I had a body (the case) and the brain (CPU); then, I needed a nervous system (the motherboard). ThreadRipper socket is called TR4, and it is NOT compatible with Ryzen AM4 socket, so I needed a, guess what? more expensive, dedicated motherboard, an x399.
There are not so many models available, in comparison to other sockets, but yet there are enough to be undecided… so, I started to study them all, to restrict the candidates to possibly two or three; there is a very nice comparison sheet here – if only I had discovered it before spending weeks to read dozen reviews!
The x399 MB producers are only four: ASRock, Asus, Gigabyte and MSI. I’m kinda agnostic, so I have no preferences; to be fair, I wanted to pick up the best of each brand, decide for the one to buy, and then finally hump it up inside the case.
So, it was easy – just pick up the best model for each brand, and get the best of them… well, but which is the best of the best? Let’s start with the features I wanted for that motherboard, that would fit the AMD ThreadRipper 1950x
- high current, to support overclock without problems
- three m.2 plugs, to connect the most NVME SDDs
- most PCIe 3.0 connectors – possibly 2 x16 and 2 x8
Now, let’s discover what (and what not) have each top model for each brand:
ASRock Fatal1ty x399
pros: 4 x16 (x16/x8/x16/x8) PCIe 3.0, 10Gbit LAN, u.2 connector
cons: no m.2 covers
Asus ROG Zenith Extreme x399
pros: 4 x16 (x16/x8/x16/x8) PCIe 3.0, 10Gbit LAN (on discrete card), u.2 connector, LiveDash OLED, 4.6Gbps WiFi, dimm.2, 1 x4 + 1 x1 PCIe 2.0
cons: only 6 SATA
Gigabyte Aorus Xtreme x399
pros: 4 x16 (x16/x8/x16/x8) PCIe 3.0, 10Gbit LAN
cons: only 6 SATA, no u.2 connector, lowest current (50a)
MSI MEG x399 Creation
pros: highest current (70a), further 4 m.2 (on discrete card)
cons: x16/x8/-/x8 or x16/-/x16/x8 PCIe 3.0 (hence no chance to get 4 GPUs), no 10Gbit LAN, no u.2 connector
Still a tough choice…
ASRock has less pros in comparison to other brands, and just one con, that is quite important IMHO: as fastest NVME SSDs are quite hot, getting no cover – and hence no thermal heatsink – will lead them to throttle sometimes, losing speed and shorten their lifespan; and I do not like its design a lot…
Asus has that nice (albeit quite useless) OLED display, an unique feature; the 10GBit card could be left in the box if unused; current is not the highest (60a) but it uses different chips for CPU and SOC, plus chokes and caps are especially good; the dimm.2 slot is an interesting feature, if you think that is quite easy to add or replace up to 2 m.2 SSDs, without taking out GPU and removing covers; fastest WiFi and best audio are the last welcome features. The only con is the fact it has only 6 SATA ports instead 8, because 2 were sacrified to include an u.2 port. Design is quite nice, not too much colored.
Gigabyte too has only 6 SATA ports, but it lacks also the u.2 connector; plus, it has the lowest current (50a) of the lot – still enough to overclock non-WX models, though; and design is again not so sober; I’d prefer the Designare – with two more SATA ports and one PCIe 2.0 slot, but no 10Gbit LAN, yet it has the best look, very clean and professional.
MSI has the highest current – perfect for the WX models, and also it’s the newest one, and it includes a PCIe card that adds four more m.2 to the other three, taking the grandtotal to seven. Still, it lacks the 10Gbit LAN, the u.2 connector (not so much important IMHO), price is quite high, and its design is… meh!
At the end, motherboard race winner is:
ASUS ROG ZENITH EXTREME X399
with MSI MEG x399 Creation quite close, and Gigabyte Aorus Xtreme x399 (or Designare) as last alternative.
Now, brain could not work without hindbrain… in our system, the latter would be the CPU cooling… again, another important choice; what will be better, a normal air cooler, or an AIO (all-in-one) liquid cooler?
Luckily, here the choice is (somewhat) limited; there are very few air coolers with a full TR4 heatspreader, and just three models of one brand among AIO ones… it is an important feature, as the ThreadRipper is a very big chip, and other coolers will not completely cover it, worsening their cooling power.
Air coolers: the best are the Noctua NH-U14S TR4-SP3 and the Cooler Master Wraith Ripper. The first has better features, but it’s quite ugly, while the latter is so sexy, with its full cover with an RGB on top of it – actually, the only one that, instead reporting its own name, has the CPU name – a very wise choice IMHO. More, the latter is the preferred choice for the 2990WX (at stock speed). Said so, with overclock, they are both worst than AIO coolers, so, sadly, I was be forced to choose the latter. And, last but not least, beware of their size; it could interfere with RAM DIMMs, or even block the first top PCIe slot!
The only brand AFAIK that actually produce an AIO cooling system that has the full TR4 heatspreader coverage is Enermax; the first version was faulty, using a wrong liquid that corroded the metals and lead to high temps, with possible risk for the CPU; now the second model seems to have solved that problem, using a right liquid, plus it has RGB – a welcome option, that could always be switched off, if someone does not like colors…
Models are LiqTech TR4 II, with difference only in the radiator (and related fans); there is the 240mm (ticker radiator) with 2x 120mm fans, 280mm with 2x 140mm fans, and 360mm, with 3x 120mm fans; albeit it must be logic that bigger radiator is better, all of them provide an incredible 500W+ TDP… of course I’d go with the bigger, even if the smaller has a ticker radiator, so… the CPU cooling race winner is:
ENERMAX LIQTECH TR4 II
Last note: the thermal paste included in every CPU cooler is usually not the best, so it is advised to invest few bucks and buy a better one; this time, I have no idea which is the best, but, according to many, difference between a good and the best ones are around 1°C or 2°C, so it must be not a critical choice, yet, as price is small (in comparison to the whole system), I’d avoid the cheapest ones, and go with the best.