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Chipsets fill another hole in the AM4 platform puzzle
Along with its full lineup of Bristol Ridge desktop APUs, AMD is also giving us a first glance at the chipsets that will power those systems. The company isn't introducing its enthusiast chipsets now—those will presumably be held back until the Zen launch—but it is filling out the rest of the range for us. 

The highest-end chipset AMD will be introducing in Bristol Ridge OEM systems is B350, which will take the place of the 970 chipset for AM3+ systems and the A78 chipset for FM2+ systems in the platform lineup. In turn, the A320 platform will supersede the 760G and A68H chipsets that supported low-end AM3+ and Socket FM2 systems. Straightforward enough.

One potentially interesting thing about the AM4 platform is that AMD will also be introducing small-form-factor versions of its chipsets for (we assume) equally small-form-factor PCs. The X300, B300, and A300 chipsets are all small-footprint versions of the platform for these mini-PCs. Though AMD didn't say as much, we're guessing that "X" chipsets will be its highest-end platform for both Bristol Ridge and Zen CPUs alike.

AMD says it pulled most of the northbridge and southbridge features on its motherboards onto the CPU with the move to AM4, a move that might explain the rather barren-looking PCBs on the prototype motherboards we've seen running Zen CPUs thus far. Bristol Ridge APUs will offer eight lanes of PCIe Gen3 from the CPU for graphics cards, two channels of DDR4 memory, four USB 3.0 ports, two SATA ports, and two general-purpose PCIe Gen3 lanes from the SoC that can be used for connecting peripheral devices from the motherboard or to power an NVMe M.2 slot. It seems likely that Zen CPUs will have much more to offer on these points.

In turn, the chipsets (or platform controller hubs, as Intel calls them) don't have a lot left to do. The B350 chipset provides two USB 3.1 Gen2 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, and six USB 3.0 ports. It also offers two SATA ports, one SATA Express connector, and six lanes of general-purpose PCIe Gen2 connectivity. The B350 controller can also perform RAID 0, 1, or 10 on connected storage devices.

The lower-end A320 chipset drops one of the USB 3.1 Gen2 ports, two lanes of PCIe Gen2—and that's about it. AMD didn't reveal what its 300-series small-form-factor chipsets will look like yet, but the controller does drop RAID 10 support.

What's next
As we noted at the beginning of this piece, AMD is exclusively offering seventh-gen APUs and motherboards to its OEM partners right now. HP and Lenovo are just two of those partners that have designs lined up with these new desktop APUs inside, and more are apparently in the works. AMD says "we'll announce channel parts later," so we'd expect retail boxed processors and motherboards from the usual suspects to be announced separately later this year.

What's perhaps most exciting about today's announcement is that it gives us a good picture of what the ecosystem around Zen CPUs might look like. Builders who choose Zen CPUs and Bristol Ridge APUs will be able to avoid the labyrinthe range of coexisting-yet-incompatible motherboard and chipset offerings available for today's Socket AM3+ CPUs and Socket FM2+ APUs. Instead, they can just purchase the motherboard with the feature set and price tag that fits best with their needs, much as Intel builders already can with the 100-series chipset lineup and Socket 1151 CPUs. That's a major step forward in builder-friendliness. Now, AMD just needs to deliver on Zen's performance claims, and life may be rosier for the red team. No pressure, folks.

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