Socket Longevity Comes at a Price
Now that that’s out of the way, i’ll get to the point. AMD is often praised by many for its socket longevity. It’s lauded as the people’s champion because it doesn’t try and fleece us every generation or so with a new socket and motherboard platform. Many people hold up Bulldozer and socket AM3/AM3+ as a shining example of how things should be, but the reality as I see it isn’t so rosy.
Often times, the idea of longevity far out strips the actual execution of that longevity. Hit up any PC enthusiast forum and you’ll find tons of posts concerning flashing a motherboard to support a new CPU only to find out their old motherboard, or the new motherboard based on the older chipset they bought at a discount needs that older CPU for the actual BIOS flash. This issue was so pronounced, AMD even developed a loaner program to help people with this issue.
Of course, the technology to solve this problem exists and is already available on some of the upper echelon (more expensive) socket AM4 motherboards. Its far more common on the Intel motherboards despite having less of a need for it. Unfortunately, that mid-range X370 or X470 motherboard you bought to save some money probably lacks this functionality as well.
According to ASUS, there is a special ASIC that’s used for blind BIOS flashing without a CPU or RAM installed and that ASIC costs money. I have no idea how much, but its something you typically only see on premium offerings. And like it or not, that generally isn’t going to be the proper description for most X470 motherboards. B350 and B450 users may be even less likely to catch a break on this.
The fact of the matter is that sticking with a platform in the computing industry for more than a year or two comes at a cost. That’s what we are seeing as a result of this EEPROM size issue. AMD also freely admits that making Zen 2 compatible with AM4 was an incredible amount of trouble. The reviewer’s guide AMD gave us talked in depth about how it rearranged every part of Zen 2 relative to Zen and Zen+ and still maintained AM4 compatibility.
Engineering a CPU around the constraints of an older, potentially less than ideal design is a real challenge for CPU makers. It’s a game that Intel has simply refused to play, and oddly enough, I think they are generally better off for it in the long run but I’ll talk about that a bit later on.
Other issues are a bit less noticeable. You can run into problems such as a lack of overclocking features for newer CPU’s or a lack of support for all of the features a newer CPU might have to offer. We saw this back in the Bulldozer days with the 890FX chipset not supporting the added C-states found on the Bulldozer CPU’s while 990FX did. Of course that was a minor concern.
Generally, the biggest problem is a lack of overclocking capability using older motherboards and newer CPU’s due to optimizations and VRM design changes made for those CPU’s on newer motherboards. You often miss out on more modern I/O and other platform features sticking with an older generation motherboard, but this is a personal choice.
Introducing a new processor onto older motherboards also throws off that old QVL data. Suddenly, RAM that worked with your Ryzen 1700X may not work with your Ryzen 9 3900X. Not to mention, AMD’s AGESA code releases have often improved or worsened memory compatibility after an update. In short, there are a host of potential problems that one can encounter as a result of a motherboard being used across three or more generations of CPU’s.