ProsThe Ryzen 5 3600 offers tremendous value; Zen 2 matches Intel's Skylake; RAM compatibility is much improved
ConsThe 3600X doesn't justify its higher price; X570 motherboards that support the 3000 series are too expensive
We decided to focus in on two factors when it comes to clockrates: AMD's Precision Boost, which automatically (automagically?) adjusts clockrates based on the cooler used, and then Precision Boost Overdrive, which is an auto-overclocking routine available in the Ryzen Master software suite.
As you can see if you study the data above carefully, the simple act of swapping out a cooler actually boosts clock speeds on both the 3600 and 3600X. For example, using the Spire cooler included with the 3600X on the cheaper 3600 actually boosted speed by 30MHz. Similarly, moving from the Spire to a liquid cooler on the 3600X boosted speed by 50MHz. This was without making any changes to CPU settings. So if you want a risk-free performance upgrade (albeit a small one), just get a better cooler. Combine a better cooler with PBO and you get even more performance: the 3600X picked up another 50MHz when using PBO with a liquid cooler, for a 100MHz overall boost over stock. One issue we had with the 3600X's Spire cooler was that it was absurdly loud in this test. It ran at 44dB and 3200RPM, compared to 36dB and 2600RPM for the smaller Wraith Stealth. That is a tradeoff not worth making given how little extra performance it unleashes in the 3600 (and the 3600X, for that matter).
Alas, for better or for worse, AMD is getting the most out of its Zen 2 architecture, leaving little on the table in terms of overclocking. Our manual overclocking tests only boosted speed of our 3600X to 4.2GHz, and that was with more voltage than we would have liked (1.45V). We think the very best approach to maximizing the performance of Zen 2 is to get the lowest-tier CPU in the lineup, here the Ryzen 5 3600, and then upgrading it with a nice, quiet tower cooler like the Arctic Freezer 34 eSports Edition.
OK, first things first, we tested our CPUs on several different motherboards, and you have to take into account their power draw in the chart above. So don't compare the 3600X to the 3600, but rather to the 2700X, which used the same motherboard. Note how much more efficient Zen 2 is, given that in many tests the 3600X was far faster. Likewise, feel free to compare the Ryzen 5 3600 to the Zen+-based Ryzen 5 3400G or the Skylake-based Core i7-6700K. Despite using slighly more power overall, it offers far more performance per Watt than either of those CPUs (up to 50% more in CPU-intensive tasks).
We are a bit concerned, by the way, that the 65W-rated Ryzen 5 3600 uses nearly 100W in this test, which we have a hard time believing was due entirely to its motherboard. We think this is a sign that the 65W 3600 and 95W 3600X are actually both more like 90W processors that differ almost entirely in single-core boost speed, while performing the same, and drawing similar power, in multi-core tests like this one. Artificial product stack differentiation for the loss.
On a related and more flagrant note Intel's TDP ratings are now the laughing-stock of the industry, as its "95W" Core i9-9900K uses over 200W in this test. Seriously, this is becoming a joke, and we're starting to wonder if it borders on false marketing.
Wow, just wow! Zen 2 delivers! While we've been impressed with AMD's Ryzen lineup in the past, it's the Zen 2 architecture used in the new Ryzen 3000 series of CPUs that really delivers the knock-out punch we've all been waiting for. The Ryzen 5 3600 and Ryzen 5 3600X have finally caught up to Intel's aging Skylake architecture, which is still used today in all of its CPUs, in term of instructions per clock cycle, while offering far more cores and virtual cores per dollar. Consider that the Ryzen 5 3600 is the same price class as the Intel Core i5-9400, yet runs at higher boost speeds and offers SMT, allowing it to deliver up to 50% higher performance per dollar. It continues to shock us that Intel hasn't responded to AMD's Ryzen assault by offering Hyperthreading on its mid-priced CPUs, but that's left the door wide open for AMD, which has responded with gusto. There is simply no reason to buy any other CPU between the $150 and $250 pricepoints.
But not everything is perfect in this product launch. First off, we think the Ryzen 5 3600X is simply a non-starter in terms of value, serving only the goal of market segmentation. AMD needed a CPU at the competitive $250 pricepoint, where the Core i5-9600K typically resides, but the 3600X and its loud Wraith Spire cooler simply don't deliver the goods. Just stick to the 3600 and you'll be better off. We think AMD should give up on artificially segmenting its product line, and just simplify its offerings with the one best product at the best price in the 6- and 8-core markets. It should have learned this lesson long ago when its Ryzen 7 1700 became the darling of the Ryzen 1000 series thanks to its ability to match the 50% more expensive Ryzen 7 1800X. Alas, we don't think AMD's going to do this anytime soon, because those higher-priced SKUs are all about margins, given they cost barely any more to produce than what may be loss leaders in each product family. So anyone who wants to subsidize enthusiasts on a budget can go out and buy the 3600X and feel good about it!
The other concern we have about these CPUs has nothing to do with their performance, but rather their ecosystem. While AMD is delivering tremendous value to consumers by maintaining socket compatibility year-to-year, it keeps digging a tremendous hole for itself by not working with motherboard partners to get lower-priced motherboards into the retail channel with proper firmware support. With the least-expensive X570 boards coming in around $170, buyers of the budget-priced Ryzen 3000 series CPUs (including the 3200G and 3400G we reviewed here), are stuck with a Catch-22. Buy an older motherboard at a good price and be nearly guaranteed to have out-of-date firmware, or buy an X570 motherboard and pay a premium just for the firmware. We know that AMD eventually plans to release a B550 chipset, but a product delivered 6 months late is of little good today. Instead, it should allow motherboard manufacturers to get firmware-updated versions of existing motherboard into the channel before new CPUs are even launched, and update the names of these motherboards with clear suffixes to inform consumers exactly what they're getting, like "Ryzen 3000 Edition". We know MSI is attempting to go it alone by offering up its MAX line of motherboards with updated firmware, but that's too little, too late, and honestly, AMD should be leading the way in sorting out this mess of its own making, not a single manufacturer.
With all that said, there's no denying that Zen 2 delivers, and we give a huge perfect 5-star rating to the Ryzen 5 3600, which is available for $194 as of our publication date. As for the Ryzen 5 3600X, which is $240 from Amazon, we give it a 3.5-star rating, simply because its less expensive cousin is a much better overall package.
As always, to get our recommendations on the best PC builds at every price point, see our Do-It-Yourself PC Buyer's Guides!