As a six-core, 12-thread processor, the $299 AMD Ryzen 5 5600X slots perfectly into the market for midrange gaming-focused CPUs, and brings with it the best balance of core count and cost in the company’s latest launch of Zen 3-based processors.
When put up against the so-so Intel Core i5-10600K, the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X comes out shining on the other side, presenting serious competition for Intel (albeit at a slightly higher price point than we’re used to from Ryzens).
The Ryzen 5 5600X set records in some of our gaming results, as well as being one of the best values in price-to-performance that AMD offers in 2020.
It lacks the integrated graphics that some buyers in the midrange might be looking for, but that’s a small ding on an otherwise stellar showing for this Editors’ Choice pick among gaming CPUs, alongside the also-great budget-model Ryzen 3 3300X.
The AMD Ryzen 5 5600X Specs: The Zen 3 Midrange Pick
To start, if you’d like a deeper dive into all the improvements that AMD has made to its newest line of desktop CPUs in the Zen 3 launch, we recommend checking out our comprehensive review of the Ryzen 9 5900X.
But as a situational summary, here’s a quick overview of the specs for the Zen 3 midrange desktop stack of Ryzen 5000-series CPUs, as well as a reminder of the previous-generation chips they’re set to replace. On the second tab, you’ll find our comparison to Intel’s closest offerings from its 10th and 9th Generation lines…
The $299 six-core/12-thread AMD Ryzen 5 5600X lands in the arena as the company’s lowest-end Zen 3 option, just behind the $449 eight-core/12-thread Ryzen 7 5800X. As with the rest of the Zen 3 launch, the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X is priced $50 higher than its predecessor was at the time of launch.
The sting of $50 worth of price creep doesn’t hurt as much when discussing top-end options like the $749 AMD Ryzen 9 5950X (up from the $699 launch MSRP of the Ryzen 9 3950X, a difference of 7%). But at this cost tier of CPU, the $50 difference between the AMD Ryzen 5 3600X and 5600X (a 20% increase) could be the make-or-break marker for a lot of PC builders’ budgets.
That isn’t the only change from Zen 2 to Zen 3, however. Since it is a gaming-focused CPU, the move to a single eight-core core complex (CCX) design in Zen 3 gives the 5600X a leg up over the Ryzen 5 3600X. In the Ryzen 5 3600X, the processor was split between two four-core CCXs, made up of two dual-core core chiplet dies (CCDs) each, with one CCX disabled in the second CCD.
Having the cores spread across two CCDs meant that there was increased travel time for any tasks that utilized all six cores at once, which, for example, games like GTA V and titles in the Civilization series are both known for. By that same note, lightly threaded titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Rainbow Six: Siege both suffered slightly on the Ryzen 5 3600X and on the follow-up refresh in the Zen 2 stack, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600XT, due to increased latency.
No more, though. Now that all the cores of the Ryzen 5 5600X have been centralized into a single CCX design, AMD’s engineers have reduced the travel time between cores and decreased the latency at the same time.
But it’s not all roses for Zen 3 here. Though the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X makes many architectural improvements from Zen 2 that lend themselves especially well to gaming performance, the company still hasn’t included any form of integrated graphics on its midrange entries. It’s at this price tier where options like the Intel Core i5-10600K can double as both the main CPU and GPU for lower-end systems or buyers on a budget, especially if the only games they plan to play are a bit more forgiving on integrated graphics, like Fortnite or CS:GO.
Compared with Intel, though, AMD’s track record for socket compatibility is more favorable toward gamers who are trying to watch their budget and still get the most power out of their build as possible. As of this writing, prospective Ryzen 5 5600X owners can use an X570 or B550 AMD board with the Zen 3 chips with a BIOS update, and many X470 and B450 motherboards should get BIOS updates to work with Zen 3 CPUs in early 2021.
Not only that, but unlike Intel in some cases, AMD has continued to bundle its midrange and low-end CPUs with coolers, this time including the Wraith Stealth cooler in every Ryzen 5 5600X box. Now, it should be noted that we tested the Ryzen 5 5600X on a 280mm closed-loop liquid cooling system, which could easily be categorized as “overkill” for a six-core option. It’s the standard gear we use on our AMD AM4 testbed. But speaking of testing hardware…
Testing the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X: Is This the Zen 3 Sweet Spot?
For our test setup, we installed the Ryzen 5 5600X into an MSI MEG X570 Godlike AM4 motherboard (our standard test platform for latest-generation Ryzens) and populated two of the DIMM slots with 16GB of memory set at 3,000MHz. An Nvidia GeForce GTX 2080 Tihandled video output during the CPU tests. (Like other Ryzen desktop chips not ending in “G,” these first four Zen 3-based Ryzens do not have on-chip graphics, so a video card is necessary.) We used an NZXT Kraken Z63 280mm closed-loop liquid cooling solution to keep the chip cool during all our benchmark runs, with fan profiles set to the default of our Godlike’s BIOS settings.
We test CPUs using a variety of synthetic benchmarks that offer proprietary scores, as well as real-world tests using consumer apps like 7-Zip, and 3D games such as Far Cry 5. Included in the charts below is a variety of like-priced competing and sibling AMD and Intel CPUs.
Note: The benchmark results we’ve used for the purposes of this review are not the first we recorded. During the course of testing the Ryzen 5 5600X, AMD had to send us a second Ryzen 5 5600X sample to benchmark, as the first we benched posted numbers that were up to 30% slower than expectations. The following results are what we saw after swapping out the old (pre-launch, faulty) Ryzen 5 5600X sample and replacing it with a new chip we received roughly a month after the initial rollout of Zen 3 (December 2020).
CPU-Centric Tests: A Reliable Mid-Stack Workhorse
Though the Ryzen 5 5600X isn’t really intended to stand as the star of AMD’s productivity lineup in Zen 3 (that honor goes to the 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X, for now), let’s see how it fared during various content creation tasks and brute-force benchmarks like 7-Zip…
The AMD Ryzen 5 5600X comes out of our benchmarking suite with an overall first-place finish in its price class, though that lead perhaps isn’t as pronounced as the company might have been hoping for. The 5600X doesn’t beat Intel’s Core i5-10600K by the same dominating percentage that AMD’s higher-core count processors do over their respective competition (in the case of the Ryzen 9 5900X versus the Core i9-10900K, for example), especially in single-core runs like iTunes.
That said, it still comes out well ahead in every other run when compared with both Intel’s i5-10600K, and AMD’s higher-end options from last generation like the Ryzen 7 3800XT. On POV-Ray all-core, the Ryzen 5 5600X manages to keep pace with the eight-core Ryzen 7 3800XT, just barely missing the mark but still posting a respectable result.
It’s clear from these results that the improvements from Zen 2 up to Zen 3 don’t just benefit gamers. And even though we’re more likely to recommend the Ryzen 7 5800X to budding content creators or productivity hounds, the Ryzen 5 5600X still holds its own against both Intel and previous-gen AMD chips in enough benchmarks to warrant a double-take if money is tight.
Gaming in the Midrange: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X Frame Rates
Now, to focus on the area where the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X is tuned to perform at its best: PC gaming, especially at popular resolutions like 1080p, where the CPU comes to the fore in some titles.
Here’s what we saw in our bank of gaming tests with our GeForce RTX 2080 Ti card running the show. This top-end consumer graphics card is the primary arbiter of performance at 4K with all of the CPUs that we have laid out below. At 1080p, though, the card gets out of the way a bit more and lets the CPU differences shine.
When the AMD Ryzen 7 5800X achieved a staggering result of 699fps in CS:GO, I didn’t think our testbed could go much further than that. With CPUs, I am still testing on an RTX 2080 Ti, after all, so the theoretical limit of frame rates for that card in particular had to be somewhere in sight.
Well, as the gamer of the bunch, the Ryzen 5 5600X just had to put down its stamp with a new record, 727fps, at our test settings. This is higher than both the $549 Ryzen 9 5900X and the $488 Intel Core i9-10900K, and it showcases the insights of AMD’s engineers in their best light. In fact, there were only a couple of instances where the Intel Core i9-10900K outright beat the Ryzen 5 5600X in gaming frame rates, and more often than not the Core i9-10900K is practically tied at 1080p to a chip nearly that’s 40% less expensive at MSRP (not including the price of upgrading to an LGA 1200 motherboard).
The tests with older games set this tale in stone. Not only does the Ryzen 5 5600X edge out the Intel Core i5-10600K in several titles (an expected result), but it also stays in line with the much pricier Core i9-10900K often enough to put a significant dent in Intel’s strategy to sell the “best gaming processors you can buy.”
Strictly as a budget gaming engine, though, the $120 AMD Ryzen 3 3300X frees up a hefty chunk of cash that could get shifted to a better graphics card or another stick of RAM without a ton of frame loss. It’s behind the Ryzen 5 5600X in most of our 1080p runs, but at less than half the price (if you can find one in stock!), it holds its own as a viable option if you’re looking for a better balance between the power of the CPU and GPU in the case of 1440p or 4K gaming.
A Brief Look at Overclocking and Thermals
In our testing, when overclocking or at stock, the Ryzen 5 5600X never went above 74 degrees C, which is actually a smidge hotter than what we’ve seen on other, higher-core count models in the Zen 3 launch stack like the Ryzen 9 5900X (71 degrees C), or the Ryzen 7 5800X (69 degrees C). After seeing these higher results, I decided to stray from the testing path a bit, extending into some game benchmarks to see if those temperatures held. (Our normal run utilizes a 10-minute CPU-Z stress test of all the cores.)
During runs of Rainbow Six: Siege, the chip stuck around a more reasonable 70 degrees C. If you’re only planning to use the Ryzen 5 5600X as your main gaming workhorse (and in most cases, that’s a great fit for it), its temperature profile falls more in line with expectations.
Finally, on our overclocking trials, we were able to achieve a stable overclock of roughly 20%, a huge margin that reflects what we’ve seen across the rest of the Zen 3 stack thus far.
However, in those cases, the higher boost-clock ceilings didn’t always translate to real-world gains in performance. The Ryzen 5 5600X saw similar behavior, posting results that were only about 5% faster in gaming or content-creation tasks.
And this, mind you, was on the likely best-case-scenario big liquid cooler in our testbed. If you really need the extra oomph, a Ryzen 7 5800X on a stock cooling fan would be a better investment than this Ryzen 5 plus a three-figure liquid cooler.
Verdict: The Best PC Gaming You Can Get
The Ryzen 5 5600X is a six-core shredder that smooths over the last of the few flaws we saw from Zen 2 and the Ryzen 5 3600X, and it solidifies AMD as the premier desktop CPU manufacturer of 2020 in every way. It’s a monster for gaming in 1080p, runs at a lower TDP than the competition, is backward-compatible with older motherboards (or likely will be soon, depending on your board’s manufacturer), and comes with a bundled cooler as the CPU cherry on top.
The AMD Ryzen 5 5600X does just enough to separate itself from its predecessor to justify the price creep we’ve seen across every Zen 3 CPU so far. And its lower power requirements, combined with the higher boost core clock of its predecessor, make it a worthy upgrade for anyone who wants the bleeding edge of what Zen 3 can do in gaming.
The eight-core/16-thread AMD Ryzen 7 5800X still wins in select benchmarks as the best CPU for a combination of gaming and robust productivity. But overall, if you’re just looking to game, the Ryzen 5 5600X offers up record-setting value in a way that only AMD can to close out 2020. Created with Sketch.
- Strong performance in content creation and productivity tasks
- Dominance in gaming benchmarks
- Low TDP
- Compatible with Socket AM4
- High overclock ceiling
The Bottom Line
AMD’s cheaper Ryzen 3 3300X remains a stellar value among gaming CPUs, but the Ryzen 5 5600X is enough of a brute at its midrange price to make it the best pure gaming CPU of the year.