AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Review: the New Mid-Range CPU Leader
by Paul Alcorn
AMD’s new Ryzen 3000 series processors set a new pricing and performance bar for halo parts, but most enthusiasts and gamers buy processors in the $200 to $300 price range. Intel dominated this segment for years, but AMD’s Ryzen processors have made inroads with the company’s typical advantage of more cores and threads for less money. Pair that with less-expensive motherboards, bundled coolers, and unrestricted overclocking for all Ryzen 5 models, and AMD offers a compelling alternative with its previous-gen parts.
But what if AMD wasn’t the value alternative, instead being the performance leader? The third-gen Ryzen 5 processors certainly have the right mix of features to accomplish that goal. These processors come with the same six cores and twelve threads as their predecessors, but AMD boosts performance with a new 7nm process and the Zen 2 microarchitecture that brings big speedups to all types of applications that span from gaming to productivity work. Not to mention the new PCIe 4.0 interface that offers twice the I/O throughput of the PCIe 3.0 standard that Intel uses for its chips.
The new level of performance now comes with a more expensive overall price tag, though. The previous-gen Ryzen 5 2600X undercut the competing Core i5-8600K by ~$30, while the new 3600X lands $13 beneath its new competitor, the Core i5-9600K. New X570 motherboards, which you’ll need for official support for the PCIe 4.0 interface, are also more expensive than previous-gen models, so AMD’s overall platform costs have also risen. Luckily, you can opt for an older X470 motherboard as a value alternative, but you’ll lose access to PCIe 4.0, which is one of the key selling points of the new processors.
But while AMD is coming closer to charging premium pricing for its parts, it’s logical to expect to pay more for faster chips. AMD undoubtedly holds the crown for performance in multi-threaded workloads, like productivity applications, as a side benefit of supporting multi-threading in this price range while Intel disables the feature. But the Ryzen chips have historically lagged Intel in gaming. That changes with the Ryzen 5 3600X, which upset the Core i5-9600K in our testing. Pair that performance advantage with leading performance in threaded applications, and the 3600X is the new leading chip for the mainstream.
AMD Ryzen 5 3600X
- Leading gaming and application performance
- PCIe 4.0
- Bundled cooler
- Power consumption
- Unlocked multiplier
- Requires expensive X570 motherboard for PCIe 4.0
- Extremely limited manual and auto-overclocking headroom
Out of the box, the Ryzen 5 3600X is the best processor in its price range for gaming and productivity. AMD throws in support for PCIe 4.0, superior power efficiency, an auto-overclocking tool, and capable bundled cooler, making the Ryzen 5 3600X the best mid-range processor on the market.
Ryzen 5 3600X
Like the other Ryzen 3000 chips, the six-core 12-thread Ryzen 5 3600X comes with a 7nm compute die (with two disabled physical cores) paired with a 12nm I/O die. These two components come together into a single chip that adheres to a 95W TDP ceiling, while the lesser Ryzen 5 3600, which has the same complement of features (but lower clocks), comes with a 65W rating. As we’ve seen with AMD’s non-X models in the past, the X-branded models come with premiums that often aren’t in line with the small performance difference between the two models. That means the Ryzen 5 3600 may be more attractive for value seekers, at $199.
||Cores / Threads
||Base / Boost Frequency (GHz)
||L3 Cache (MB)
||PCIe 4.0 Lanes
|Ryzen 9 3950X||$749||16 / 32||105W||3.5 / 4.7||64||24|
|Ryzen 9 3900X||$499||12 / 24||105W||3.8 / 4.6||64||24|
|Ryzen 7 3800X||$399||8 / 16||105W||3.9 / 4.5||32||24|
|Ryzen 7 3700X||$329||8 / 16||65W||3.6 / 4.4||32||24|
|Ryzen 5 3600X
||6 / 12
||3.8 / 4.4
|Ryzen 5 3600||$199||6 / 12||65W||3.6 / 4.2||32||24|
The Ryzen 5 3600X does have higher clock speeds with its 3.8 GHz base and 4.4 GHz Precision Boost 2 frequencies, an advantage of 200 MHz in both measurements over the previous-gen 2600X and the Ryzen 5 3600 model. Those frequencies lag Intel’s Core i5-9600K, which weighs in with a 3.7 GHz base and 4.6 GHz boost. But AMD’s drastic improvement to its instruction per cycle (IPC) throughput evens the score in many types of applications. Not to mention the six additional threads.
|SEP / RCP (USD)||Cores / Threads||TDP (Watts)||Base Frequency (GHz)||Boost Frequency (GHz)||Total Cache (MB)||PCIe 4.0 Lanes||Price Per Thread|
|Core i5-9600K||$262||6 / 6||95W||3.7||4.6||~11||16||$43.67|
|Ryzen 5 3600X
||6 / 12
|Ryzen 5 2600X||$229||6 / 12||95W||3.6||4.2||~19.5||20||$19.08|
|Core i5-9500||$192||6 / 6||65W||3.0||4.4||~11||16||$32|
|Ryzen 5 3600
||6 / 12
|Ryzen 5 2600||$199||6 / 12||95W||3.6||4.3||~19.5||29||$16.58|
Intel’s Core i5-9500 weighs in at a lower price point, but it’s drastically pared back clock frequencies and price make it a more natural competitor with AMD’s Ryzen 5 2600.
The Ryzen 5 3600X comes with a healthy 32MB of total L3 cache, a neat doubling of capacity over its predecessor and more than three times the cache of the -9600K. That does come with a few caveats, however, as cache performance and efficiency has a big impact on how much cache capacity benefits the processor in typical applications. As usual, our benchmarks will tell the tale.
Ryzen 3000 chips officially support dual-channel DDR4-3200, a step up from the previous-gen’s support for DDR4-2966. AMD has greatly improved its memory compatibility and overclocking capabilities, but you still have to abide by rules that dictate the maximum supported frequency based on DIMM type and slot population.
||Official Supported Transfer Rate (MT/s)
|2 of 2||Single||DDR4-3200|
|2 of 4||DDR4-3200|
|4 of 4||DDR4-2933|
|2 of 2||Dual||DDR4-3200|
|2 of 4||DDR4-3200|
|4 of 4||DDR4-2667|
You can overclock your memory, either by hand-tuning or one-click A-XMP profiles with pricier kits, to skirt those rules. The Zen microarchitecture responds well to improved memory performance, so higher-priced kits are a good investment that pays off.
AMD also has it’s Precision Boost Overdrive (PBO) feature on offer, which is an automated overclocking tool that will tune your processor to its maximum achievable performance based on its cooling, motherboard, and power delivery accommodations. The quality of your cooling solution has a big impact on how well PBO can auto-tune your processor, and the Ryzen 5 3600X comes with a bundled the Wraith Spire cooler. While beefier coolers can help improve the amount of extra kick you get from tuning, the Wraith Spire should provide plenty of headroom, as we’ll show throughout our entire test suite.