Out of the box, the Ryzen 5 3600X is the best processor in its price range for gaming and productivity, marking a massive shift in the mid-range. At stock settings, the Ryzen 5 3600X regularly beat the more expensive Core i5-9600K in both categories, albeit by slim margins in gaming, reversing the long-held trend of Ryzen being best for productivity while Intel ruled the gaming roost. If you're into overclocking, the Intel processors are going to deliver more performance, but the majority of enthusiasts looking for a set-it-and-forget-it processor will find incredible value in the Ryzen 5 3600X.
In the chart below, we plot gaming performance with both average frame rates and a geometric mean of the 99th percentile frame times (a good indicator of smoothness). It's worth noting that AMD's previous-gen line-up is heavily discounted, so we’re departing from our standard practice of using official price lists. Instead, we’re using average pricing found online (temporary sales excluded). Volatility applies.
After a few years of staring at gaming value charts that always show Intel in the leadership position, it jumps right off the page that the stock Ryzen 5 3600X topples the Intel Core i5-9600K. The difference is slight in average framerates, a mere 1.1 FPS, but widens to 2.5 FPS in 99th percentile metrics, indicating the 3600X also offers a smoother gaming experience. While these deltas are small and likely imperceptible to casual users, especially when these chips are paired with mid-range graphics cards or higher-resolutions, there's no understating the impact. Intel does take the uncontested lead after overclocking, so overclocking enthusiasts will still flock to those processors for the ultimate gaming performance, but the Ryzen 5 3600X is the new king of the mid-range for the majority of gamers.
The -9600K can't compete with the 3600X in many threaded applications, like rendering, even after overclocking. Pairing the 3600X's slightly better gaming performance with its overwhelming advantage in threaded productivity apps seals the deal.
But there are two elephants in the room. Firstly, not all Ryzen models are hitting their rated boost clock rates. This boils down to several factors, including motherboard firmwares that will hopefully improve, and how enthusiasts measure clock rates. We measured clock rates at a 100ms granularity and found that, unlike what we've seen with the Ryzen 9 3900X, the Ryzen 5 3600X does achieve its rated clock speeds. There are a few caveats associated with that, which we'll dive into deeper in a follow-up piece.
Overclocking performance is also another concern for enthusiasts. The previous-gen Ryzen models were never known for their overclocking prowess, but more often than not, you could eke out some decent performance gains via manual tuning. Outside of a few edge use-cases, those days are over. Now it's best to stick with AMD's automated PBO overclocking feature, and you shouldn't expect massive gains. It seems that AMD is extracting the best performance it can from the 7nm process at stock clocks, so there is precious little overhead left to exploit. Intel does offer higher overclocking capability, and that will continue to be attractive to enthusiasts chasing that last frame per second in their favorite titles.
AMD's PBO does give some slight performance gains, and the company says that better cooling can extract better performance. We found that to be true, but the bundled (i.e., 'free') Wraith Spire cooler offers the lion's share of the benefits of PBO, and with no additional investments. As you can see in the gaming performance charts above, a beefy $140 liquid cooler with dual 140mm fans cranking away at full speed extracted an additional 0.8 FPS in average gaming performance and 0.2 FPS in 99th percentile measurements. The beefier cooler did give us slightly larger gains in some heavily-threaded applications, but the basic rule still holds: The Wraith Spire will give you 90-95% of the performance of PBO with no additional investment. There are other reasons to go with a better cooler, such as aesthetics or acoustics. However, if your sole objective is to extract more performance, that money is best spent on other additives, like a better GPU or a new PCIe 4.0 SSD.
The ability to even use a PCIe 4.0 device at its full performance is an advantage that Intel simply can't match. Unfortunately, the faster interface does result in higher-priced X570 motherboards, but AMD's continued support for the X470 motherboard ecosystem could help blunt the blow. Motherboard partners continue to offer X470 motherboards, and they are cheap and plentiful. You'll lose access to the PCIe 4.0 interface in exchange for lower pricing, at least officially, but you'll also have a compelling upgrade path in the future.
Our only hesitation with recommending the 3600X comes from competition within AMD's own stable. After overclocking, AMD's non-X models, like the Ryzen 5 3600, often offer the same level of performance as their more-expensive counterparts. That means the 3600 looks like a great chip (from afar) that will offer similar performance at a $50 savings. We'll have that part in for testing soon.
With all of Ryzen 5 3600X's advantages, aside from higher overclocking ceilings or integrated graphics, there are very few reasons to buy a competing Intel processor in this price range. The Ryzen 5 3600X has stolen the mid-range crown from Intel.
Image Credits: Tom's Hardware
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