Mid-range CPUs

ANTONY LEATHER PUTS SIX OF THE LAT­EST MID RANGE CPUS THROUGH THEIR PACES

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AMD Ryzen 5 1400

A n over­clock­able quad-core CPU for $230 sounds too good to be true, but the Ryzen 5 1400 is just that. It o„ers four phys­i­cal cores for $4 more than the dual-core Core i3-7350K – and thanks to AMD’s SMT (si­mul­ta­ne­ous multi-thread­ing) tech­nol­ogy, it can ac­tu­ally han­dle eight threads si­mul­ta­ne­ously, which is twice what you’ll get from a Core i5 chip.

The sac­ri­fices are ob­vi­ous: there’s only 8MB of L3 cache, and the Ryzen 5 1400 has a base fre­quency of just 3.2GHz, ca­pa­ble of boost­ing up to a max­i­mum of 3.45GHz. That rel­a­tively slow stock speed didn’t do the Ryzen 5 1400 any favours in our im­age-edit­ing test, but it re­gained ground in ren­der­ing tests, where its quad-core de­sign raced ahead of the Core i3-7350K.

And things looked up when we tried over­clock­ing the Ryzen 5 1400. Us­ing a vcore of 1.425V, we achieved a sta­ble 4GHz clock speed – slightly faster than we were able to get out of the Ryzen 5 1600. As a re­sult, the cheap­est of this month’s chips man­aged to nudge ahead in our bench­marks. No­tably, it was also much quicker in Cinebench than the over­clocked Core i5-7600K.

Even so, this chip wasn’t able to keep up with the Ryzen 5 1500X, which has twice the amount of L3 cache. That was es­pe­cially no­tice­able in our gam­ing tests: in To­tal War: Warham­mer the Ryzen 5 1500X proved quicker at stock speed than the over­clocked 1400. While the Ryzen 5 1400 is tempt­ingly a„ord­able, we reckon it’s worth shelling out the ex­tra for its X-se­ries sib­ling.

AMD Ryzen 5 1500X

T he quad-core Ryzen 5 1500X costs only $46 less than the six-core Ryzen 5 1600. That might make it look like an i„y propo­si­tion: af­ter all, the 1600 de­liv­ers 50% more pro­cess­ing power for your buck. How­ever, this is an X-edi­tion CPU, which means it holds ad­van­tages else­where.

In par­tic­u­lar, it has a huge 16MB L3 cache – the same as the most ex­pen­sive Ryzen 7 CPUs. It runs fast too, with a base fre­quency of 3.5GHz, a Pre­ci­sion Boost clock of 3.7GHz and the high­est XFR boost of any Ryzen CPU, at 200MHz. To­gether, these fea­tures make it quicker than the Ryzen 5 1600 at stock speed – as long as the work­load doesn’t rely too heav­ily on mul­ti­thread­ing.

The 1500X also com­pares favourably to In­tel’s quad-core op­po­si­tion. The Core i5-7600K costs nearly $86 more, and ad­mit­tedly at stock speeds it proved a lit­tle faster in our im­age-edit­ing test. How­ever, we were eas­ily able to over­clock the Ryzen 5 1500X to 4GHz, erod­ing that ad­van­tage sig­nif­i­cantly. And in our multi-threaded tests the AMD chip sailed into the lead – no great sur­prise, as it can process twice as many si­mul­ta­ne­ous threads as the Core i5.

The real choice is be­tween the 1500X and 1600. For lightly threaded tasks, the 1500X edges out its ri­val with faster clock speeds, mak­ing it a great value chip for ev­ery­day desk­top com­put­ing. For mul­ti­threaded per­for­mance, how­ever, the 1600’s ex­tra cores give it a big ad­van­tage.

AMD Ryzen 5 1600

T he Ryzen 5 1600 is the sec­ond most pow­er­ful CPU in the Ryzen 5 fam­ily, be­hind the 1600X. On pa­per, the speed gap is quite wide: its 3.2GHz base and 3.6GHz Pre­ci­sion Boost fre­quen­cies are 400MHz slower than those of the Ryzen 5 1600X, and XFR only pushes this up to 3.65GHz, com­pared to the 1600X’s 4.1GHz. Oth­er­wise, though, the two are largely iden­ti­cal, o„er­ing six cores (12 threads) and 16MB of L3 cache.

As you’d ex­pect, the 1600 lagged slightly be­hind the X-edi­tion CPU in ev­ery one of our bench­marks. The 1600’s lowly clock speed also left it be­hind the In­tel CPUs, and AMD’s own 1500X, in our im­age-edit­ing and game tests. The mul­ti­threaded tests, how­ever, al­lowed the six-core de­sign to show its power, out­strip­ping the Core i5-7600K and Ryzen 5 1500X by size­able mar­gins.

The thing to re­mem­ber, of course, is that stock speed isn’t the whole story. Like all Ryzen CPUs, the 1600 can be over­clocked: we got its core speed up to 3.9GHz us­ing a vcore of 1.425V, which en­abled it to beat an over­clocked Core i7-7700K in our en­cod­ing test, and in Cinebench. This also al­lowed the Ryzen CPU to hold its own against the In­tel chips in games. The pricier Core i5 man­aged to de­liver 4% more per­for­mance in To­tal War: Warham­mer, but aside from that we saw next to no di„er­ence be­tween In­tel and AMD chips in other games, in­clud­ing Fall­out 4.

In short, the Ryzen 5 1600 is a strong and very a„ord­able gen­eral-pur­pose CPU – as long as you’re up for some over­clock­ing.

AMD Ryzen 5 1600X W

Why does the Ryzen 5 1600X cost $50 more than the Ryzen 5 1600? Both have six cores and 12 threads, plus iden­ti­cal cache al­lo­ca­tions. One dier­ence is TDP – this X-edi­tion is rated at 95W, ver­sus the 65W of the reg­u­lar Ryzen 5 1600.

That in turn sup­ports higher speeds: the 1600X has a nippy 3.6GHz base fre­quency, with a 4GHz max­i­mum Pre­ci­sion Boost. The higher base fig­ure is sig­nif­i­cant, as it rep­re­sents the point where Pre­ci­sion Boost kicks in. Above this fre­quency, multi-core per­for­mance no longer scales lin­early, as par­al­lel­ism is sac­ri­ficed in or­der to achieve higher speeds.

As well as higher base and Pre­ci­sion Boost fre­quen­cies, the Ryzen 5 1600X has a 100MHz XFR boost, giv­ing a max­i­mum fre­quency of 4.1GHz in lightly threaded work­loads. That’s a de­cent ad­van­tage over the max­i­mum 3.65GHz of the reg­u­lar Ryzen 5 1600.

In­tel’s near­est ri­val to the Ryzen 5 1600X is the Core i5-7600K. That CPU took the lead in our im­age-edit­ing test and in To­tal War: Warham­mer, but in multi-threaded tests the six-core AMD CPU shone, even at stock speeds. The i5 scored 239,176 in our en­cod­ing test, com­pared to 366,090 for the 1600X. For even higher per­for­mance, we were able to over­clock the 1600X to 3.95GHz with a vcore of 1.425V. This yielded very sim­i­lar per­for­mance to the over­clocked Ryzen 5 1600, so if you’re com­fort­able tweak­ing BIOS set­tings, that cheaper chip is bet­ter value.

In­tel Core i3-7350K H

Hopes were high when In­tel re­vealed its over­clock­able Core i3-7350K at the start of the year. With Hy­per-Thread­ing, 4MB of L3 cache and a base fre­quency of 4.2GHz, it looked like the per­fect CPU for en­thu­si­asts on a bud­get.

Sadly, its ap­peal has al­ways been un­der­mined by its price. An ex­tra $110 will net you a Core i5-7600K with four phys­i­cal cores – and the Ryzen 5 1400 oers twice the phys­i­cal cores at al­most the same price.

The Core i3-7350K does have its strengths. One is the on­board GPU, mak­ing it cheaper and sim­pler to build a sys­tem around. And with a TDP of just 60W, you can get away with us­ing a cheap CPU cooler even if you over­clock it.

It’s also true that In­tel’s Kaby Lake CPUs gen­er­ally oer higher stock clock speeds than Ryzen CPUs, help­ing them pull ahead in lightly threaded soft­ware. The Core i3-7350K is no ex­cep­tion, prov­ing much faster than all this month’s Ryzen CPUs in our im­age-edit­ing test. How­ever, in ev­ery other test, its lack of phys­i­cal cores meant it was at a dis­tinct dis­ad­van­tage.

In our Hand­brake video en­cod­ing test, for ex­am­ple, the cheaper Ryzen 5 1400 was sig­nif­i­cantly faster, with a score of 223,065 com­pared to 152,334 for the In­tel CPU. Even when over­clocked to 5GHz us­ing a vcore of 1.35V, the Core i3-7350K couldn’t com­pete with the Ryzen 5 1400. Like­wise for games tests.

With a big price drop, the i3-7350K could still be a tempt­ing chip, but with things as they stand it makes very lit­tle sense.

In­tel Core i57600K I

In­tel’s K-se­ries Core i5 chips have long been mid-range favourites, oer­ing un­locked over­clock­ing po­ten­tial at a rea­son­able price. Now, like many of In­tel’s oer­ings, they’re chal­lenged by Ryzen chips with more cores and threads.

Still, the Core i5-7600K is a pow­er­ful CPU. It has a base fre­quency of 3.8GHz and a turbo fre­quency of 4.2GHz – faster than any Ryzen – plus 50% more L3 cache than the i3-7350K. That pays o when it comes to lightly threaded work: in the im­age-edit­ing test, it bet­tered all our stock-speed Ryzen CPUs by a big mar­gin.

Else­where, though, the story was mixed. In our Hand­brake en­cod­ing test, its stock speed score was just 239,176, com­pared to 319,637 for the six-core $295 Ryzen 5 1600.

There’s im­pres­sive head­room for over­clock­ing. We were able to hit a mas­sive 5.1GHz with a vcore of 1.35V, giv­ing the 7600K a huge lead over AMD in the im­age-edit­ing test. Even so, the Ryzen 5 1600 scored nearly 100,000 points more in the video en­cod­ing test once it too was over­clocked. And the Cinebench test saw the Core i5 lan­guish in sec­ond-to-last place, with even the Ryzen 5 1400 post­ing a sig­nif­i­cantly higher score.

The 7600K’s key strength turned out to be gam­ing: it had a 10% lead in To­tal War: Warham­mer and Ashes of the Sin­gu­lar­ity: Es­ca­la­tion, so if you’re build­ing a game­fo­cused sys­tem it’s worth con­sid­er­ing. But the Core i5 is no longer the best all-rounder in town: in multi-threaded pro­duc­tiv­ity tasks, it gets bat­tered by Ryzen.

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