AMD's second-generation Ryzen CPUs came out just a few weeks ago, and they were accompanied by a range of brand-new X470 motherboards for high-end system builders. The X470 chipset doesn't actually add any new features or upgrade any connectivity standards compared to X370, though. While the underlying chipset silicon might consume less power, that's about the only tangible improvement in the Promontory chip that underpins all AM4 chipsets. X470 might be more about improving the supporting infrastructure around the AM4 socket for the potentially higher power demands of AMD's latest chips, although even this rationale falls a little flat. AMD says all of the X370 motherboards on the market can stand up to the power demands of second-gen Ryzen CPUs.
As AMD put it to me, X470 is a "harmonized" release for second-generation Ryzen CPUs. Ultimately, companies need new products to catch builders' attention, and the X470 name means builders are getting the fruits of a year of AMD platform refinement from the get-go, plus purportedly worry-free out-of-the-box operation with these new chips. X470 boards also get to take advantage of AMD's StoreMI software for free. (We'll be testing StoreMI in a separate article soon.)
For its part, Gigabyte has been continuing its practice of continuous improvement since Ryzen CPUs launched a year and change ago. The company has been closely listening to what high-end system builders want from its motherboards, and we first got a peek at the results of that feedback at CES. Gigabyte is in the midst of another restyling of its Aorus boards that puts brushed aluminum and orange accents at the forefront, and the $240 X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wifi is the highest-end example of that styling that we've seen so far.
The most evident refinement from Gigabyte is entirely practical, though. Witness the Gaming 7's monster VRM heatsink. This cooler starts with a six-millimeter-diameter copper heat pipe that comes into direct contact with the thermal pads beneath. That pipe runs through a pair of—get this—aluminum fin stacks.
I had to dig all the way back to 2008 in our archives to find similarly-finned heatsinks as a common feature on motherboard components, and it's something we've long been asking for from motherboard makers in this day and age. AMD's Ryzen CPUs aren't known for being power hogs, but the X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wifi's VRM cooling should inspire full confidence in the board's ability to handle day-to-day overclocks and then some.
Underneath that heatsink, Gigabyte dots the Gaming 7 with 10 International Rectifier 3553 integrated power stages. These units integrate the high-side, low-side, and driver elements of a buck converter into one chip for efficiency, and they're rated for 40 A each. Gigabyte also grabs its favored Cooper Bussmann chokes from the parts pile as the companion for those power stages.
Professional analysis suggests this VRM is vast overkill for today's Ryzen CPUs, but given the long projected life span of the AM4 platform, there's no telling what future chips might demand of the socket. Today, users can likely rest assured that the Gaming 7's power-delivery circuitry will run cool and deliver clean power even under the most extreme loads.
In another enthusiast-friendly move, Gigabyte sockets the main EEPROM chip for this board. In the event that a user screws up their particular Gaming 7's firmware beyond any hope of recovery, Gigabyte can simply mail the user a fresh BIOS chip instead of initiating an RMA for the whole board. For as high-end as this board is, though, I find it odd that Gigabyte omitted its Q-Flash Plus feature. Q-Flash Plus allows a builder to update a motherboard's BIOS without a CPU or memory installed, and it's quite handy for as long-lived a socket as AM4 seems poised to be.
Gigabyte also armors the X470 Gaming 7 Wifi against handling with a small backplate that provides a nice grab point when moving the motherboard from box to case or box to bench. This backplate also serves as the mounting point for the Gaming 7 Wifi's integrated I/O shield. Builders whose cases have large enough cutouts in their motherboard trays and tempered-glass side panels might be able to glimpse this backplate through the sides of their chassis, too.
In the memory department, the Gaming 7 offers four DIMM slots with support for AMD's newly-uprated DDR4-2933 stock memory speeds for second-generation Ryzen CPUs. That stock speed requires at least a six-layer PCB to claim, and we'd expect nothing else from such a high-end board. Gigabyte claims the Gaming 7 will run with unbuffered ECC DIMMs for those interested in stability over performance, too.
The board will accept up to 64 GB of memory, although reaching that capacity is subject to the Ryzen integrated memory controller's quirks regarding numbers and topologies of DIMMs. At least with a select kit of memory, though, hitting high memory speeds and low latencies on X470 is a lot simpler than it was at the advent of X370 boards. Our G.Skill Sniper X DDR4-3400 kit only needed its XMP profile enabled to hit its rated speeds and latencies without errors on the Gaming 7 Wifi.