Reviewed: ASUS ROG STRIX B550-E Gaming

The ASUS ROG STRIX B550-E Gaming motherboard is a prime example of something that I’d buy for myself. The design team has done everything right, the build quality is excellent and the price, whilst premium, is justifiable and not over the top.

There is a lot to like here and its hard to know where to start. The layout is well-considered, and I’ll cover that in more detail later. The durability, connectivity and performance are as sharp as the aesthetic – the STRIX B550-E Gaming doesn’t just look good, it delivers in every way. This motherboard gives its owner options, real flexibility in terms of multi-GPU support, 2.5Gb LAN, Wi-Fi 6 AX200 and Bluetooth, M.2 slots supporting up to 110mm drives, an external thermal sensor and a USB 3.2 Gen 2 front-panel connector.

As with all “Gaming” motherboards, there’s RGB, but it isn’t excessive. There are two on-board RGB areas and 4 RGB headers (2×3-pin Addressable Gen2 RGB headers, 2×4-pin Aura RGB Headers) for connecting case lighting, fans or other bling and co-ordinating the lighting.

The audio solution also introduces Audio USB Type-C to the ASUS line-up – more on that later as well. We see the stable ASUS SupremeFX S1220A CODEC and dual OP amplifiers with Sonic Studio software suite. Another new audio feature is the ASUS AI noise cancelling Mic function that is able to focus on voice and cancel out background noise and keyboard clicks in realtime.

In addition to the usual AMD Crossfire support (3-way crossfire support here), ASUS has also included NVIDIA SLI support (2-way) for multi GPU solutions. In recent years, multi-GPU solutions have become far less popular since, say, the Nvidia GTX 6xx days, but if you’re looking for a B550 board with SLI then this is a solid option as it isn’t a typical feature. The spacing of the PCIe x16 Gen 4.0 slots is three spaces so a pair of dual-slot cards will be able to breathe.

DIY Friendly – what does this mean?

ASUS marketing makes a big deal of “DIY Friendly” – so what does this mean and how is the STRIX B550-E any easier to use than competing boards?

For many people, the thought of getting hands-on with a PC build is daunting and spending a small fortune on parts can cause some anxiety that a mistake might become an expensive lesson. ASUS has tried to make the process of building your PC a little bit easier by including a few features to help the installation and any troubleshooting.

The pre-mounted I/O shield makes installing the STRIX B550-E Gaming into your case easier than having to install the rear shield and then make sure all the ports line up. It also means that you don’t find the I/O shield in the box after building your rig and realise that you forgot to install it at the start – anyone who has done this will appreciate a pre-mounted solution.

BIOS FlashBack can be a lifesaver. This feature allows you to flash the BIOS using the BIOS FlashBack button and a USB (FAT32/NTFS) with an appropriate BIOS file to update the BIOS without the need to POST. You can do this without a CPU or memory installed. Being able to do this can be very handy if you are building your PC for the first time and realise that you need a BIOS update for the system to recognise your CPU or memory.

Q-Design is the ASUS feature-set that helps you quickly identify why your PC isn’t doing what it’s meant to. ASUS break it down as follows:

ASUS Q-CODE – this is an LED indicator on the bottom edge of the board that can tell you the status of the system using two characters. If your build won’t boot, check the code here and look up the Q-CODE table in the user manual to get an indication of what might be wrong.

ASUS Q-DIMM – Have you ever noticed how some memory slots have two latches with one at each end and others have only one latch? The ASUS Q-DIMM slots have one latch at the top of each slot that you need to activate to install or remove RAM.

ASUS Q-LED (DRAM [yellow],CPU [red], VGA [white], Boot Device [yellow green). If we look at the non-cosmetic lighting, we see the indicator lights on the top right that help trouble-shoot POST issues such as boot device, VGA, CPU or DRAM. These are in a spot that should be easy to see in most cases, even with a roof-mounted radiator.

Circling back to the “DIY Friendly” claim from ASUS –  all of these measures together make this board very easy to work with and it’s going to be a little easier to install than other boards or even lower-tier ASUS motherboards that don’t have all of these features.

Flex-key allows you to reassign the purpose of the reset button/header to other functions such as aura-effect, DirectKey or the traditional reset function. As someone who rarely uses the reset button, the ability to switch RGB modes from game-time to stealth while my PC completes a download or finishes a transcoding job would be more useful – so this is something I’d actually use.

Aesthetics

Overall, the board is matte black – there are some very subtle red pinstripes but it’s a black motherboard that has some detail and brushed surfaces on the M.2 heatsinks. The STRIX B550-E Gaming has a rugged and stealthy look to it

The VRM heatsinks didn’t get hot at all when overclocking our 3300X – they felt warm to touch on the surface but only a few degrees above body temperature. This was on the open test bench without any active airflow. I noted that there is no heat-pipe for the VRM heatsinks but from what I’ve seen, they shouldn’t need it.

The shape of the heatsinks is important with grooves and tiers in the blocks allowing for more surface area. The upper section of the rear/left heatsink is also quite deep under the rear I/O shroud and the design is incredibly effective at keeping power delivery thermals down under load when overclocked. They also look great – which is always good too.

The onboard RGB LEDs are subtle with the ROG logo on the rear I/O shroud and the “STRIX” LED on the chipset heatsink but there are two pairs of RGB/ADD_RGB headers for additional LED lighting and the software will link with Philips Hue, ASUS ROG graphics cards, RGB Memory modules and ROG peripherals.

The software interface is easy to use with many options to choose from to achieve the look you are after.

Build Quality

Both PCIe 4.0 slots have been reinforced and you can see the metal encased in the plastic outer shell of the ASUS Q-slot PCIe levers that lock and release the PCIe card. These slots have additional soldering and a full metal shield surrounding the slot to protect against sheering during transport or heavy-handed installation.

The whole board felt strong but lighter than some of the higher-tier ASUS ROG boards that include backplates and full cover heat sinks on the front of the board. The STRIX B550-E Gaming seems to have enough heat dissipation measures and reinforcement to do the job (and do it well) but without the overkill that would make the board heavier and more expensive.

ASUS has implemented a 6-layer of 2oz PCB for added strength and thermal performance. The VRM heatsinks appear well fitted with no movement or flex in them and they also seem to be very well attached to the components underneath.

Although there is no Clear CMOS button on the rear I/O or the motherboard, there is a Clear CMOS header on the motherboard that is easy to access. Whilst we’re talking headers, there is also a Thunderbolt header for an add-in TB card, S/PDIF header and a thermal probe point for specific monitoring/cooling.

The packaging offers good protection for the board inside with different compartments for the included accessories, an anti-static bag and the usual separate cardboard motherboard box within.

I can’t fault the finish and execution of this board from an aesthetic, functional or quality perspective – it’s the perfect B550 motherboard.

Specifications

I’ve listed the Qualified Vendor Lists for both memory and SSD storage below. This information can be handy when planning your build.

Layout

The ASUS STRIX  B550-E Gaming has a good layout to the point where it looks deceptively simple. There were a few things that I noted when building the test system that worked really well. As an example, the areas around both the CPU socket and the central PCIe 4.0 slot are deliberately clear – highlighted in green below.

The VRM heatsinks sit back a little and there is enough clearance for water blocks or larger tower mounting systems for the CPU.

Most air-cooled graphics cards that will be paired with this motherboard will be at least double-slot – the outline above shows that central section of the motherboard has nothing in the “Graphics card zone”. Even the SATA connections are set lower down so that if you have a longer GPU like the STRIX series with 3 fans, you will be able to add or change SATA drives without needing to get under the graphics card.

The battery would be partially obscured, but this would be rarely needed and there is space to work around a 2.5 slot card like the STRIX RTX 2080 Ti without needing to remove the card. By having the M.2 slot sitting low above the top PCIe 4.0 slot, the PCIe release lever is also readily accessible.

The PWM fan headers are highlighted in red on the layout and whilst there are none along the right edge, the placement on the top, bottom and tucked in near the rear I/O shroud will make for a very neat cabling job. I prefer this fan header placement if it means that the area under the GPU is completely clear for future SATA additions.

The USB 3.1 Gen 1 header is vertical rather than horizontal and sits directly below the 24-pin power connector mid-way along the right side of the board, not along the bottom edge.

The Q-Code LED can also assist with more detailed trouble-shooting and will display a clear “OC” when overclocking so that you know it’s running outside the stock configuration.

Everything about this layout made complete sense and the design decisions are consistent with other ROG boards that I’ve reviewed over the past few years. Installation is quick and easy with very little effort or planning required from the system builder to execute a neat cabling job.

Storage

There are 6 SATA3 connectors but both M.2 slots will support SATA devices – just check the specifications and manual for the implications on the SATA ports.

The top/central M.2 slot supports PCIe 4.0 x4 whilst the lower M.2 slot is PCIe 3.0 x4. Both M.2 slots have an aluminium heatsink and support up to 110mm (2242-22110) storage devices.

Audio

ASUS has implemented their SupremeFX S1220 audio platform that is essentially a tuned Realtek ALC1220 CODEC with some exclusive collaboration effort between Realtek and ASUS to tweak the chipset. The rating is 120dB Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) for stereo output and 113dB SNR recording input. Playback support goes up to 32-Bit/19kHz. The chipset is shielded against interference and uses premium Nichicon audio capacitors as seen on other ASUS ROG products.

The AI Noise Cancellation Mic feature is something new from ASUS and it is able to effectively isolate a voice from the background noise including mechanical keyboard clatter from the microphone input in realtime with minimal CPU impact. The configuration for this feature is available via the Armoury Crate software.

When testing this with Windows Voice Recorder, I noted that the background noise and keyboard clatter was much more pronounced at the beginning of the clip and then faded after 1-2 seconds as the algorithm adapted. At this point the key-presses were still audible in the voice recordings but my voice came through a lot clearer. In a gaming situation players I was talking to found the reduction to be more obvious – seemingly because the ambient noise of the game was louder than the residual background noise left behind after the AI Noise Cancelling process had done it’s job. All they could hear was my voice – which is how it should be. Your mileage may vary here depending on the type of background noise you have and the sensitivity of your mic but in my testing, this feature was clearly effective.

In my testing, I used both the HyperX Cloud gaming headphones as a typical representation of what many people use, along with the Blue Satellite headphones that are of higher quality (and cost). In both cases, the analogue output from the ROG SupremeFX platform is brilliant from both the rear I/O ports and the front panel connection.

This is also the first time I’ve seen a dedicated USB Type-C Audio connector on a motherboard; This replaces the Optical out S/PDIF. ASUS include a cable (USB Type-C to 3.5mm combo jack) that will be suitable for most modern headsets.

S/PDIF has gradually scaled back from an optical and RCA input/output connection to a single optical output so a shift to USB Type-C makes sense for the following reasons:

  1. HDMI can carry both audio and video to external amplifiers making the S/PDIF redundant where the PC is connected to a home theatre or other similar device.
  2. External DACs typically offer both USB and S/PDIF inputs that produce the same result
  3. USB Type-C is still new but likely to be adopted more widely by manufacturers of multi-channel speakers moving forward as it still connects to the source with one cable and may offer new solutions to existing challenges where digital compression standards such as DTS Connect or Dolby Digital Live are not supported at either end which results in 2.1 audio output.

The software is also more useful than the typical rebadged drivers that we often see. Sound Studio 3 allows different audio profiles/equaliser settings to be assigned to different applications or games so if you are using Spotify, then you can use one profile but as soon as you fire up COD: Warzone Sound Studio will automatically apply a different pre-defined profile better suited to first-person shooter games. It doesn’t stop at equalizer settings – you can also allocate different audio devices to different applications. There is a function to create an online login so that you can save your settings which could be handy if you spend a lot of time/effort setting this up. If you don’t manually intervene, the default setup will apply per Windows settings.

There is also a Sonic Radar 3 application that can show you where sounds are coming from with a visual indicator. It isn’t 100% accurate but it’s pretty good and the visual overlay can show you an arrow in the direction of where each noise should be based on positional sound. As much as I like the innovation at the heart of this feature, the overlay will most likely be at odds with the spirit of many competitive games. I find the visual indicators a little distracting and this isn’t something that I’d use but it should still be considered a value-add in the software bundle.

LAN/Wi-Fi

The Intel I225-V 2.5Gb Ethernet port is protected against spikes by ASUS LANGuard. I was able to saturate our 1Gb network in standard testing. When using the ASUS GT-AX11000 Rapture router I was able to run multiple throughput tests to different 1Gb devices while connecting the Maximus XII EXTREME to the 2.5Gb port and see the benefit.

Wi-Fi connectivity is extensive and there is only one antenna to worry about placing. This works well in maintaining a good signal.

The Wi-Fi solution is the Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 with 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax) supporting dual-band frequency of 2.4/5 GHz and up to 2.4Gbps maximum data rate. 

When testing Wi-Fi we sat the test bench in the same room as the GT-AX11000 router for a best-case scenario. In real-world usage, environmental factors can come into play such as walls, interference, etc. so we try to eliminate this and demonstrate an optimal environment. The results were:

  • 5GHz 160HT (160MHz bandwidth enabled) – 564Mbps write speed / 847Mbps read speed
  • 5GHz – 425Mbps write speed / 779Mbps read speed
  • 4GHz – 117Mbps write speed / 160Mbps read speed

These tests were made to an SSD file share on a PC with a 1Gb wired connection directly to the router. The file payload was 1GB for testing. The Router settings are in the screenshots below.

The STRIX B550-E Gaming also has Bluetooth 5.1 which is great if you want to game with a wireless controller or connect mobile devices.

The only connectivity missing is 10Gb but at this price point, it isn’t expected.

Test Platform & Supporting Components

Please note that I also tested GeIL 2x8GB PC4-25600 CL16-16-16-36 RAM and an AMD Ryzen 3 3100 CPU. 

Overclocking

Interestingly we were able to get an additional 100MHz overclock from both our Ryzen 3 3100 and 3300X CPUs than we did with the ASRock B550 Extreme4 using the same supporting components, cooling and settings.

The Ryzen 3 3100 managed to sustain a stable overclock of 4.5GHz @ 1.4v while the 3300X had a solid overclock of 4.6GHz at 1.4v.

It isn’t a huge difference, but it was there and worth noting. Both overclock results were stable in both extended benchmarks and gaming workloads.

Thermals and Fan Control

The automated 5-way optimisation utility delivered a 4.5GHz all-core overclock with our Ryzen 3 3300X at around 1.3v with a well-balanced fan profile. The process took about 10 minutes and was just a few clicks.

Fan Xpert allows you to name and tune each fan header on the motherboard with additional options for the reaction time and ultra-quiet running. Finding a stealthy fan profile is simple but I’ll acknowledge the default profile was also very good here.

Other Software

ASUS has made installation easy with the Armoury Crate software. It connects to the internet and allows for download and installation of everything you need and will help keep things up to date moving forward.

Armoury Crate controls the RGB lighting, any ASUS peripherals you might have, and software/driver updates.

RAMCache 3 uses a designated portion of system RAM to accelerate reads and writes to storage devices – you can select a particular device or let the utility manage it for you across all devices.

GameFirst VI

GameFirst is primarily a network traffic controller that sets either to a preset or realtime AI driven profile for prioritisation. What’s interesting is that it also allows you to look at historical data from your session relating to other system metrics and can provide important network information. This can be handy if you’re playing an online game and experience lag but can’t easily determine if it’s network latency, a thermal throttle or something else. GameFirst will also set the Windows power profile to maximum performance when you load your games, so if you run your PC in balanced or another more eco-friendly mode, generally, it will change that while you are gaming and set it back when you exit the game automatically.

AI Suite

This is the ASUS go-to tuning application that has been evolving for generations. It does all the usual performance tweaking, fan tuning, overclocking and system monitoring that you will need and more. 5-way optimisation is the first feature that you see when opening this utility.

AI Suite also has a function to clean up ‘junk files’ to free up disk space which can be handy for making the most of precious SSD space. There are other free applications that do this, but it is still nice to see functionality like this added to AI Suite so that you can limit the number of utilities needing to be installed.

UEFI BIOS

The ROG UEFI is extensive and intuitive with both an Advanced mode and an EZ mode.

The initial setup is quick and easy but if you wish to go much deeper than that initial scratching of the surface when you set your memory XMP and boot sequence – well you can spend a bit of time in there as well.

Any changes you make are summarised when you save and exit.

Pricing

This is a premium B550 board from ASUS and priced accordingly at $399AUD.

Keep in mind that the STRIX B550-E Gaming has Wi-Fi 6, 2x PCIe 4.0 x16 slots, 2-way SLI, USB 3.2 Gen 2 front panel, 14+2 power stages, BIOS Flashback, USB Type-C Audio connector, and a mature software suite. All of this comes at a higher cost, but it is more than a matter of paying for the ‘ASUS’ brand or some aesthetics. This is a legitimate case of paid upgrades to the lower-tier alternatives which I will cover off briefly below.

There is the ASUS STRIX B550-F Gaming for people who don’t need the full feature set or are looking to spend a little less at $299. If you need wireless connectivity but can live without the other bells and whistles of the B550-E, then consider the STRIX B550-F Gaming Wi-Fi (with Wi-Fi 6) for $329.

Final Thoughts

I really liked using this motherboard. It is one I’d happily buy and use for myself in a personal build.

The included applications and utilities are functional and I liked being able to set up the audio preferences for different applications/games. Even the 5-way optimisation delivers a good amount of ‘free’ performance without needing to have any technical experience and with very minimal (if any) risk. The auto optimisation felt like cheating if I’m being honest but that’s exactly what some people who might buy this motherboard need.

Gaming and watching movies or other content was flawless. The audio came through loud and clear, there was no stuttering or random fan spikes and I was totally immersed when playing games like Red Dead Redemption 2, COD: Modern Warfare, Civilization, Rocksmith and the odd space sim. Listening to music while working was also great and the test setup remained snappy/responsive throughout testing.

Reviews are largely a matter of perspective with some supporting facts included in support of the conclusion. I enjoy gaming, but as an enthusiast, I do more with my personal rig than just playing games. For me, my PC is a place where I also watch content, listen to music, do some productivity workloads, overclock, tinker and experiment with rendering or transcoding projects. I like to tweak the components regularly, change out a graphics card, hard drive or SATA SSD. I want to feel like I’m getting the most from my rig. I’ve run graphics cards before in SLI and although I’m in no hurry to repeat the experience, I don’t mind having the option in case I change my mind.

After using the ASUS ROG STRIX B550-E Gaming like I would a ‘daily driver’, I felt like this board met all of my current and anticipated needs without any compromises.

  ASUS ROG STRIX B550-E Gaming
 

PROS

Brilliant Layout
2-way SLI/3-way Crossfire
Wi-Fi 6 & Bluetooth
Mature and extensive software
Great onboard audio solution 
USB 3.2 Gen 2 Front Panel connector
Both m.2 slots support up to 110mm modules

CONS

– None noted
Awards

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