After releasing the extensively reviewed 8-core 16-thread Ryzen 7 CPUs last month, AMD marked April as the month of the Ryzen 5 processors. This tier of the Zen microarchitecture-based CPUs includes 4-core and 6-core hyper threaded processors, in a price range of $169-$249.
Specifications-wise, the Ryzen 5 processors are much closer to the i7-6800K and i7-6850K, which are Intel’s enthusiast X99-platform based 6-core 12-thread CPUs. On the other hand, price-wise, the AMD parts are much closer to the Kaby Lake 4-core 4-thread i5 line-up.
The Ryzen 5 1600X and the 1600 are based on the same chip, with slightly different configurations. It is possible to overclock both of these CPUs to similar clockspeeds with little to no benefit to performance from the XFR (extended frequency range) the 1600X offers.
The benefit of the 1600 is that it comes with AMD’s Wraith Spire stock cooler, which is actually decent. The Wraith Spire is rated to dissipate up to 95W of power, and is quiet. High-level overclocking (100+ W) will be problematic with this cooler, but a moderate OC to the base level of the 1600X is possible.
Because the 1600X and 1600 utilize 6 cores with 12 threads, it’s safe to assume that many modern non-gaming applications are able to leverage the performance Ryzen 5 offers. This is especially nice at this price, since the competition from Intel only offers for non-hyperthreaded cores.
Both the 1600X and 1600 handily beat the i5-7600K and i5-7500 in multi-threaded workloads. Applications that scale better with clock speed will prefer the higher clocked, higher IPC Intel CPUs. For most content creation (such as video editing) and code compiling, Ryzen 5 is the new best choice.
With gaming, the story is far more interesting. Ryzen 5 has the advantage in multi-threaded applications, because all of Intel’s i5 CPUs in this price range only have 4 cores and 4 threads. But a lot of games are still heavily dependent on higher clock speeds over multiple threads. That’s where Intel still has the upper-hand.
Nevertheless, GamersNexus, HardwareUnboxed and other reviewers tend to agree that due to multiple factors, the Ryzen 5 processors compare favorably to Intel’s price equivalents, both in terms of value and performance.
Depending on the game, many reviewers show the Ryzen 5 1600X being on par or slightly (~7%) below the i5-7600K, while the Ryzen 5 1600 was mostly on par or beating the locked i5-7500.
Depending on how well the game is optimized for Ryzen (some games already have “Ryzen patches” meant to better leverage the performance of the new AMD CPUs), the trophy is still in Intel’s hands. But other interesting facts come into play.
Even though the AM4 platform is being actively patched by both AMD and motherboard vendors, it is here to stay for at least three years. That means you can buy an AM4-based platform now and upgrade later without the need to get a new motherboard.
Also, all Ryzen CPUs are unlocked, including the cheaper Ryzen 5 1600. Overclocking this CPU to around the 1600X levels brings it far above the locked i5-7500 in terms of performance. It also comes with a decent stock cooler, so that’s another $20+ saved.
The i5-7600K and Ryzen 5 1600X both require an aftermarket cooler. But the Intel chip also needs a more expensive Z270 motherboard, while Ryzen CPUs can be overclocked on cheaper B350 motherboards. Looking at CPU usage graphs, it is also evident that the i5 is mostly pegged at 100% usage, meaning there is nowhere for the processor to grow, while the Ryzen 5 processors show CPU usage hovering mostly in the 50-60% range, leaving room for developers to get more out of them with better multi-threading.
Ryzen does need faster RAM to perform best. Faster DDR4 costs more, which can negate the cost savings of Ryzen’s cheaper motherboards.
The Ryzen 5 1600 is an easy recommendation over the i5-7500. Choosing between the Ryzen 5 1600X and i5-7600K is more difficult, but for most people the 1600X is a better option. The extra threads are very useful when they can be used, and the single-threaded performance deficit isn’t too large.
The best value can be had by overclocking the Ryzen 5 1600 processor ($219) on a $100 motherboard. This offers a $70 savings compared to a 1600X or an i5-7600K system (factoring in the extra price for the processor and the aftermarket cooler), while achieving comparable gaming performance.
It feels like it is finally time for the mainstream to move on from 4 cores and 4 threads. It is possible to get significantly better multi-threaded and comparable gaming performance for cheaper with Ryzen 5.
The Ryzen 5 CPUs can be found in our Great and Excellent tiers.