Ryzen Performance In Smaller Builds: A Look at the GIGABYTE AB350N-Gaming Wifi
One of the things that I personally have been looking forward to as part of AMD’s Ryzen release was the announcement of AM4 boards in a mini-ITX environment. It’s been a while since we’ve had a top-of-the-line AMD mITX build and, after getting the missing piece while visiting Los Angeles for SIGGRAPH, it’s time to see how that actually performs in an everyday environment. To help us with this, GIGABYTE sent along their new mITX motherboard for AM4 — the AB350N-Gaming Wifi. Since I needed to remove the ASUS Z170I Pro Gaming anyhow to free up the Intel Core i7-6700k for use in benchmarks, this offered the perfect chance to test it out. It also turned out to be the perfect timing to revisit an issue we found during the original review of Ryzen, an issue specific to GIGABYTE motherboards and Ubuntu.
One of the most frustrating issues about making changes in this particular case is the Silverstone TD-03 SLIM 120mm all-in-one cooler and fan. When trying to close the cover (pictured above) it’s a delicate dance of getting the lid closed, making sure everything fit without getting unplugged, and turning it on. In the few times that I have opened this case it has rarely happened and even broke the USB 3.0 header on the ASUS motherboard. This time I was determined to do it right – I really have no desire to repeat this unless I’m going to take that closed loop out and replace it with a forced air solution, such as possibly one of the Wraith coolers from AMD.
The build configuration matches what was originally listed in the Ryzen review for the Intel Core i7-6700k system. Since I have had issues getting the Corsair memory to play nice with Ryzen, I decided to change it out and use the GeIL memory that we had used previously for the review. Since this is my daily use PC I also decided to leave the SM951 in place instead of changing out to an NVMe drive. But let’s get to the motherboard.
GIGABYTE AB350N-Gaming Wifi Pictures and Layout
While I was disappointed to see only two fan headers here, the layout of the GIGABYTE motherboard was much more amicable to the layout of the Steelseries Fortress Z case it was going in. The ASUS motherboard had all of the SATA and USB ports located towards the RAM and, when closing the case, is how the USB 3.0 header was pushed back and broke a pin. In this case I was able to run the cables for power, SATA, front panel and USB 3.0 header all along the side of the case, making it much easier when I needed to close it. The motherboard also supports GIGABYTE’s RGB Fusion with a 4 and 5 pin header. Since this is my daily use PC and the GeIL RAM had mysteriously burned up its LED lighting feature, I decided not to use these. The PC is often on at night and in this case, less is better.
In addition to the motherboard the contents of the box also included the typical I/O shield, manual, driver CDs, two SATA cables and a Gigabyte Gaming badge for the front of the case. Gigabyte’s typical wifi antenna is also included and features a magnetic base to easily allow it to stay on a case such as this Fortress Z.
On the rear panel was a great array of USB ports – 2 2.0, 4 3.0 and 2 3.1. An optical output is not provided, but a 2 pin S/PDIF along with using the 5V output from the USB 2.0 header can easily provide this if desired. While not used, a PS/2 connector was nice to see here. Also nice are the choices of HDMI and DisplayPort, used in conjunction with one of AMD’s newly released AM4 APUs with integrated graphics. Standard gigabit LAN and 802.11/ac (up to 433 Mbps) as well as Bluetooth 4.2 are all included. On the board itself was also a USB 3.0 header, 4 SATA Ports and a 4+4 pin power beyond the standard 24 pin connection.
On a mini-ITX build space is at a premium, and so just like the ASUS motherboard it is replacing GIGABYTE also locates the m.2 slot on the underbelly. This gave us an opportunity to remove the stock AM4 bracket and replace it with the AM4 kit that was ordered to fit the Silverstone Tundra TD03-SLIM. It was nice to see that the kit also included a small, thin gasket to ensure that the new underplate didn’t make contact with the motherboard – other products had not done this and originally had issues booting due to this.
While we had the 1700X and 1800X to choose from as well, I ended up installing the Ryzen 1700 in this motherboard. While this particular 1700 was only able to achieve an overclock of 3.7 on all cores, it should fit nicely in here and will allow me to ramp up and still get much of the same performance that I want from the Ryzen 7 without going overboard. When the i7-6700k was in this case it was discovered that temperatures would very quickly ramp up and kept in the mid-70s under full load. With that in mind I also set a more aggressive fan profile to keep the fans going at 100% any time it went over 60 degrees Celsius.
Setup & Use
Although it took multiple times to get everything to stay plugged in, it was time to put it to work. After setting the more aggressive fan profile and letting it break in, the Ryzen 1700 was idling around the mid 30s. Under load it will still reach as high as the 80s in sustained load but the TD03-SLIM helps keep it cool and get back down to to normal temperatures. Since it’s the middle of summer here in Okinawa, it was a great chance to also test how it would perform in warmer environments. With the air conditioner off and the room temperature in the high 90s, the CPU sits in the mid 40s Celsius; the VRM chips though like to sit in the 60s, a little warm for my taste.
As for functionality and performance, everything is working well. There is one small problem though, and it’s not the fault of GIGABYTE – and actually not really a problem either way. When looking into CPU-Z it was discovered that the Sapphire RX480 Nitro+ 8GB was running only 8 lanes of PCI-Express, not the fully supported 16. Since it was shown in the past that this makes little difference in gaming performance it’s more a curiosity than anything. GIGABYTE’s manual shows that m.2 in SATA or NVMe should not affect this either.
I never was able to narrow down the cause but, a week later, it went away. I’ll explain more on that in a bit.
Revisiting Ubuntu on GIGABYTE AM4 Motherboards
As mentioned at the beginning we wanted to take this time to also confirm the current situation regarding GIGABYTE’s AM4 motherboards and the issues that prevented it from running Ubuntu 17.04 without a custom kernel. We had seen before that the fix had been pushed but never saw a ISO release containing it. As part of this I went and grabbed the latest daily image of Ubuntu 17.10 and put it on a USB stick. Booted to the USB and for the joy of all Linux users, Ubuntu 17.10 installed and runs on the AB350N-Gaming Wifi without any issues or any devices missing. A quick test of this on the AORUS X370-GAMING 5 also confirmed that the fix should apply to all motherboards that were not working properly due to this specific issue. Much credit goes to the Linux community members, Gigabyte and the Canonical team for both promptly identifying and pushing a fix to their kernel to once and for all put this to bed.
Note: According to at least one user on GIGABYTE’s user forums the 17.04 build still does not reflect this, although the current 4.11 mainline kernel does include this support.
We’re happy to see GIGABYTE boards working properly in Linux now. In our original testing of Ryzen the X370-GAMING 5 was one of our best performers in regards to overclocking ability. With the AB350N-Gaming Wifi we were able to take those same results from the review, plug them into the BIOS and were off to the races with all cores running at 3.7 GHz along with the RAM at its full rated speed of 3200 MHz. The wifi speeds are not the highest out there but it’s also not the shabbiest. Features included on the board offer a wide array of options for building a good mini ITX PC, whether that be for a living room/HTPC, gaming, development or as a headless build box. I do wish that it would have included an optical out instead of the additional 3.5 mm jack but with a workaround in place it’s not a deal-breaker.
Thanks to the changes in Ubuntu 17.10 we would have no problems in suggesting this motherboards for our readers. Given that there are only a few mini ITX options out there it’s great to see an option out so quickly to support Ryzen and we look forward to the many new small form factor Ryzen PCs this will help make happen.
Update: One Week Later
For those of you who follow me on Twitter you may have realized that this build shut down on me on Saturday morning. It took most of the afternoon to figure out what happened, but the SilverStone TD03-SLIM all-in-one cooler wasn’t functioning properly. Thankfully its only victim was the Ryzen 7 1700, which will no longer even POST when inserted into any motherboard. In as its replacement are now the Ryzen 7 1700X and the AMD Wraith Spire cooler.
After switching out the CPU and cooler many problems disappeared. The graphics card was once again utilizing all 16 PCI-Express lanes and the temperatures, despite being on a forced air cooler and heatsink, dropped to the mid 30s idling and high 60s under a stress load. It is regrettable that we lost a CPU in the process but glad to know that this is the reason why it was getting too hot in the Fortress Z case. And with the loop out of the way working in the case has become tremendously easier. It was a good test with the water cooling, but I think in this particular case the test is permanently over.
Intel Core i7-6700K Platform (Before Modifications)
- ASUS Z170I PRO GAMING
- Intel Core i7-6700K
- Corsair 16GB Vengeance DDR4-3200 (2 x 8GB)
- SilverStone RL-TD03-SLIM Water Cooler
- SilverStone SX600-G SFX Power Supply
- SilverStone FTZ01B Mini-ITX case
- Samsung SM951 512GB AHCI m.2 SSD
- Sapphire RX 480 Nitro+ 8GB
- Samsung 840 EVO 750GB & 250GB
- Seagate 2 TB Barracuda Hard Drive
All parts in this platform were personal purchases.
AMD Ryzen 7 1700X Platform (Changed Hardware Only)
- GIGABYTE AB350N-Gaming Wifi (provided by GIGABYTE for review purposes)
- AMD Ryzen 7 1700X CPU (provided by AMD for review purposes)
- AMD Wraith Spire (non-LED) AM4 Cooler
Does the findings of fitting a Ryzen 7 into a mini-ITX motherboard and case intrigue you? Or perhaps you thought this wasn’t a good solution and would like to see something else? Sound off on this in the comments below, Facebook, Twitter or Google+!