Which Ryzen CPU should you buy?

AMD's Ryzen CPUs offer some of the best bang for the buck, but which is best?

AMD Ryzen 9 3900x
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

AMD has been on a tear for the past few years, and that’s almost exclusively thanks to Ryzen CPUs. Its new Navi graphics cards are great, but with the first, second, and now third-generation Ryzen processors, it’s become a dominant force in the CPU industry once again. Its latest Ryzen 3000 chips even steal the performance crown from Intel’s best in some cases, making them great for gaming and productivity tasks like video editing.

The Ryzen family is broken down into four distinct branches, targeting the entry-level, mainstream, performance, and high-end enthusiast sectors of the market — otherwise known as Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, and Ryzen 9. They’re all great chips in their own way, but some certainly offer more value than others and for many, the most powerful chips will be complete overkill.

The best entry level Ryzen processor ($80-$150): Ryzen 3 3200G

AMD has always offered great value for money at the lower end of the CPU spectrum and that old adage is just as true with its Ryzen CPUs. AMD offered a wide range of budget-conscious chips with its first Ryzen CPUs, including great standouts like the Ryzen 3 1200 and Ryzen 3 1300X. When we paired them up with an MSI Gaming X RX 580 and the beefy Zotac GTX 1080 Ti AMP! Edition, we found them to be very capable.

The 3DMark synthetic results delivered what we would expect: better CPUs provided higher scores. But in gaming tests, the 1200 and 1300X showed themselves able to deliver solid frame rates that were in many cases, pretty close to much more expensive Ryzen CPUs.

While we wouldn’t recommend those CPUs today, these are important results, because they are roughly comparable to the general compute performance of AMD’s new-generation APUs, the 2200G, 2400G, and 3200G. Those chips are not only fantastically affordable, at between $80 and $120, but they come with reasonably capable on board graphics too.

If you have a graphics card or plan to buy one, there are some great deals on AMD’s six-core 2600 and 2600X which come just under the $150 limit for this category. They’re better CPUs than their APU cousins, so opt for that if you have other GPU plans in mind. But if you want an all-in-one, affordable package for budget gaming, the 3200G is our favorite at this price.

The best mainstream Ryzen processor: ($150-$250): Ryzen 5 3600

This price bracket is where AMD’s Ryzen CPUs really shine, offering amazing multi-core performance, fantastic gaming power, and in many cases far greater value for money than their Intel counterparts. The first-generation Ryzen CPUs introduced a number of great options, but they’re hard to find at decent prices now.

The second-generation improved clock speeds by a few hundred megahertz and with prices slashed with the release of the new-generation chips, there are some great deals to be had. The six-core 2600X is a steal at around $150, while the flagship of the generation, the eight-core 2700X can be had for $240 in some cases.

But it’s the new-generation of Ryzen 3000 CPUs which are the real standouts here. The 3600 can be had for around $200 and it offers amazing performance in games and productivity tasks. The 3600X has a little more boost clock behind it and should clock higher with its support of AMD’s automated overclocking features and higher-TDP headroom.

The best performance Ryzen processor ($250-$400): Ryzen 7 3700X

The big takeaway from AMD’s performance-orientated Ryzen CPUs is that they sport eight cores and thanks to simultaneous multithreading, 16 threads. That’s why these chips are some of the best for multitasking and productivity available today. They are amazing at video editing or encoding and with the instructions per clock boost, die-shrink, and clock-speed increase of the Ryzen 3000 series, they’re competitive with Intel’s best at gaming too.

Thanks to first and second-generation price drops, there are only two chips that fit into this category at this time: The Ryzen 3700X and 3800X. There’s not a substantial difference between the two. They have the same core and thread counts, as well as the same amount of cache, and memory-speed support. The 3800X has a 100MHz extra boost clock and a higher TDP of 105w versus 65w on the 3700X.

The 3800X tends to perform a few percent points faster than the 3700X in most tests, which makes it hard to recommend when it’s a full $70 more.

The 3700X is the darling of the new generation Ryzen CPUs. At its MSRP of $330 it’s an amazing offering that should run rings around any AMD processor of yesteryear and stay competitive with both AMD and Intel’s much more expensive offerings.

The best enthusiast Ryzen processor: Ryzen 9 3900X

AMD Ryzen 9 3900x

Until the third-generation of AMD Ryzen processors, the high-end offerings were all TR4-based Threadripper chips. Those are amazing CPUs and still offer some of the best multi-threaded performance of any CPU ever released. But there is a new king in AMD’s performance chip lineup, and it’s a much more all-round beast than Threadripper. It’s way more affordable too.

At $500, the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X is a 12-core, 24-thread monster, that can clock up to 4.6GHz when boosted and offers all-core clock speeds in excess of 4GHz. It competes in games with the Intel 9900K (to date the best gaming CPU we’ve ever tested) and decimates it in multi-threaded tasks, often beating out Intel’s $1,000 plus HEDT line as well.

Outside of the greater number of PCIe lanes, these numbers blow the first-generation Threadripper CPUs — which sold for up to $1,000 — completely out of the water. They even challenge second-generation Threadripper chips in some cases, which is an amazing achievement for any mainstream CPU.

AMD’s 3900X is an astounding achievement for AMD, representing the most capable mainstream CPU it has ever released. It’s arguably the best mainstream CPU anyone has ever released. It’s still overkill for most and Intel’s 9900K does just pip it in gaming in most titles, but if you do any work on your system, as well as gaming, then the 3900X is the best chip you can buy right now. AMD or Intel. And that makes it the best enthusiast CPU you can buy for AMD.

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