Ryzen 5 3600X: does faster RAM improve gaming performance?

AMD and Intel tested.

Our final testing concerns RAM speeds - something that, for most of PC gaming's history, has largely been ignored even by enthusiasts. After all, most contemporary tests revealed only minuscule improvements for adopting higher-frequency or lower-latency sticks. Instead, only shifts from one RAM standard to another, like DDR3 to DDR4, were really noticed. That began to change with the release of first-gen Ryzen though, as the communication speed between different core complexes was tied to RAM frequency. Suddenly, upgrading from 2400MHz to 3000MHz RAM could result in a (relatively) huge uptick in average and minimum frame-rates. RAM speed also becomes more important when targeting high refresh rates, alongside CPU speed, so the uptake of 144Hz monitors has also heightened the importance of fast RAM.

Fast forward to 2019 and third-gen Ryzen, and RAM is in a good spot. High-frequency kits at 3200MHz have become largely affordable, with even faster sticks available for deep-pocketed gamers or content creators that want to wring every ounce of performance from their machines. AMD's guidance suggests that third-gen Ryzen sees benefits all the way up to 3733MHz, with 3600MHz being the sweet spot, so it's no surprise that AMD provided us with a shiny Trident Z Royal 3600MHz kit for our CPU testing.

In order to give a better account of how much RAM speed matters - and therefore, whether it's worth including 3600MHz or even faster RAM in your next PC upgrade, we've tested each chip in three games at 3000MHz and 3600MHz. The results are far from uniform, suggesting that different game architectures see dramatically different results when using high-frequency RAM kits. For example, Ashes of the Singularity Escalation shows a six per cent advantage for the 3600X when switching from 3000MHz to 3600MHz RAM, while in Far Cry 5 the advantage is only one per cent - definitely not worth the extra expense. Crysis 3 is something of a surprise, with a noticeable three per cent improvement despite being released in an era where RAM speed was more-or-less ignored.

We could investigate RAM speed in considerably more depth - and perhaps one day we shall - but for now, let's leave with a few takeaways based on the data. First, third-gen Ryzen is much less RAM-speed dependent than second-gen Ryzen, likely due to the doubling of L3 cache in each new chip. However, Intel's architectural memory latency advantage means that its chips are even less dependent on RAM speed than third-gen Ryzen.

Not budgeting for fast RAM means a little bit of spare cash in your Intel build compared to an equivalent AMD one, but this advantage given the fact that you'll probably want to get a decent air or water cooler for your Intel chip - meanwhile, even high-end AMD builds do just fine using the excellent Wraith Spire or Wraith Prism coolers that come stock with third-gen Ryzen. This is further compounded if you want to overclock your memory, which is available on basically all AMD boards but is largely restricted to high-end 'Z' motherboards for Intel. When it comes to value for money then, AMD's platform feels the better choice.

Ashes of the Singularity: CPU Test

  • i9 9900K
  • i9 9900K
  • i7 9700K
  • i7 9700K
  • i5 9600K
  • i5 9600K
  • R9 3900X
  • R9 3900X
  • R7 3700X
  • R7 3700X
  • R5 3600X
  • R5 3600X
  • R7 2700X
  • R7 2700X

Far Cry 5: Ultra, TAA

  • i9 9900K
  • i9 9900K
  • i7 9700K
  • i7 9700K
  • i5 9600K
  • i5 9600K
  • R9 3900X
  • R9 3900X
  • R7 3700X
  • R7 3700X
  • R5 3600X
  • R5 3600X
  • R7 2700X
  • R7 2700X

Crysis 3: Very High, SMAA T2X

  • i9 9900K
  • i9 9900K
  • i7 9700K
  • i7 9700K
  • i5 9600K
  • i5 9600K
  • R9 3900X
  • R9 3900X
  • R7 3700X
  • R7 3700X
  • R5 3600X
  • R5 3600X
  • R7 2700X
  • R7 2700X

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X analysis

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About the author

Will Judd

Will Judd

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

A bizarre British-American hybrid, Will turns caffeine into technology articles through a little-known process called 'writing'. His favourite games are Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Fallout 2.

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