Ryzen 5 3600X: the Digital Foundry verdict

A strong mid-range CPU for content creation and higher resolutions.

So with all the tests done and dusted, where does that leave us? Mostly, we're impressed - the 3600X delivers a ton of gaming performance that make it a serviceable choice at 1440p and 4K, although gamers targeting 1080p at high refresh rates at the $200 to $300 range are still better served by Intel's Core i5 9600K, which also has a good 500-600MHz of overclocking headroom to tap into. If you've got a high resolution screen and you're doing any kind of content creation that would benefit from a greater core count - like streaming, video production or 3D modelling - then the 3600X is an excellent choice.

Of course, the rest of AMD's lineup is also competitive, with bigger gains evident in productivity tasks than in raw gaming performance as you go up the tiers to faster CPUs like the Ryzen 7 3700X and Ryzen 9 3900X.

AMD's case against Intel gets stronger when you consider the wider ecosystem, too. The company has won plaudits for its commitment to a single CPU socket, with AM4 debuting in 2016 and support planned into 2020; in comparison Intel seems to debut a new socket for every other CPU line it releases. AMD's longer lasting support means there are a ton of motherboards out there that can run the new AMD chips, with only a select few that don't support the new CPUs at all. On most boards, a simple BIOS update is good enough to get you up and running with a third-gen Ryzen.

We recommend the B450 chipset to anyone working to a strict budget, as these boards pair nicely with the 3600X (potentially requiring a BIOS update), allow memory overclocking and are often discounted to around $80/£80. For higher-end builds, X570 motherboards start around $170/£170 and include PCIe 4.0 support on one or more expansion slots. This new standard is only supported for third-gen Ryzen chips right now, and allows for new add-on cards like incredibly fast NVMe SSDs that top out around 15,000MB/s in sequential read speeds. PCIe 4.0 might also be required for full utilisation of next-gen graphics cards, but it's not clear when (if ever) this will occur.

In terms of RAM, the 3600X does see improvements when faster RAM is used. Our recommended baseline is 3000MHz, with better results evident in some titles at 3600MHz and beyond. Don't handicap your build by investing too heavily in a high-speed kit, but consider investing more if you can jump up a category or two.

While Intel builds are not as dependent on memory speed, Intel motherboards don't offer memory overclocking outside of high-end models. That means you may need to budget extra if you want to operate high-spec RAM; by comparison AMD boards offer this at both the mid-range and the high-end so your motherboard may cost less. Another value consideration is cooling. The Core i5 9600K doesn't come bundled with a cooler, so you'll need to budget at least a few notes for an air cooler or AiO liquid cooler if you go with the Intel option. Meanwhile, the Ryzen 5 3600X's bundled Wraith Prism offered excellent thermal performance in our testing, providing more than enough cooling capacity even when overclocked, so an upgraded air cooler or AiO is less vital.

It will be interesting to see how the CPU landscape continues to evolve. Right now, Intel still holds onto the gaming performance crown at 1080p and 1440p, and until that changes it seems unlikely that we'll see any significant price drops from Team Blue. Reports from some enthusiast retailers indicate that the 3600 and 3600X are outselling all other Intel chips combined, but it will no doubt take time for these changes to show in the more conservative pre-built, education and commercial markets - if they take place at all.

After several torturous years of development, Intel is also soon to deliver 10nm chips for laptops, with desktop 10nm CPUs sure to follow within a year or two. For now, AMD has to continue to iterate upon its 7nm process and become more competitive in the gaming space. But in the here and now, Zen 2 is excellent and the Ryzen 3600X is undoubtedly a strong mid-range product. Intel remains faster overall for gaming in this space, but once you have in surrounding ecosystem costs and non-gaming performance, the 3600X is an exceptionally tempting proposition.

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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