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Biostar has unveiled its latest mini-ITX motherboard for the AMD B550 chipset, the B550T-Silver, which is designed for use with AMD’s Ryzen 5000 and Ryzen 3000 processors. The small-sized board combines a simple silver and black aesthetic with decent features including PCIe 4.0 support, Wi-Fi 6, 2.5 GbE networking, and one PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot.
With both NVIDIA and AMD moving quickly away from multi-graphics card setups to single card powerhouses, the mini-ITX form factor has become as potent as as it’s ever been for gaming systems. Biostar’s latest board, in turn, ticks a lot of boxes for users looking for a reasonably priced mini-ITX motherboard that can harness the power of AMD’s Zen 3 processors to create a potent and pocket-sized gaming system/media center with the AMD’s cheaper Ryzen chips.
From what we’ve seen, no X570 or B550 boards currently list support for the latest Ryzen 5000G APUs, which we expect to change once AMD rolls them out onto the wider market.
The Biostar B550T-Silver combines a basic and elegant black and silver color scheme, with plenty of features to be benefited from. There’s one full-length PCIe 4.0 x16 slot, with a single PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot and four straight-angled SATA ports, including support for RAID 0, 1, and 10 arrays. On the right-hand side of the board are two memory slots, which can support 64 GB of RAM at speeds up to DDR4-4933. Biostar isn’t openly advertising the power delivery system, but we can see it uses one 8-pin 12 V ATX input to provide power to the CPU.
Biostar includes one USB 3.2 G2 Type-C, one USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, and four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports on the rear panel. There’s an unspecified Wi-Fi 6 interface for wireless networking, and a Realtek RTL8125B 2.5 GbE controller. The board’s integrated audio consists of three 3.5 mm audio jacks powered by a Realtek ALC897 HD audio codec. Users looking to build a mini-ITX media system can benefit from the integrated graphics on the Ryzen 4000 APUs through one HDMI 2.1 and a single DisplayPort video output pairing. Finishing off the rear panel is a PS/2 combo keyboard and mouse port.
At the time of writing, we don’t currently have a price for the Biostar B550T-Silver mini-ITX motherboard or when it is expected to hit retail. However, we do expect it to be reasonably priced compared directly to some of the other mini-ITX B550 models.
- The AMD B550 Motherboard Overview: ASUS, GIGABYTE, MSI, ASRock, and Others
- AMD Ryzen 5000G APUs: OEM Only, For Now, Full Release Later This Year
- First AMD B550 With Thunderbolt 4: The ASUS ProArt B550-Creator
- The ASRock Rack B550D4-4L, a B550 Motherboard with BMC
- AMD Zen 3 Ryzen Deep Dive Review: 5950X, 5900X, 5800X, and 5600X Tested
SEMI, an organization representing chipmakers and producers of semiconductor production tools, published this week that sales of wafer processing equipment has surged to an all-time record of $71.19 billion for 2020. In the lead-up to the current chip crunch, equipment sales to South Korea and China noticeably spiked, with fabs in the former buying 61% more gear than in 2019, while China has risen to become the largest fab tool customer of all of the nations.
Overall, sales of fab equipment surged 19% from $59.75 billion in 2019 to $71.19 billion in 2020, according to SEMI. The substantial increase was driven by several factors. First and foremost, the world now consumes more chips than ever, and that consumption will only grow over time. Secondly, the competition between TSMC and Samsung Semiconductor (which has Foundry and Memory divisions) is escalating and both companies are spending more money on semiconductor equipment. Thirdly, next-generation lithography equipment (both DUV and EUV) is getting more expensive, so are other tools used in clean rooms. And finally, China is intensifying its domestic semiconductor efforts amid the trade war with the U.S.
|Annual Billings by Region in $U.S. Billions with Year-Over-Year Change Rates|
Chinese companies increased their spending on wafer processing equipment by 39% year-over-year in 2020 to $18.72 billion, an all-time record for the country. Various companies, both domestic and foreign, are ramping up production of logic and memory chips in China, so the surge was something expected.
Taiwanese manufacturers bought semiconductor tools worth $17.15 billion last year, which was flat with 2019. Now that UMC (which is the world’s third largest contract maker of chips) is focused on specialty and mature processes, it no longer has to buy leading-edge equipment. By contrast, TSMC’s purchases of new tools offset declines at UMC, but on the country level shipments of semi tools were flat year-over-year. Meanwhile, this is going to change in 2021 as TSMC plans to radically increase its spending on new fabs up to $28 billion in 2020 and intends to invest $100 billion in new plants and R&D over the next three years.
South Korean companies increased their annual spending on semiconductor equipment to $16.08 billion last year, a whopping 61% year-over-year jump. Samsung Semiconductor, which has foundry services for logic, DRAM, and NAND flash memory, has been setting records with its CapEx budgets in the recent years. Its rival SK Hynix has also been increasing procurement of wafer processing equipment. As a result, in 2020 South Korean companies spent about the same amount of money on fab tools as Japan, North America, and Europe combined.
And though Japan is no longer a microelectronics mecca, but Japanese companies still spent $7.58 billion on fab tools last year, up 21% from 2019. A significant share of that expenditure likely belongs to Kioxia and Western Digital that constantly buy new equipment for their 3D NAND operations, and there are a number of other companies in Japan that produce more specialized semiconductors.
Meanwhile, tool purchases by American fabs actually dropped by 20% versus the previous year, sinking to $6.53 billion for 2020. The US is still the runaway leader for chip design, so the drop serves to widen the gap between how much is designed in the country versus how little is fabbed there. Overall it looks like the tables are going to turn in the coming years as Intel, Samsung Foundry, and TSMC begin to equip their new fabs in the USA; but for now, fab tool shipments are down significantly.
Finally, European fabs increased their purchases of new tools by 16% last year, totaling $2.64 billion invested in new equipment. As Intel brings its 7 nm fabrication process to Ireland in the coming quarters, the company will increase its spending in Europe, so fab tool sales there should see at least a temporary spike in the future.
In fact, tool sales are likely to spike everywhere for 2021 and beyond. While SEMI doesn’t directly publish any outlooks for future sales, it’s clear that the ongoing chip crunch has set the stage for a surge of additional equipment sales, as fabs are overwhelmed with orders despite already operating at full capacity. So, already fully booked for quarters to come, the need for new fab tools will only be increasing.
With the launch of Intel’s Third Generation Xeon Scalable platform based on 10nm Ice Lake processors, Intel has upgraded a part of the company that makes the BIG money. For the last few years Intel has been pivoting from a CPU-centric company to a Data-centric company, leveraging the fact that more and more of its product lines are built towards the datacenter mindset. With the launch of the new server platform in this past week, Intel is gearing itself up for an enterprise stack built on 10nm, PCIe 4.0, and cryptographic acceleration.
In this interview, we ask about Intel’s offerings, the scope of new accelerative features, what really matters to Intel’s customers, and how Intel is approaching its roadmap given the fast follow on from Ice Lake to Sapphire Rapids.
This week TSMC has disclosed its full quarterly financial results for Q1 2021. In those results the company often explains where the revenue demand is for its technologies, and the financial split the demand brings. This number is not correlated to wafer production (although TSMC provides an overall number too), given that smaller process nodes have a per-wafer premium, but it does indicate where the demand is in the market right now. As perhaps to be expected, 7nm takes top billing, however a couple of interesting numbers come out of the data.
On the back of Intel’s 11th generation Rocket Lake processor release last month, MSI has dropped a new Z590 motherboard which certainly raises an eyebrow towards aesthetics. The new Z590 Ace Gold Edition is a gold-inspired take of the regular MEG Z590 Ace motherboard, with all of the same premium features such as PCIe 4.0 support, 2.5 GbE, Wi-Fi 6E, and dual Thunderbolt 4 Type-C on the rear panel.
Built around its Enthusiast Gaming series, the MEG Z590 Ace Gold Edition injects a lot of flair and vibrance that the regular MEG Z590 Ace doesn’t have. While aesthetics comes down to a matter of individual opinion, the MSI MEG Z590 Gold Ace Gold Edition is decked out in gold and brushed aluminum finishing, including the rear panel cover, power delivery heatsinks, PCIe slot armor, M.2 heatsinks, and the chipset heatsink.
Despite the refreshed and extravagant aesthetic, it includes the exact same feature and controller set as the regular MSI MEG Z590 Ace, which includes two full-length PCIe 4.0 slots that can operate at x16 and x8/x8, a third full-length PCIe 3.0 x4 slot, and two PCIe 3.0 x1 slots. There are four memory slots that can accommodate up to DDR4-5600 memory, with a maximum capacity of 128 GB, and includes one PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot, three PCIe 3.0 x4/SATA M.2 slots, and six SATA ports which is plenty of storage options. Providing power to the CPU is the same 16-phase power delivery with premium 90 A power stages as the regular Z590 Ace and dual 8-pin 12 V ATX CPU power inputs.
The rear panel also comes with plenty of features and includes a pre-attached gold and aluminum-colored rear panel cover (Ian: I can barely read those labels! What if you’re colorblind!?). For connectivity, the MSI MEG Z590 Ace Gold Edition has dual Thunderbolt 4 Type-C with two mini-DisplayPort video inputs, two USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A, and two USB 2.0 ports. The board also uses a Realtek ALC4082 HD audio codec and ESS Sabre 9018Q2C DAC combination, which powers five 3.5 mm audio jacks and S/PDIF optical output, as well as a BIOS flashback and Clear CMOS button pairing. On the networking side of things, MSI is using an Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE controller and Intel’s latest AX210 Wi-Fi 6E CNVi.
At present, we don’t know when the MSI MEG Z590 Ace Gold Edition is going to hit retail shelves, nor do we have any pricing. The regular MSI MEG Z590 Ace has an MSRP of $500, so we expect the gold variant to cost a little more.
We also have the MSI MEG Z590 Ace (regular version) in for review, which we will publish in due time.
- The Intel Z590 Motherboard Overview: 50+ Motherboards Detailed
- Intel Rocket Lake (14nm) Review: Core i9-11900K, Core i7-11700K, and Core i5-11600K
- ASRock Z590 Taichi Review: An Intel Motherboard with Moving Parts (and Thunderbolt 4)
- The ASRock Z590 OC Formula Motherboard: By and For Overclockers
- The MSI Z590 Godlike, Comparing it to the Z490 Godlike
With the high demand for semiconductors causing most companies to focus on their high margin, high profitability components, I wasn’t expecting to see many launches of low-to-mid range hardware for the rest of 2021. AMD has surprised me in announcing its entry and mid-level processors with integrated graphics today, offering up to eight Zen 3 cores and Vega 8 graphics, but AMD is pointing out that these models are for the pre-built system market only right now. AMD has plans to enable a full retail offering for these components, but this will happen later in the year.
Microsoft tends to update their Surface lineup on an irregular schedule, not necessarily following the updated CPUs that are generally announced on a mostly annual cadence. Today Microsoft is announcing an updated Surface Laptop, dubbed the Surface Laptop 4, and brings the hardware up to date, somewhat at least. Also, with the explosion in video conferencing as a result of the Covid-19 global pandemic, the company is also announcing a slew of accessories to improve the Microsoft Teams experience.
Surface Laptop 4: Intel Tiger Lake and Custom AMD Processors
Microsoft’s update schedule often means their products linger in the market with specifications that are no longer current. Perhaps no product has felt that more than the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3, especially the AMD version, which launched in late 2019. Based on AMD’s Picasso platform at the time, the AMD Ryzen Surface Edition processor suffered from poor battery life – an issue which AMD resolved with the launch of their Ryzen 4000 series “Renoir” processors just a few months later.
Today, Microsoft is rectifying this, but not going quite as far as you would expect for a device launching in April 2021. Once again, Microsoft will be launching both Intel and AMD powered versions of the Surface Laptop 4, and again, the AMD models will feature a custom Ryzen processor. However, despite AMD releasing their Ryzen 5000 series “Cezanne” lineup, the Surface Laptop 4 will feature the older Renoir platform. As disappointing as this is, Renoir was a very capable platform, with great performance, and great battery life. Perhaps the Surface Laptop 4 refresh was supposed to come in late 2020, but was delayed by Covid, but regardless, even with the Ryzen 4000 series powering it, the Surface Laptop 4 should be a big improvement over the Surface Laptop 3.
|Microsoft Surface Laptop 4|
|Processor||Intel Core i5-1035G7
Intel Core i5-1145G7
Intel Core i7-1185G7
AMD Ryzen 5 4680U
AMD Ryzen 7 4980U
|Intel Core i7-1185G7
AMD Ryzen 7 4980U
|Graphics||Intel: Intel Iris Xe Grahics
AMD: AMD Ryzen Microsoft Surface Edition Radeon Graphics
|Display||13.5″ 2256×1504 3:2 PixelSense
Touch and Pen support
Individually calibrated panels
|15″ 2496×1664 3:2 PixelSense
Touch and Pen support
Individually calibrated panels
|Storage||256 GB, 512 GB PCIe NVMe
|Networking||Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax
Dolby Audio 9
|Battery||Up to 19 hours on AMD Ryzen 5
Up to 17 hours on Intel Core i5
|Up to 17.5 hours on AMD Ryzen 5
Up to 16.5 hours on Intel Core i5
|Right Side||Surface Connect Port|
|Left Side||USB Type-A
|Dimensions||308 x 223 x 14.51 mm (12.1 x 8.8 x 0.57 inches)||339.5 x 244 x 14.69 mm (13.4 x 9.6 x 0.57 inches)|
|Camera||Front: 720p Camera and Windows Hello support
Dual far-field Studio Mics
|Extras||Surface Pen and Dial (sold separately)
|Pricing||Starting at $999 USD||Starting at $1099 USD|
Perhaps disappointingly for AMD fans, customers who opt for the Intel-based Surface Laptop 4 will not have to suffer such indignities. Surface Laptop 4 will ship with the latest Intel Tiger Lake platform, which brings slightly updated CPU cores, and much more powerful Intel Xe graphics, on Intel’s 10 nm process.
Also good news is that Microsoft has drastically expanded the lineup in terms of choice, with both the 13.5-inch, and the 15-inch models both available with AMD or Intel options, whereas the AMD version was only available in the 15-inch for Surface Laptop 3, and the Intel Ice Lake was only available as the “Business” edition. For the Surface Laptop 4, there is plenty of choice.
Additional choices are now available in terms of color too, with Microsoft adding an Ice Blue option to the existing Platinum, Matte Black, and Sandstone options. One of the most unique aspects of the original Surface Laptop was the Alcantara keyboard deck, and Microsoft has kept that as an option for the 13.5-inch model in either Platinum or Ice Blue.
Microsoft is claiming up to 19 hours of battery life on the Surface Laptop 4, in 13.5-inch guise and with the AMD Ryzen processor. This is a significant upgrade over the outgoing model, and comes alongside much better performance. Memory is 8 GB to 32 GB, and storage is 256 GB to 1 TB. Microsoft used to be guilty of offering specifications that were too low for even a base model, but 8 GB / 256 GB is a reasonable low-end configuration.
Microsoft pushed back on USB Type-C, and the company still is pushing back on Thunderbolt, even on the Intel-based devices. Thunderbolt 4 brings a lot of standardization, and would have been nice to see, but sadly, the company refuses to support it. One area where they can be commended though is that they are expanding their removable SSD support to the Surface Laptop 4, allowing easier expandability in the future. The drives are, as far as we can tell, still PCIe 3.0 NVMe drives, even though the Intel Tiger Lake model would support PCIe 4.0 storage. We’ll try to get clarification on if the slot supports it or not though.
The Surface Laptop has always offered great build quality, along with the fantastic PixelSense display in the now ubiquitous Surface 3:2 aspect ratio. While there are no major changes to the chassis, the updated internals, coupled with the light weight and good display, bring the Surface Laptop back into the equation.
The Surface Laptop 4 is available for pre-order, starting at $999 for the 13.5-inch, and $1099 for the 15-inch models.
Announced a few weeks ago, we’re looking at the impressive performance and efficiency of the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 780G SoC, courtesy of Xiaomi’s new Mi 11 Lite 5G mid-range phone.
Another month into 2021, and AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series processors are still thin on the ground, especially the high-core count parts. The more affordable models, such as the Ryzen 7 5800X ($449) and Ryzen 5 5600X ($399), are slowly coming back into stock. While we occasionally see the higher core count CPUs listed for ridiculous prices it doesn’t make much sense to hold out much hope of stock levels increasing any time soon. Much better value may be better found in its Ryzen 3000 offerings, and we give our picks out of AMD’s wide-stretching AM4 offerings to support these. With X570, B550, and the A520 chipsets leading the way for AMD, here are AMD-based motherboard selections for April 2021.
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