AMD Ryzen 5 3600 Review 114

AMD Ryzen 5 3600 Review

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Value and Conclusion

  • The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 sells for $200.
  • Beats Intel Core i5-9600K in applications, almost matches 8700K and 9700K
  • Gaming performance significantly improved, 10% over the previous generation
  • Affordable
  • Unlocked multiplier
  • Supports existing AM4 motherboards
  • Good energy efficiency
  • Much bigger L3 cache, lots of other architectural improvements
  • Improved memory support
  • Heatsink included
  • Support for PCI-Express 4.0
  • Still not as fast as Intel in gaming
  • PBO and manual overclocking yield no significant gains
  • Boost doesn't maximize low-threaded clock potential
  • No integrated graphics
Barely two weeks ago, AMD released their new Zen 2 family of processors, which started a new era in processor engineering. Instead of using a large, monolithic silicon die, the company switched to a chiplet design made up of several optimized pieces of silicon that are designed to excel at their tasks, while reducing cost significantly at the same time. These chiplets are easier and cheaper to manufacture because of their smaller die size. In silicon manufacturing, a bigger die is harder to make because the probability of randomly distributed defects ending up in the silicon goes up the bigger the chip. AMD was also wise to keep the I/O controller die on the 12 nanometer process because it doesn't benefit from 7 nanometer tech, and they can continue using GlobalFoundries for that instead of the more expensive TSMC fabs.

AMD does not sample the Ryzen 5 3600 processor. Instead, we went out and bought one because it is a highly interesting product. It is the most affordable Zen 2 processor currently available—kind of like the gateway drug to Ryzen 3000. Despite its competitive price, it offers six cores and twelve threads; the competition from Intel only gives you six cores—HyperThreading is reserved for the more expensive models. AMD successfully addressed the weaknesses in their Zen architecture with Zen 2, which helps improve IPC significantly. When averaged over all our application performance benchmarks, the Ryzen 5 3600 easily beats its main competitor, the Core i5-9600K, by a solid 20% margin. The Ryzen 5 3600 even goes neck to neck with the much more expensive Core i7-9700K and Core i7-8700K, which both are merely 2% faster, but roughly twice (!) as expensive. AMD's next-fastest, the $50 more expensive Ryzen 5 3600X, is only 2% faster, which makes it a bad alternative, more on that later. Based on our application benchmarks, I'd say the next real step up is the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X—there is no 3700 non-X, at least not yet, which means that step will cost you $130 more (or 65%) for a 13% application gain on average, which is probably not worth it for the average user.

Looking at gaming, things are a little bit different. While overall gaming performance is very good, the Intel processors definitely take the lead here, especially at lower resolutions like 1080p. For example, the Core i5-9600K is almost 5% faster at 1080p. However, as you go up in resolution, which shifts the bottleneck further and further from the CPU to the GPU, that difference shrinks to barely 1%. Effectively this means you can get the same gaming performance from a Ryzen 5 3600 as from its Intel counterparts when gaming at 1440p or above. If all you do is game, the Core i5-9400F could be an alternative due to good pricing of only $160, with slightly better 1080p performance, but it will fall behind when loaded with more demanding applications.

As mentioned in our other reviews, AMD has greatly improved the memory subsystem of their Ryzen 3000 processors, which massively helps with memory compatibility, overclocking, and tweaking. Due to the freshness of the whole platform, there are still some issues to work out with the BIOS and drivers, but AMD seems to have a good grasp on that as new BIOSes are coming out frequently.

Pretty much as on all the other Ryzen 3000 CPUs we tested so far, overclocking the Ryzen 5 3600 is a complete waste of time. Given this is the only model without an "X", I was hoping for more. Out of the box, the processor will almost always boost to 4.2 GHz, no matter whether one or all cores are active. With manual overclocking, the best I could get out of the CPU was 4.125 GHz all-core because temperatures would end up close to 100°C when fully loaded with increased voltage. Looks like the processor's own clock and power management does a much better job at maximizing performance than you'll ever be able to given the currently available overclocking options. Precision Boost Overdrive, once hailed as "free, easy performance" on Ryzen 2000, really doesn't do much either. It promises to increase the clock frequencies beyond stock, but in reality, you'll never hit the limiting factors PBO was designed to overcome. In the end, our recommendation is to just plop in the CPU and not bother with overclocking, which can be a good thing as it lets you get ready for work or gaming as quickly as possible. What could be improved on the Ryzen 5 3600, though, is the boost algorithm, which could definitely be more aggressive with low-threaded workloads, which is maybe why the "X" is missing.

Comparing the Ryzen 5 3600 with the Ryzen 5 3600X yields surprising results. In multi-threaded applications, both exhibit identical performance even though the 3600X is rated at a 200 MHz higher base and boost clock. Digging deeper, our Boost Frequency analysis reveals that both processors will run at the same 4.2 GHz with eight or more threads. Only at lower thread counts do we see the 3600X boost up to 100 MHz higher at best, or 2.5%, which is basically nothing and definitely not worth spending another $50. What's also surprising is how both processors can be so close in performance with one at a 65 W TDP and the other at a 95 W TDP.

Power efficiency of the Ryzen 5 3600 is good, definitely improved over previous generations, even though the numbers are not as stellar as on the 3700X or 3900X, which have more cores. Still, it's close enough to what Intel offers, with Intel having better single-threaded efficiency and AMD taking the crown in multi-threaded workloads. Temperatures are alright, a bit higher than on Intel, which probably has to do with the heat density being focused on a smaller area that's not exactly in the center of the die due to the chiplet design.

With a price of $200, the Ryzen 5 3600 is the price/performance king in its segment. It offers more application performance than anything comparable and is close enough in gaming. Pair that with the slightly lower platform cost on AMD than on Intel (don't bother with the expensive X570 motherboards), as well as the improved memory compatibility, and you'll have a winner on your hands. It's time for Intel to look at their product stack and adjust their pricing.
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