After a simple one-click activation of the PBO automatic overclocking feature, the Ryzen 5 3600 offers much of the same performance as the Ryzen 5 3600X that retails for $50 more. AMD continues to offer the full complement of features with its lesser processors, like Hyper-Threading (SMT), overclockability, and capable stock coolers, making the Ryzen 5 3600 the value CPU to beat.
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 lineup 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.
The Ryzen 5 3600 beats the Core i5-9400F in our gaming suite at stock settings, even coming within a mere 0.6 FPS of the $265 Core i5-9600K in the average of our 99th percentile results. The 3600 expands its lead over the Core i5-9400F after tuning, but the Core i5-9600K leverages its unlocked multiplier to take a big lead - but for $63 more. While we don't have one on hand, the $192 Core i5-9500 is a natural competitor with the 3600 as well, but 300 MHz of additional clock speed likely doesn't change the value proposition much.
It's clear the Ryzen 3000-series chips are the best bang for your gaming buck in this price segment. For gamers, the real choice boils down to the 3600 versus the 3600X. The Ryzen 5 3600X does have a bit more performance in the tank than the Ryzen 5 3600 in the overclocking department, which largely boils down to binning. It's also faster when we compare the two processors at stock settings, but the Ryzen 5 3600 slightly exceeds the stock X-model after tuning. In either case, the difference between the two chips boils down to a few FPS, which isn't worth the extra $50 unless you're chasing every last drop of performance. Also, bear in mind these deltas essentially vanish if you're gaming at higher resolutions.
The picture is a bit different when we switch over to productivity workloads. In threaded apps there really is no contest again: The Ryzen 3000 processors offer far more value than Intel's competing chips, and the lack of Hyper-Threading makes this a no contest for threaded applications. In gaming, we recorded slim differences between the overclocked Ryzen 5 3600 with the stock cooler and the Corsair H115i, but that delta widens in heavily-threaded tests. In fact, we noticed a few regressions with the stock cooler during overclocking, suggesting the all-aluminum cooler may get a bit overwhelmed when more voltage is put to the chip in heavily threaded workloads. As a result, the Corsair H115i cooler extracts more performance, especially in the AVX workloads, but the deltas are slight in most areas. Given the 3600's relatively low power draw, you could top it with a much lesser cooler, like a Hyper 212 Black, and get the same benefit. It really just boils down to how much noise you're willing to tolerate, but a beefy dual-radiator cooler is overkill.
If you need integrated graphics, the Ryzen 5 3600 and 3600X aren't for you. However, if you plan on using a discrete graphics card, the Ryzen 5 3600 is hands-down the best value on the market. The 3600X might be worth the extra coin if you aren't interested in overclocking, as it does provide more performance out of the box and comes with a better cooler. However, it's hard to justify the $50 premium over the Ryzen 5 3600. For small form factor (SFF) enthusiasts, AMD has packed in quite a bit of punch into a 65W envelope, giving it the uncontested lead for small systems.
A Ryzen 5 3600 paired with a B450 motherboard will make a great setup for mainstream gamers, and you have the option to upgrade to a PCIE 4.0-capable motherboard in the future. We aren't sure when, or if, AMD's partners will push out new B-series motherboards, but that could be a compelling upgrade path in the future.
Image Credits: Tom's Hardware
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