AMD's Ryzen line-up shook up the CPU market with more cores and threads at lower price points than competing Intel processors. But the series' universally unlocked ratio multipliers are the real key to extracting maximum value from Ryzen.
The Ryzen 7 family redefined what an 8C/16T CPU cost, and the Ryzen 5s do the same in their segment with a powerful duo of affordable 6C/12T options. AMD's Ryzen 5 series also includes the 4C/8T 1500X and 1400, but we think AMD's $220 Ryzen 5 1600 is much more interesting.
Like its $250 1600X counterpart, the Ryzen 5 1600 features six cores and 12 threads. AMD bins the 1600X as a 95W part, while the 1600 falls into the 65W TDP range. As expected, the 1600's lower TDP boils down to reduced voltages, imposing lower stock frequencies and thermal output. The Ryzen 5 1600 features a 3.2 GHz base clock rate compared to the "X" model's 3.6 GHz, and it also incurs a similar 400 MHz deficit to the dual-core Precision Boost frequency.
Ryzen 5 1600 falls neatly into the $40 price gap between Intel's Core i5-7500 and -7600K. Both competitors are quad-core models lacking the benefit of Hyper-Threading. That should make for a lopsided battle favoring AMD in heavily-threaded workloads, such as content creation and rendering. Ryzen processors also provide acceptable performance in lightly-threaded workloads. The Intel CPUs do come with on-die graphics for those who need it, while AMD dedicates all of Ryzen's transistors to host processing. Discrete GPUs are a must-have for enthusiasts anyway, so it makes sense to go the route that AMD chose.
AMD indicates that its non-X models do not feature XFR (eXtended Frequency Range) functionality, which allows the CPU to dynamically adjust its clock rate (for two cores) above the Precision Boost rating based on available thermal headroom. During a single-core Cinebench test, we recorded frequencies that regularly jumped to 3.7 GHz on two cores, so it appears the Ryzen 5 1600 also features XFR. Many of the architecture's other features remain unchanged, including its spacious 16MB of L3 cache, SenseMI suite, and unlocked multiplier.
Intel's carefully segmented stack, which relies on locked multipliers to force specific performance profiles, serves as a liability in the face of AMD's unlocked approach. As we've seen from other Ryzen models, the non-X SKUs tend to hit their overclocking ceilings at lower frequencies and offer less consistent memory overclocking. But your access to the platform's many knobs and dials is the same, no matter which Ryzen CPU you purchase. A bit of tuning often pulls the non-X models into range of their more expensive counterparts, also helping close the gap with Intel's mid-range Core CPUs in lightly-threaded apps.
Much like Intel's K-series CPUs, AMD's X models don't come bundled with thermal solutions. So, their additional frequency headroom is accompanied by a higher platform cost. AMD sweetens the Ryzen 5 1600's value proposition by giving you its 95W Wraith Spire cooler. The 1600, like all other Ryzen chips, drops into Socket AM4. Combining the budget-minded processor with an affordable B350-based motherboard results in a capable 6C/12T rig with plenty of horsepower in reserve for any number of enthusiast workloads.
A lot has been written about Ryzen's challenges in some games, but improved memory support and a trickle of software patches have addressed the most glaring issues. The Ryzen processors are good enough for gaming. But the question is whether they offer enough performance to unseat Intel's incumbents in the important price-to-performance ratio comparison. Let's see if the 1600 has what it takes to usurp Core i5.
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