The BIOS Woes of Two AMD Budget Processors
What the Athlon 200GE/3000G tells us about the Ryzen 4000 processors on B450/X470 mainboards.
AMD announced two weeks ago that their forthcoming B550 mainboards will work with the current Ryzen 3000 processors and the future Ryzen 4000 processors, and the Ryzen 4000 processors will work only on the 500-series mainboards.
For users of the Ryzen 3000 processor and/or the X570 mainboard, the future looks bright — if AMD continues the AM4 platform beyond 2020. The existing roadmap started in 2017 and ends this year. AMD haven’t revealed their roadmap for 2021 and beyond.
For users of the Ryzen 1000/2000 processor and/or the 300/400-series mainboard, the future looks dark. Older processor won’t run on the newer mainboards, newer processors won’t run on the older mainboards. Users are crying foul that their recent purchases are now semi-obsolete.
AMD stated that they were breaking platform compatibility because the ROM chip for the BIOS on older mainboards was too small to contain the microcode for multiple generations of processors. Without the microcode in the BIOS, the mainboard won’t recognize the processor to boot the system.
Enthusiasts — a small but very vocal user base — called BS on that specious rationalization. BIOS fragmentation began last year when the Ryzen 3000 BIOS update needed space on the now too small ROM chip. It didn’t help that AMD recommended the 400-series mainboard to users who couldn’t afford the more expensive X570 mainboard, and everyone expected to drop in a Ryzen 4000 processor when they become available later this year.
AMD backed off their initial statement and offered limited BIOS support for the Ryzen 4000 processors on the 400-series mainboard. A default BIOS that supports the existing Ryzen 1000/2000/3000 processors, and an optional “beta” BIOS that supports Ryzen 3000 and beyond (the catch being unable to downgrade the BIOS for an older processor). Not surprisingly, the 300-series mainboard won’t be getting the Ryzen 4000 BIOS update.
For those of us who went through the BIOS woes for the Athlon 200GE and 3000G last year, the Ryzen 4000 processors will probably offer the same pain to an entirely new audience that haven’t dealt with it before.
Athlon 200GE (September 2018)
When AMD released the Athlon 200GE as a $55 USD budget processor in September 2018, it wasn’t an unlocked processor for overclocking. Changing the clock speed and/or memory speed to a faster setting in the BIOS didn’t result in a faster processor after rebooting the system. The BIOS always reverted to its previous locked settings. An unlocked budget processor at half the price of an entry-level Ryzen processor was still out of reach.
That changed in December 2018.
MSI released a BIOS update for their Ryzen mainboards that “accidentally” unlocked the clock speed for the 200GE. (Memory speed, apparently, still locked in hardware.) When word got out that the 200GE could overclock from 3.2GHz to 3.8GHz or higher, MSI mainboards went flying off the shelves.
That prompted the other mainboard manufacturers to release their own BIOS update to cash in on the suddenly popular overclockable budget processor. The 200GE was almost impossible to find at $55 USD (unless it was on sale for $50 USD), $70 USD was its regular price for the longest time, and frequently out of stock at online retailers like Amazon and Newegg.
Unlocking the 200GE for overclocking became known as an unofficial feature in the BIOS update. The emphasis being on unofficial. What one BIOS update giveth, another BIOS update can taketh.
After two mainboards, three processors, and four video cards over 12 years, I transitioned from the older AM2/AM2+/AM3 platform to the newer AM4 platform in March 2019. The hardware specs were relatively the same as this was a platform swap and not a performance upgrade.
I bought the new processor, mainboard, and memory for $150 USD plus tax, each component cost about $50 USD and a Newegg special that I waited three months to appear under the same sale.
Despite the differences in core/thread counts and underlying architecture, the 200GE (2-cores/4-threads) had nearly the same performance at half the cost of the FX-8300 (8-cores/8-threads). (I bought the FX-8300 when its regular price fell to $100 USD in 2016.) The ability to overclock the 200GE from 3.2GHz to 3.8GHz gave it a little extra zest in performance.
The Asrock B450M Pro4 micro-ATX mainboard came with BIOS version 1.60 (11/9/2018) installed that had the 200GE as a locked processor. I flashed the BIOS to version 2.0 (12/24/2018) that unlocked overclocking and version 3.10 (03/15/2019) that stabilized overclocking.
After several weeks of testing, I seamlessly moved from my old system to my new system without any interruption.
The Ryzen 3000 BIOS update appeared in May 2019.
Mainboard manufacturers dropped support for the older A-series processors, replaced the fancy GUI with a basic GUI, and stripped out any unofficial features that AMD wasn’t supporting, to free up space on the ROM chip for the newer Ryzen 3000 processors.
The unofficial feature to overclock the 200GE lasted six months — if the user updated their BIOS with the Ryzen 3000 update.
Never flash the BIOS unless the update fixes a problem or add support for newer processors.
After I posted a video explaining the BIOS catch-22 for the 200GE, I got comments from two different types of viewers who either:
- Updated their BIOS to the latest and greatest,
- Bought a mainboard with the “AMD Ryzen Desktop 3000 Ready” sticker on the box.
These viewers were upset because they bought their components to overclock the 200GE and the BIOS locked them out from gaining that little extra performance. A risk when relying on an unofficial feature in the BIOS.
Re-flashing the BIOS with the previous update didn’t work. As noted on the Asrock BIOS page for the B450M Pro4: “User will not able to flash previous BIOS once upgrading to this BIOS version.”
One viewer discovered that wasn’t entirely true and shared a workaround to re-flash the BIOS for overclocking the 200GE in three simple steps.
- Flash the BIOS with version 1.60 (11/9/2018).
- Flash the BIOS with version 2.00 (12/24/2018).
- Flash the BIOS with version 3.10 (3/15/2019).
Mainboards from other manufacturers may have a different set of steps for re-flashing the BIOS with an older update.
Re-flashing the BIOS could result in the mainboard being “bricked” (inoperable) if the update fails.
I personally haven’t tried re-flashing my own mainboard. I’m still running BIOS version 3.10 today. Although I did replace the 200GE with the Ryzen 7 2700 (8-cores/16-threads) that I picked up for $140 USD at Amazon on Thanksgiving Day last year. Unless I get a Ryzen 9 3900X (12-core/24-threads), I don’t need a Ryzen 3000 BIOS update.
Athlon 3000G (November 2019)
While the 200GE required a mainboard with a specific BIOS update to enable overclocking on a budget processor, the Athlon 3000G was AMD’s $50 USD budget processor for the “AMD Ryzen Desktop 3000 Ready” mainboards. Both the clock speed and memory speed unlocked for overclocking, according to the announcement in November 2019.
If the mainboard had the BIOS update to enable overclocking the 3000G.
I pre-ordered the 3000G before Thanksgiving Day from B&H (the only North American online retailer to have it at the time) and received it after Christmas last year. My test PC had the Asrock B450 Pro4 ATX mainboard (the full-sized version of the B450M Pro4 in my main system). It came installed with BIOS version 3.60 (08/06/2019) that had the 3000G as a locked processor. Like the 200GE before it, the 3000G wasn’t an unlocked processor.
AMD changed their mind about not overclocking the 3000G. Making it possible to buy an unlocked budget processor at half the price of an entry-level Ryzen processor. Enthusiasts finally had the budget processor that they long waited for.
The new BIOS update — version 3.90 (12/23/2019) from the Asrock B450 Pro BIOS page — became available before Christmas Day and several days before users started receiving their pre-orders. After updating the BIOS, the 3000G overclocked the clock speed from 3.5GHz to 3.8GHz and memory from 2666MHz to 3200MHz.
Ryzen 4000 BIOS Woes
Users who avoided the Athlon processors and went with the Ryzen processor may not have noticed the BIOS woes of the past year. That will change with AMD providing BIOS support for the Ryzen 4000 processors on the 400-series mainboards. If the past is any indication of the future, expect AMD and the mainboard manufacturers to make a mess out of the latest and greatest.