Published: July 3, 2020
Picking the right motherboard for a new PC build is typically quite confusing, and the new range of B550 motherboards from AMD has only complicated matters further. PCIe 4.0 here, improved I/O connectivity there, faster general purpose PCIe lanes what, 2.5G LAN who?
Even if you consider yourself a little PC savvy, it's easy to get lost in a sea of new specs and not really understand what they actually mean (or more importantly, if they're actually noteworthy upgrades over B450 for your particular usage).
See Also: B550 vs X570 Differences Explained
Here we simplify the now popular B450 vs B550 debate in as easy to understand a way as possible, to help you make the right choice for your particular build and budget, including what the feature differences between B550 and B450 actually mean for you as a gamer or creator, plus answers to common questions surrounding the stumbling block of a decision that is B550 vs B450 motherboards.
Just because something is the latest and greatest model, doesn't necessarily mean it's worth buying over the previous generation/model. If you're planning a new AMD computer, you shouldn't automatically assume that you need to spend the extra money on a new B550. If you're looking for maximize your return on investment, a good B450 motherboard is still a very viable option in 2020, even if you're eyeing off an upgrade to future Ryzen 4000 CPUs thanks to AMD recently backtracking and confirming that B450 motherboards will support Zen 3.
Put another way, just because B550 is here, doesn't mean B450 is all of a sudden completely obsolete (at least in my honest opinion). Quality B450 boards like the Tomahawk Max aren't going anywhere soon; the new B550 Tomahawk is priced at over $50 more but doesn't justify the extra cost for most builders (especially if simply running a stock Ryzen 5 3600 or 3700X for instance). Throw in the higher than expected launch prices of the B550 range (see below), and B550 really doesn't seem all that compelling of a purchase for budget or mid-range systems where seeking bang for buck is the name of the game.
See Also: The Best B450 Boards for Ryzen 3000
B550 prices have raised a few eyebrows around the community, but not in a good way. Back when B450 first launched, models were priced between $70 - $130. Many people were expecting B550 to be priced roughly on-par with B450 or thereabouts, but that hasn't happened and almost every single B550 motherboard has released for significantly higher than their B450 predecessors, and sometimes much higher, with certain B550 models priced deep into X570 territory.
To leave it at that wouldn't be telling the whole story though, as B550 boards do bring a bunch of new features when compared to their same (or similar) named B450 predecessors, with premium B550 models boasting rich feature sets that resemble X570 rather than B450. But despite the fact that B550 motherboards aren't just an improved chipset, and do come with various improvements over B450, that doesn't necessarily mean their higher cost is automatically worth it compared to settling for a tried and true B450 with less fancy features (most of which you might have no use for, even over your system's entire lifespan, but more on that in a bit).
To get a gist of the price differences between B550 and B450, here's just a handful of some (likely to be) popular B550 motherboards and their launch price:
Swipe Left to Scroll:
|B450 Model||MSRP (USD)||B550 Model||MSRP (USD)||Increase|
|ASUS TUF B450-PLUS||$109.99||ASUS TUF B550M-PLUS||$159.99||+ $50|
|ASUS ROG STRIX B450-F||$129.99||ASUS ROG STRIX B550-F||$189.99||+ $60|
|MSI B450-A Pro Max||$94.99* (cannot confirm)||MSI B550-A Pro||$139.99||+ $45|
|MSI B450 Tomahawk Max||$119.99||MSI B550 Tomahawk||$179.99||+ $60|
|Gigabyte B450 Aorus Elite||$109.99||Gigabyte B550 Aorus Elite||$159.99||+ $40|
|ASRock B450M Steel Legend||$99.99||ASRock B550M Steel Legend||$154.99||+ $55|
Put simply, excluding certain model-specific improvements, these are the main overall differences between the B550 and B450 chipsets:
On paper, the improvements of B550 over B450 sound great. But which new CPU, GPU, chipset, or [insert new release] doesn't? Throw in just a little FOMO-generating marketing that signifies something as having must-have, next generation features like PCIe 4.0, and less tech-savvy users will typically assume that not buying it is a mistake. Yeah, B550 boards are nice, but based on current pricing, their advancements aren't important enough to automatically make them a no-brainer buy. Let's go deeper on why that is, including where spending more on a B550 does make sense.
Premium models like the Asus ROG Strix B550-E have fancy features like 2.5G LAN, WiFi 6, & Type-C USB Audio
The new functionality that B550 now brings to the mainstream (that X570 first brought to enthusiasts last year), most notably PCIe 4.0 support that allows for PCIe 4.0 SSDs and GPUs to run at their intended maximum speed, isn't likely to be important to you as a gamer or creator. To be more blunt, PCIe 4.0 is essentially completely irrelevant for the majority of people. My opinion on this applies even if you're assembling a relatively powerful, high-performance gaming and/or work PC, and even if you desire your system to be "future proof" for years to come.
Don't get me wrong; barring human-destroying AI, tech advancements should be celebrated as always (let's hope Elon and Co. navigate those waters with seriously next-gen shrewdness and tact). But not all advancements are created equal, no matter what the marketing or a popular YouTuber might say. The crux of the B450 vs B550 matter, at least right now in mid 2020, is as follows in my humble opinion:
The current prices of B550 motherboards makes them tough to recommend over B450 if you're seeking maximum return on investment for a budget or mid-range gaming PC.
You might say a $30-$60 difference over B450 (give or take a bit depending on the models you're comparing) is hardly much of a difference, and you'd be right if you have a semi-loose budget and can afford "nice to have" features. But for the majority who aren't looking to be haphazard with spending, that cash could be put to much more practical use to get a more tangible return on investment.
For example, the money you'd save by settling for a proven B450 over a flashy new B550 motherboard could mean getting a Ryzen 5 3600 (6 Core) processor instead of, say, a more budget gaming CPU like the Ryzen 3 3100 (4 Core).
Sure, there's not a huge difference in gaming performance it must be said, but the 3600 is generally going to last longer and will perform better in other applications like mult-tasking, video editing, and VR where those extra cores come in real handy (though some games do benefit from 6 cores right now).
Alternatively, the price saved from buying a B450 could mean getting 16GB of RAM instead of 8GB, which is IMHO a much better spec in a modern system than having a B550 and/or PCIe 4.0. Furthermore, you could get a slightly better graphics card, such as moving up from a RX 570 4GB to a RX 580 8GB, from a GTX 1660 to a GTX 1660 Super, or perhaps from a 1660 Super to a RTX 2060, all of which would lead to improved gaming performance that can improve your experience (and could mean the difference between building a VR-ready PC or not).
Consider these things compared to spending the extra coin on the new B550 chipset, that boasts features you will may not even use, and may not even use over your system's entire lifespan. For example, you might not ever buy a high-end PCIe 4.0 SSD to utilize the PCIe 4.0 M.2 slot on a B550. If you're not a serious video editor or other professional creator/artist, where you often transfer large data and want the absolute fastest transfer speeds humanly possible, spending on an expensive Gen4 SSD isn't really practical for most people building a gaming PC, as once again that money could go to something more important like the CPU or graphics card.
Plus, the PCIe 4.0 GPU support on B550, for cards like the RX 5700 XT (one of just a handful of current-gen cards that supports PCIe 4.0), is much closer to borderline useless for most people. The difference between PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0 when it comes to graphics cards is completely irrelevant, and that is unlikely to change with next-gen GPUs (assuming they will support PCIe 4.0; current NVidia RTX cards do not).
That said, the right B550 at the right price can make a lot of sense if you actually have a use for some of the new features, or if you're willing to forego maximum "bang for buck" and would rather just have the latest platform (despite it not really changing your experience).
There's also other reasons to buy B550 over B450, such as for a guaranteed smooth transition if upgrading to future Ryzen 4000 CPUs that will release at the end of the year (or in 2021), or if building a high-end Ryzen 9 system that could benefit from the beefier VRMs and cooling that a B550 provides over a B450.
Alternatively, B550 could be the way if you actually have a need for certain other "next-gen" features found on certain B550 boards such as 2.5G LAN or WiFi 6 (to take full advantage of a high-end next-gen gaming router). For more on why PCIe 4.0 isn't important for most people, see our full article on what PCIe 4.0 is and does, which I created alongside this guide on B550.
Unless (or until) B550 boards drop in price, B450 is still the budget king for assembling the most cost-effective gaming PC right now. If I had to stick my neck out and make a specific recommendation for most people, if you're building a PC under $1000 (USD), the best "bang for buck" is going to be B450, assuming you don't have a need for the extra features of a B550 (as we covered in detail earlier).
For under $120 you can get a B450 Tomahawk Max or B450-A Pro Max (or B450M Pro-VDH Max if you want a Micro ATX board for mini towers) - you're getting a decent board with all the main features you'd need for most types of gaming builds, and you can put that $50 or so (that would have gone into a B550) to better practical use such as getting a better CPU, GPU, RAM, or whatever is important to you.
Yes, all of these are MSI boards, as they truly dominated the B450 scene for various reasons (best quality boards for the money). Just keep in mind assembling a B450 Tomahawk Max build isn't needed for most people, and for a typical Ryzen 3 3300X/3100 or Ryzen 5 3600/X/XT gaming system (or even a Ryzen 7 3700X/XT system), the cheaper B450s like the Pro-VDH Max or B450-A Pro will do just fine (assuming you're not overclocking much, in which case the better quality Tomahawk is justifiable, especially if overclocking a fairly fast CPU like a Ryzen 5 or 7).
As for new gaming PC builds over $1000 using a Ryzen 5 3600, Ryzen 3700X, or better - that's where I'd consider throwing in a B550 instead because it's not going to affect your other components choices as much. Specifically, I'd look at a good value B550 like the MSI B550-A Pro or Gigabyte B550 Aorus Elite, both of which aren't too much more than the B450s (but have better features and VRMs, including PCIe 4.0 of course). The MSI B550 Tomahawk is also worth considering if you want something a little better and are willing to invest upwards of $180 or so in a board, especially if running a high-end Ryzen 9 or doing a lot of overclocking.
But also keep in mind the excellent value Asus X570-Plus TUF Gaming, as these days its priced very nicely around the same as excellent B550s like the B550 Tomahawk, so don't forget to factor that in your decision. But if spending beyond $200 for a motherboard, that's when you're well in X570 territory, but that's another discussion for another day.
See Also: Recommended B450 Motherboards
When it comes to flexibility for future upgrades, the B550 vs B450 debate is no whitewash win for the new chipset either. It's essentially a tie, as both will support the next generation of Ryzen (4000 series, AKA "Zen 3") except for one small caveat (that won't matter to most). AMD themselves (and some enthusiasts) recommend the new B550 boards for the best experience with the upcoming Ryzen 4000 series CPUs that are set to launch at the end of 2020, as using a B450 with the upcoming Ryzen 4000 CPUs will require you to use a stripped-down "beta" BIOS.
Don't be too alarmed though, as all that really means is you won't be able to revert back to older BIOS versions, and that your B450 also won't have support for older Ryzen CPUs (not that you'd need it at this point). The only issue I can see with that is that if something goes wrong with the BIOS update, your board is essentially screwed as the BIOS update can't be undone. Oh, and certain BIOS features may be unavailable.
But another reason some will say that B550 is best for Ryzen 4000 is that B550 boards do have upgraded VRMs and cooling compared to B450s, meaning they'll be better able to handle the next-gen chips. Though that really only matters if you'll be getting a high-end Ryzen 7 or 9 and/or you plan on overclocking a fair bit.
Mainstream CPUs like a Ryzen 5 4600 (or whatever it'll end up being called) aren't likely to be a problem whatsoever on a decently-cooled B450 model like the B450 Tomahawk Max or B450 Gaming Pro Carbon Max (both of which have solid VRMs proven to handle a Ryzen 9 3950X no problems).
So whether B450 or B550 is best for Ryzen 4000 (if that's your plan as an upgrade) will depend on your specific situation, but the point is that either is a suitable option, especially if you're not gunning for the next-gen Ryzen 9 or doing some extreme tinkering.
Beyond Ryzen 4000, neither the B450 or B550 platform is looking likely to still be in the game in terms of CPU support though. While it hasn't been officially confirmed, most signs point to the Ryzen 5000 series (or whatever it'll be called) requiring an entirely new CPU socket (AM5, or whatever AMD decides to name it, which may also use DDR5 memory for the first time). In other words, the last CPU series you'll likely be able to use with a B450 or B550 board is Ryzen 4000. After that, you'd need a new motherboard.
To summarize everything said, unless you're the small percentage who have a use for things like PCIe 4.0, 2.5G LAN, WiFi 6, etc, B550 (and X570 for that matter) is essentially a luxury "nice to have" (at least at their current prices). B450 is the better bang for buck buy for most people building a budget or mid-range AMD system in 2020. Here's a simplification of the arguments for buying a B550 and for buying a B450:
Reasons to Buy B550
Reasons to Buy B450
For a few more specific details and nuances on choosing between B450 and B550.
Yes, like B450, B550 still uses the same AMD AM4 processor socket that's been used for all series of Ryzen. B550 (and X570) could be the last AMD chipset to use AM4 though, and the next chipsets (X670? B650?) could be moving to a new processor socket (AM5?).
No, B550 motherboards are not backwards compatible with earlier Ryzen processors older than the current 3rd-gen 3000 series. In other words, B550 does not support 2nd gen Ryzen (Ryzen 2000 series, AKA "Zen+") and it does not support 1st gen Ryzen either (Ryzen 1000 series, AKA "Zen"). B550 only supports Ryzen 3000 and Ryzen 4000 (anything beyond that is unknown at this stage, but unlikely to be supported by B550).
The small chipset fan present on most X570 boards (used to help cool the board) is not found on any B550 motherboards (B550 chipset produces less heat). This is actually one small benefit of B550 vs X570, as chipset fans can slightly add to the noise of a system, and they might fail or need replacing in future (though there's not too many X570 owners who have complained about their noise being a noticeable problem). B450 motherboards don't have chipset fans either.
Because B550 only supports Ryzen 3000 (and 4000) and not Ryzen 2000 or 1000, B550 motherboards are not compatible with the 3200G or 3400G processors as these two are actually based on the Ryzen 2000 series architecture (Zen+, and not Zen 2 which the main Ryzen 3000 CPUs are based on). If you want to build a PC with the 3200G or 3400G, you will need a B450 instead of a B550.
B550 motherboards only have 1 PCIe 4.0 compatible M.2 SSD slot, with the single exception of the Gigabyte Aorus Master which is the only B550 to have 2 PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots.
Negative. If you already have a B450 in your system, upgrading to B550 makes little to no sense and you're better off postponing a motherboard upgrade until the entire new AMD socket releases in 2021/2022 (AM5 or whatever AMD will call it), which should also usher in the new DDR5 memory era. Buying a B550 motherboard only makes sense if you're building a new system from scratch.
Yes. Since PCIe 4.0 is backwards compatible, you can run a PCIe 4.0 drive on a B450 - it'll just run at PCIe 3.0 speeds. PCIe 4.0 is also forwards compatible, meaning that you can also run a PCIe 3.0 device in a PCIe 4.0 slot (and once again it'll just run at PCIe 3.0 speeds).
In terms of VRM quality and thermals (cooling), B550 does improve upon B450, with most B550 boards having superior VRMs and larger/better heatsinks compared to their B450 predecessors. But that doesn't mean you should buy a B550 if overclocking (for Ryzen 3000 or 4000), as a proven B450 like the Tomahawk Max may still have the quality and cooling that you require (and for cheaper). If overclocking a next-gen, 4000 series Ryzen 7 or 9, I would definitely get B550 though, as the better VRMs of B550 will be super helpful in maintaining a cool, stable system.
Agree with my reasoning or have a different view? Found this article useful? Let me know in the comments below, and if you have any questions feel free to ask away and I'll do my best to help out. Otherwise, good luck with your system and hope this article helped in your research.
Read Next: Does PCIe 4.0 Matter for Gaming?
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Indie game dev currently working on an atmospheric VR FPS adventure with Unreal Engine (to be announced soon here for anyone interested in VR FPS's). Also likes writing about gaming and hardware.
Favs of all time are OOT, Perfect Dark, MGS1, MGS2, GE007, DKC2, THPS3, WC3, HL1, HL2, and KOTOR, with the most recent addition to my list of immortals being the VR masterpiece Half Life Alyx. - Julz