AMD shook the computing world on 7/7 by releasing the first 7 nm desktop processors, the 3rd generation Ryzen family. Led by a 12-core monstrosity, AMD succeeded in ending Intel's performance leadership in the all-important mainstream-desktop processor segment. We reviewed the flagship Ryzen 9 3900X and 8-core Ryzen 7 3700X. The Core i9-9900K and i7-9700K have been rendered obsolete at their current prices. Intel still falls back on its exhaustive lineup of Core i5 and Core i3 desktop processors priced under the $250-mark. The company has in particular fleshed out its Core i5 6-core/6-thread family by adding models priced $15 apart from each other.
Intel's current mid-range leader is the Core i5-9600K, while the i5-9400 remains a highly popular model for its $190 price. Intel also introduced variants of its processors that lack integrated graphics, targeting PC gamers who use graphics cards. The i5-9400F in particular has seen quite some demand, with sales on popular e-tailers even serving it up for $170. The 9th generation Core i5 family eroded the value proposition of AMD's 2nd generation Ryzen 5-series, and the company is looking to repair it with the new 3rd generation Ryzen 5 series. AMD doesn't want to budge from launching just three models, the Ryzen 5 3600X at $239, Ryzen 5 3600 at $199, which we're reviewing today, and the Ryzen 5 3400G APU priced at $149.
At the heart of AMD's effort is the "Zen 2" microarchitecture, which sets out to match or exceed the IPC of Intel's latest "Coffee Lake" microarchitecture. This would be the first time in over 15 years that AMD beats Intel at IPC. While Intel led over AMD at IPC, AMD led over Intel at CPU core count. Intel responded to previous generations of Ryzen processors by increasing core counts of its mainstream-desktop processors for the first time in a decade. With the 9th generation Core, Intel achieved core-count parity, although AMD still holds a technical edge over Intel by offering SMT (simultaneous multi-threading) even to its Ryzen 5 series.
The Ryzen 5 3600 and 3600X are 6-core/12-thread processors designed to replace the 2600 and 2600X from the product stack. With the 3rd generation Ryzen processor family, AMD has taken the multi-chip module (MCM) approach to building these processors, which are both similar and dissimilar to the Ryzen Threadripper. They're similar in that the CPU cores are spread across two separate dies to achieve core counts of up to 16. They're dissimilar in that there's a second kind of die, the I/O controller.
With its first EPYC and Ryzen Threadripper processors, particularly the high core count WX models, AMD ran into several structural problems with memory bandwidth sharing between the CPU cores. The company fixed these with its 2nd generation EPYC processors, in which all dies with CPU cores talk to a centralized I/O controller die that has a monolithic memory controller, thereby making it possible for a CPU core to have the full bus width of the memory interface. With its 3rd generation Ryzen processors, AMD takes a similar approach. Two 8-core CPU complex dies talk to an I/O controller die over Infinity Fabric, which has the processor's dual-channel memory interface and PCI-Express root complex. For its 8-core Ryzen 7 series and 6-core Ryzen 5 series parts, AMD physically uses just one 8-core "Zen 2" chiplet.
In this review, we have with us the Ryzen 5 3600, a 6-core/12-thread processor launched at the same $199 price as the 2600 and over $50 cheaper than the Core i5-9600K. Besides SMT and similar IPC to Intel, these processors offer the latest PCI-Express gen 4.0 bus, which doubles bandwidth for graphics cards and SSDs that support it. Unlike Core i5 parts at this price-point, such as the i5-9500, the Ryzen 5 3600 offers an unlocked base-clock multiplier making it capable of CPU overclocking. A big payoff from the switch to 7 nm is that the Ryzen 5 3600 can enjoy clock speeds as high as 3.60 GHz with 4.20 GHz boost without budging from its 65 W TDP. The 2600X, which comes with similar clock speeds, has its TDP rated at 95 W.