Comparing Mainstream AMD Ryzen Processors

January 3, 2020 Update: Since I originally published this, Micro Center has had multiple changes in pricing (mostly going up) and availability for these nine processor SKUs. If you want to see the current availability and pricing, just check this link.

Currently, there are nine different “regular” AMD Ryzen mainstream Socket AM4 processors regularly available at the Denver Micro Center. By “regular”, I mean non-APU (meaning no integrated graphics) SKUs. You can tell an APU SKU because it has a G at the end of the model name. We are going to ignore APUs for this comparison.

These mainstream processors range from the 14nm 6C/12T 1st Generation AMD Ryzen 5 1600 for $79.99, going all the way up to the 7nm 12C/24T 3rd Generation AMD Ryzen 9 3900X for $479.99. All nine of these processors will work in many of the same AM4 socket motherboards. For example, you can probably run all of these processors in most B450, X470, or X570 chipset motherboards. This gives you a lot of flexibility regarding your processor and motherboard choices across many different price points. BTW, I am not including the flagship 7nm 16C/32T 3rd Generation AMD Ryzen 3950X processor in the comparison because they are not easily available at Micro Center (or anywhere else) just yet.

Figure 1: AMD Ryzen 7 3700X

If your budget is tight right now or you just want to take advantage of current low AMD CPU prices, you could initially choose a processor on the lower end, and purposely choose a slightly higher-end motherboard, with the intention of upgrading the processor sometime in the next six to eighteen months. When the Zen 3 AMD Ryzen processors are introduced sometime in 2020, there are certain to be substantial price reductions on existing previous generation AMD Ryzen processors. There will also be lots of used previous generation AMD Ryzen processors available in the secondary market.

Let’s go through all of these nine processors, comparing some of the pros and cons of each model.

AMD Ryzen 5 1600

This is the lowest priced, oldest and slowest processor in this bunch. It is 14nm Zen with 6C/12T, with a base clock speed of 3.2 GHz, turbo clock speed of up to 3.6 GHz, 16MB of L3 cache, and a Wraith Spire CPU cooler. It officially supports DDR4-2666 memory. It was launched April 11, 2017, and originally cost $179.99. It currently is selling for $79.99 at Micro Center (in-store only).

Personally, I would avoid this particular processor unless price is your primary motivation. It still gives you a lot of performance for a very low price, and it would be a nice upgrade over an older Intel 4C/8T Core i7 processor for most workloads. The reason I would avoid it is because it is 1st Generation Ryzen 5, and you would get a nice improvement in performance by getting a 2nd Generation Ryzen 5 instead.

AMD Ryzen 5 2600

This is the lowest priced, slowest 2nd Generation Ryzen 5 processor in this bunch. It is 12nm Zen+ with 6C/12T, with a base clock speed of 3.4 GHz, turbo clock speed of up to 3.9 GHz, 16MB of L3 cache, and a Wraith Stealth CPU cooler. It officially supports DDR4-2933 memory. It was launched April 19, 2018, and originally cost $189.99. It currently is selling for $109.99 at Micro Center (in-store only).

Spending just $30 more on this processor (compared to the older Ryzen 5 1600) will get you to within about 10% of the single-threaded performance of the 4C/8T Intel Core i7-6700K processor, but would give you about 38% more multi-threaded performance (on CPU-Z). This processor would be a nice upgrade compared to pretty much any 4C/8T Intel Core i7 processor that is Kaby Lake vintage or older. The only exception would be if all you care about is single-threaded CPU performance for 1080P gaming (and you have a relatively high-end modern video card).

AMD Ryzen 5 2600X

This is the fastest 2nd Generation Ryzen 5 processor in this group. It is 12nm Zen+ with 6C/12T, with a base clock speed of 3.6 GHz, turbo clock speed of up to 4.2 GHz, 16MB of L3 cache, and a Wraith Spire CPU cooler. It officially supports DDR4-2933 memory. It was launched April 19, 2018, and originally cost $209.99. It currently is selling for $114.99 at Micro Center (in-store only).

Spending just $5.00 more on this processor gets you about 7% better single-threaded CPU performance (and a slightly better stock CPU cooler). This puts you very close to Intel Skylake or Kaby Lake level single-threaded performance, while you have 6C instead of only 4C. This is also a very good deal at current prices.

AMD Ryzen 7 2700X

This was the flagship 2nd Generation Ryzen 7 processor. It is 12nm Zen+ with 8C/16T, with a base clock speed of 3.7 GHz, turbo clock speed of up to 4.3 GHz, 16MB of L3 cache, and a Wraith Prism CPU cooler. It officially supports DDR4-2933 memory. It was launched April 19, 2018, and originally cost $319.99. It currently is selling for $149.99 at Micro Center (in-store only).

This processor gives you nearly identical single-threaded CPU performance compared to an Intel Core i7-6700K, but you will have twice the number of cores and threads. This will let you do both gaming and more CPU intensive tasks like gaming and streaming, along with content creation work. It is a pretty big step-up from the Ryzen 5 2600X, and it also gives you a very nice Wraith Prism CPU cooler with LED lighting. This is one of the better deals out of these nine processors, especially if you have a limited budget.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600

This is the lowest priced 3nd Generation Ryzen 5 processor in the group. It is 7nm Zen 2 with 6C/12T, with a base clock speed of 3.6 GHz, turbo clock speed of up to 4.2 GHz, 32MB of L3 cache, and a Wraith Stealth CPU cooler. It officially supports DDR4-3200 memory. It was launched July 7, 2019, and originally cost $199.99. It currently is selling for $169.99 at Micro Center (in-store only).

This particular processor is often touted as the very best choice for budget conscious gamers who want to use an AMD Ryzen processor. An increasing number of modern games will use more than 4C/8T if they are available, and Zen 2 processors have roughly equivalent single-threaded CPU performance to even the latest Intel mainstream desktop processors.

If you are thinking of eventually upgrading to a Ryzen 9 3900X or Ryzen 9 3950X processor, this would be a great “starter” processor. Note: If you really do want to eventually upgrade to a Ryzen 9 3900X or Ryzen 9 3950X processor, you might want to get a decent X570 motherboard (so that you have PCIe 4.0 support and perhaps better VRMs to support higher core count CPUs).

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

This is the fastest 3nd Generation Ryzen 5 processor in this group. It is 7nm Zen 2 with 6C/12T, with a base clock speed of 3.8 GHz, turbo clock speed of up to 4.4 GHz, 32MB of L3 cache, and a Wraith Spire CPU cooler. It officially supports DDR4-3200 memory. It was launched July 7, 2019, and originally cost $249.99. It currently is selling for $189.99 at Micro Center (in-store only).

Spending $20.00 more gets you about the same single-threaded CPU performance as an Intel Core i7-8700K. You also get a slightly better stock CPU cooler compared to the Ryzen 5 3600. Note: Depending on your motherboard quality, RAM speed and quality, and your BIOS settings, you can probably manually overclock an AMD Ryzen 5 3600 to get the same performance as an AMD Ryzen 5 3600X. This particular processor is at about the high-end of what I would consider to be a “budget” processor in this context.

AMD Ryzen 7 3700X

This is the lowest priced 3nd Generation Ryzen 7 processor in the group. It is 7nm Zen 2 with 8C/16T, with a base clock speed of 3.6 GHz, turbo clock speed of up to 4.4 GHz, 32MB of L3 cache, and a Wraith Prism CPU cooler. It officially supports DDR4-3200 memory. It was launched July 7, 2019, and originally cost $329.99. It currently is selling for $299.99 at Micro Center (in-store only).

I think this is the absolute sweet spot for price/performance out of all nine of these processors. It has the latest Zen 2 architecture, with 8C/16T and the quite nice Wraith Prism LED CPU cooler. This processor gives you great gaming performance and has plenty of multi-threaded CPU performance for more serious tasks.

Again, depending on your motherboard quality, RAM speed and quality, and your BIOS settings, you can probably manually overclock an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X to get the same performance as an AMD Ryzen 7 3800X.

Choosing a 3700X instead of a 3800X was a no brainer when they were initially released because of the $70.00 price difference, but now that the price difference is only $30.00, it is more of a toss-up.

AMD Ryzen 7 3800X

This is the fastest 3nd Generation Ryzen 7 processor. It is 7nm Zen 2 with 8C/16T, with a base clock speed of 3.9 GHz, turbo clock speed of up to 4.5 GHz, 32MB of L3 cache, and a Wraith Prism CPU cooler. It officially supports DDR4-3200 memory. It was launched July 7, 2019, and originally cost $399.99. It currently is selling for $329.99 at Micro Center (in-store only).

This is a very slightly faster version of the Ryzen 7 3700X. With the right motherboard and RAM, a 3700X will be as fast as or even faster than a 3800X. I would not pay more than $20-30 more for a 3800X compared to a 3700X.

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

This is the only 3nd Generation Ryzen 9 processor in this group of processors. It is 7nm Zen 2 with 12C/24T, with a base clock speed of 3.8 GHz, turbo clock speed of up to 4.6 GHz, 64MB of L3 cache, and a Wraith Prism CPU cooler. It officially supports DDR4-3200 memory. It was launched July 7, 2019, and originally cost $499.99. It currently is selling for $479.99 at Micro Center (in-store only).

Ok, you do not need an AMD Ryzen 9 3900X for gaming! If gaming is your primary use case, I would get an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X and spend the $200 savings on a better video card. Having 12C/24T is very nice for other tasks that can actually use more CPU cores. If that is your primary use case, then a Ryzen 9 3900X or even a Ryzen 9 3950X would be a great choice, especially if you don’t need or want to jump all the way to a much more expensive 3rd Generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper platform.

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X processors have been in short supply (and selling for above the SRP of $499.99) until very recently. They also had more issues hitting max turbo clock speed when they were initially released, but newer AGESA versions and newer AMD chipset drivers have mostly eliminated that issue.

Conclusion

The AMD Zen architecture (including Zen, Zen+, and Zen 2) along with the AM4 socket gives you an incredible level of backwards and forwards compatibility along with a huge range of price and performance levels to choose from.

You could start out with a $79.99 AMD Ryzen 5 1600 processor in a good quality, but affordable B450 motherboard (such as the $114.99 MSI B450 Tomahawk Max) and have a very affordable 6C/12T system. With that motherboard, you could later upgrade to an AMD Ryzen 3700X or even an AMD Ryzen 3900X (although you would not have PCIe 4.0 support). Only X570 has PCIe 4.0 support.

You could also start out with a newer $149.99 AMD Ryzen 7 2700X processor in a good quality, but affordable X570 motherboard (such as the $189.99 Gigabyte Aorus Elite X570 WiFi) and have an affordable, but quite powerful 8C/16T system that would an even better upgrade path to fully leverage even an AMD Ryzen 9 3900X or 3950X processor.

You could also jump all the way in with a $479.99 AMD Ryzen 9 3900X or $749.00 AMD Ryzen 9 3950X processor paired with a $699.99 Gigabyte X570 Aorus Xtreme WiFi motherboard or even a $1000.00 ASRock X570 Aqua motherboard.

This gives you about a 9X range for price, and a core/thread range from 6C/12T to 16C/32T all on the same basic platform.

Remember, if you do buy/build a new AMD Ryzen AM4 system, make sure to read my previous post “Seven Setup Tips for a New AMD Ryzen 3000 System” so you can hopefully avoid some common build and configuration problems that I see people running into.

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