000 CPU after simply updating the BIOS and everything will work as intended:

  • As long as your motherboard is a B350/X370/B450/X470 (I’m omitting A chipsets even though they should still be able to run the new CPUs), you should be able to keep your motherboard by just updating your BIOS to the latest and swapping in the new CPU.
  • Hardware Unboxed came out with a video where he tests a 12 core / 24 threads Ryzen 3000 CPU on a budget B350 board. Results were great overall and he was definitely able to run a suite of benchmarks to prove that the B350 can be a daily motherboard even for a high-end 3900X. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRaZ2Txv13M

Conclusion

AMD and its partner motherboard manufacturers did a great job creating a quality and flexible ecosystem on the AM4 platform. Its great and almost unheard of for a company to assure its motherboard partners support three different generations of CPUs or even four if next year’s Zen 3 will still be on AM4 – chances are significant this will be indeed the case. We hope that this guide solidified and eased your decisions when upgrading to the latest Zen 2 CPUs.

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