AMD Ryzen 5 1600X review

AMD’s aggressively affordable Ryzen 5 1600X is the first six-core chip for everyone

The Ryzen 5 1600X puts Intel on notice -- AMD’s affordable processors mean business.
The Ryzen 5 1600X puts Intel on notice -- AMD’s affordable processors mean business.
The Ryzen 5 1600X puts Intel on notice -- AMD’s affordable processors mean business.

Highs

  • Cheapest six-core chip available
  • Competitive gaming performance
  • Strong productivity value
  • Intuitive overclocking software

Lows

  • Modest overclocking performance

The $250-$350 price point is growing increasingly crowded as AMD merrily rolls out Ryzen. These enthusiast level chips, used primarily in gaming systems, won’t hold back a single GPU setup, and are very capable of light photo or video production work in a pinch.

The Ryzen 5 1600X stands out as the least expensive chip to ever offer more than four cores. At $250, it undercuts the Core i7-7700K by almost a hundred dollars at full price, and is only $20 more than the Core i5-7600K. As attractive as Ryzen 7 was, it’s the Ryzen 5 processor line that fits in the budget of most PC enthusiasts. Can it become the people’s champion?

A refresher on the architecture

The mid-range Ryzen 5 Series is the second to arrive with AMD’s new Zen architecture. The red team started over from the ground up for these chips, and it really shows. The previous design, Bulldozer, set AMD back by pushing core count in exchange for per-core efficiency. With most games and demanding applications only making use of four cores, there wasn’t a big incentive to take the offer.

For more information on the Zen architecture and platform, head over to our review of the flagship chip, the Ryzen 7 1800X.

Six cores, 12 threads, plenty of go

Though its 3.6GHz base clock is only slightly higher than the Ryzen 5 1500X’s 3.5GHz clock, the Ryzen 5 1600X has two distinct advantages over its slightly cheaper sibling. Most notably, the Ryzen 5 1600X sports two more cores for a total of six, which brings it to support for 12 threads (two on each core). It also has a 95-watt thermal design power, as opposed to the 65-watt TDP on the 1500X. Theoretically, that thermal headroom may allow for better overall performance due to higher dynamic clock speeds.

Those two factors give the chip a massive advantage, bringing multi-core tests in line with even the Ryzen 7 1700. It takes a strong lead over the Ryzen 5 1500X in every single test — not bad considering it only costs $30 more. Still, that big performance jump is a pleasant surprise. In particular, we see a big gain in the Handbrake 4K conversion test, which runs almost 35 percent faster on the higher-end chip than on the entry-level option.

It should come as no surprise that the Intel Core i7-7700K, with its 4.2GHz base clock, charges ahead in every single-core test. The exchange comes with the extra cores, where well-distributed workloads can take full advantage of the extra threads. Tasks that use all of the Ryzen 5 1600X cores tend to perform better than on the Core i7-7700K, despite the latter’s price, which is about $90 higher.

We did not have a Core i5-7600K on hand to test. However, we expect that it would maintain a lead in single-core tests, at the cost of a major defeat in multi-core tests. The Core i5-7600K does not have Hyper-Threading, which means its four cores can each handle only one processing thread. The 1600X, meanwhile, can handle 12 threads.

Overall, the Ryzen 5 1600X packs a lot of performance into a slimmed-down price point. Its numerous cores and threads may not matter in all situations, but they matter a lot in some. And the 1600X’s disadvantage in single-core performance isn’t so drastic that that it becomes uncompetitive with Intel’s hardware.

Gaming

Mid-range enthusiast hardware is often built for gaming. It’s a demanding task, and one that requires the right balance of performance across many components. We hooked up both an EVGA SC GTX 980 Ti and an AMD Radeon RX 480, and ran the internal benchmarks in For Honor and Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, as well as the 3DMark Time Spy test, the latter two of which were run in DirectX 12.

The GPU is always the biggest factor in most modern games, and none of the CPUs in our test results should limit a single-GPU setup, particularly with our mid-to-high performance test cards. For Honor demonstrates that, as the gap between worst performance and best performance is less than 10 percent. A difference that’s likely to go unnoticeable.

The Ryzen 5 1600X games almost as well as the Ryzen 7 1700 and Intel Core i7-7700K.

Sid Meier’s Civilization VI is a different story. It puts a lot more strain on the CPU than most games, and the differences between the chips are clearer. The Ryzen 5 1600X sets itself apart from the less expensive 1500X once again, particularly with the graphics turned to extreme, where it only falls in second to the Intel Core i7-7700K system.

The extra cores and power also come in handy running the 3DMark Time Spy benchmark. The final score takes CPU performance into account to an extent, and the Ryzen 5 1600X falls, once again, closer to the Ryzen 7 chips than the Ryzen 5 1500X.

Overall, there’s little to no risk of the Ryzen 5 1600X holding back performance in most modern titles, unless they’re particularly demanding for the CPU. It’s clear that the 1600X is not the fastest gaming processor around, but its price easily excuses its minor disadvantage compared to Intel hardware.

Overclocking

We tested the Ryzen 5 1600X with the AMD Wraith Max cooler. It had a modest sized fan atop a generous heatsink, turned on its side to keep a low profile. There was even an RGB ring around the interior edge of the fan — fancy!

AMD Ryzen 1600X centerturned
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Ryzen chips come out of the box in normal mode, with XFR enabled, and automatic voltage regulation. A bevy of sensors runs a quick check of the thermal and power limitations on the chip, and sets the clock speed of the chip accordingly. With our 750 Watt power supply, X370 chipset, and Wraith Max cooler, it ran at 3.7GHz base, 100MHz over its base clock. When Ryzen Master adjusts the settings on the chip, it disables XFR and automatic voltage regulation in favor of user settings.

Overclocking is easy thanks to the Ryzen Master software. It allows users to tweak clock speeds, voltages, shut off cores, and load all the settings into presets that are easy to flip between without resetting the system. We pushed the Ryzen 5 1600X from its base clock to 3.9GHz with a bump to 1.4 volts on the chip, and 1.0V on the chipset.

Overclocking provided some benefits in our tests, but not nearly the kind of stunning boosted performance we saw on the Ryzen 7 1700. The downsides, at least with a stock cooler, seem to outweigh the benefits. Disabling XFR prevents potentially higher clock speeds during single-core tests, and temperatures were much lower, and more consistent, without enabling the overclock mode.

Unless fit it with an aftermarket cooler, you’re better off leaving it in normal mode, unless there’s a specific situation that necessitates turning off cores temporarily.

Warranty information

AMD covers the Ryzen 5 1600X with an industry standard three-year warranty. That doesn’t cover damage due to installation issues or improper overclocking, so make sure to handle with care.

Our Take

AMD continues to strike at Intel’s most popular chips with the Ryzen series, and the Ryzen 5 1600X renders a powerful cleave to the unlocked enthusiast Intel Core i5 and Core i7 chips. Packing competitive performance, extra cores, and a modern feature set into a $250 price point is no small feat, but the red team has taken on the challenge with noteworthy success.

Is there a better alternative?

Within AMD’s own ranks, the Ryzen 5 1500X sits at just $190, with a lower 65W TDP and only four cores. The performance doesn’t keep up with this chip though, and the minor savings it offers isn’t worthwhile. Intel offers the Core i5-7600K for $20 less, but with the Ryzen 5 1600X falling so close to the Intel Core i7-7700K in terms of performance, AMD’s six-core option is worth considering.

How long will it last?

With six cores and a modern feature set, the Ryzen 5 1600X is built to last. Six cores may not mean as much now, but if multi-core reliance increases, this chip will be sitting pretty. AMD has also promised to continue using the AM4 socket at least through 2020, so you have a clear upgrade path a few years down the line.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Whether you’re encoding video, streaming and recording while gaming, or compressing and uncompressing large files, you’ll see a benefit from the extra cores and higher power draw on the Ryzen 5 1600X. Add that to a precisely targeted price point, and the result is a mid-range champion that’ll appeal to just about everyone looking to put together a powerful, yet affordable, PC.

Computing

Intel teases 9th-generation Core i9 mobile processors at GDC 2019

Intel teased its new 9th-generation Intel Core i9 processors at GDC 2019. The company offered few specifics about the hardware, but a leak from late February provides insight into what the new processors might offer.
Computing

The new iMacs push on iMac Pro territory, but how much power do you really need?

With Apple refreshing the higher-end iMacs with newer processors and graphics cards, it moves closer to the iMac Pro. In this guide, we consider the performance, features, and help make sense of the differences between the two.
Buying Guides

Apple has powered up its iMac lineup, but which one should you opt for?

With new processors and graphics cards for both the 4K and 5K models, the iMac feels like a good option for creatives again. But which should you buy? Here's our guide to choosing the right Apple all-in-one for your needs.
Computing

Apple iMac gets more powerful with new Intel CPUs, Radeon Pro graphics

Apple on Tuesday, March 19 refreshed its iMac lineup with new models featuring slightly more powerful Intel processors and new AMD graphics cards. The new 27-inch 5K model comes with options for Intel's six-core or eight-core ninth-gen…
Computing

Get the most out of your high-resolution display by tweaking its DPI scaling

Windows 10 has gotten much better than earlier versions at supporting today's high-resolution displays. If you want to get the best out of your monitor, then check out our guide on how to adjust high-DPI scaling in Windows 10.
Mobile

Got gadgets galore? Keep them charged up with the 10 best USB-C cables

We're glad to see that USB-C is quickly becoming the norm. That's why we've rounded up some of the better USB-C cables on the market, whether you're looking to charge or sync your smartphone. We've got USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB-A.
Deals

Looking for a Chromebook? The Google PixelBook just got a $200 price cut

Once relatively obscure, Chromebooks have come into their own in a big way in recent years. One of our favorites is the super-sleek Google Pixelbook, and it's on sale right now from Amazon for $200 off, letting you score this premium laptop…
Computing

Nvidia’s GTX 1650 graphics card could be just a slight upgrade over the 1050 Ti

Rumors suggest Nvidia might soon launch the GTX 1650, and a leaked benchmark listing from Final Fantasy XV suggests that the new graphics card could be just a slight upgrade over last generation's GTX 1050 Ti. 
Computing

Get ready to say goodbye to some IFTTT support in Gmail by March 31

If This Then That, the popular automation service, will drop some of its support for Gmail by March 31. The decision comes as a response to security concerns and is aimed to protect user data.
Computing

Get the new Dell XPS 13 for $750 with this limited-time deal

Dell is currently running a limited time deal lasting through Thursday, March 28, where you can bring home a version of this year's new XPS 13 for around $750 with the use of a special coupon code. 
Mobile

This is the easiest way to save your iPhone data to your computer

Living in fear of losing your contacts, photos, messages, and notes on your iPhone? Fear no more -- in this guide, we'll break down exactly how to back up your iPhone to your computer using Apple's iTunes or to the cloud with iCloud.
Mobile

Here are the best iPad Pro keyboard cases to pick up with your new tablet

The iPad Pro range can double as laptops, but they do need proper keyboards to fill in effectively. Thankfully, there are loads to choose from and we rounded up the best iPad Pro keyboard cases right here.
Computing

Microsoft’s Clippy came back from the dead, but didn’t last very long

Before Cortana, Alexa, and Siri even existed, Microsoft Clippy dominated the screens of computers in the 1990s to help assist Microsoft Office users when writing letters. He recently made a bit of a comeback only to die off again.
Computing

Nvidia faces attacks from AMD, Intel, and even Google. Should it be worried?

Nvidia announced an expanded array of RTX server solutions designed to leverage the power of ray-tracing at GTC 2019. The effort will help Nvidia take on Google's Stadia in game streaming with GeForce Now, and the company's investments in…