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AMD's Ryzen 5 1600X and Ryzen 5 1500X CPUs reviewed, part one

Getting our game on

AMD is wasting no time filling out its Ryzen CPU lineup. Just a little over a month ago, the company's eight-core, 16-thread Ryzen 7 CPUs roared into the high-end desktop market, where they delivered a huge boost in bang for the multithreaded buck. Today, the company's Ryzen 5 CPUs take the fight to the $170-to-$250 price range, also known as the meaty middle of the CPU market. AMD's strategy here is the same as it's been for many years: offer more cores and threads than Intel does for the money. This time around, though, the Zen architecture's much-improved IPC and competitive power efficiency could offer much more steak to go with the sizzle.

The two Ryzen 5 CPUs I have on the bench today—the Ryzen 5 1500X and the Ryzen 5 1600X—are the highest-performing members of a quartet of Ryzen 5 chips. The Ryzen 5 1500X offers four cores and eight threads for $189, while the Ryzen 5 1600X offers six cores and 12 threads for $249. AMD will also offer lower-priced variants of each of these CPUs with lower clocks and less XFR headroom. The Ryzen 5 1600 takes a 400-MHz haircut across the board, and AMD slices $30 off the price tag of the 1600X for the trouble. The Ryzen 5 1400, in turn, loses 300 MHz of pre-Extended Frequency Range (XFR) clock speed and costs $20 less than the 1500X.

Model Cores Threads Base clock Boost clock L3 cache XFR TDP Price
Ryzen 5 1600X 6 12 3.6 GHz 4.0 GHz 16MB Yes 95W $249
Ryzen 5 1600 3.2 GHz 3.6 GHz 65W $219
Ryzen 5 1500X 4 8 3.5 GHz 3.7 GHz $189
Ryzen 5 1400 3.2 GHz 3.4 GHz 8MB $169

To make a Ryzen 5 CPU from the full eight-core die that underpins the Ryzen 7 family, AMD symmetrically shuts off cores across the pair of core complexes (or CCXes) on that die to reach the desired resource complement. In the case of the Ryzen 5 1600 series, that means one core in each CCX is disabled, but the chip retains all 16MB of its L3 cache. The Ryzen 5 1500X loses two cores per CCX to the silicon scythe, but it still keeps all 16MB of L3 from the full die. The Ryzen 5 1400 takes the deepest cuts of the bunch: in addition to losing two cores per CCX, the amount of L3 cache per CCX is halved to 4MB, for 8MB in total.

As we hinted at a moment ago, AMD's Extended Frequency Range (XFR) returns on the Ryzen 5 series. Depending on the cooling apparatus one straps on top of a Ryzen 5 1600X, that CPU will run at up to 4.1 GHz Turbo speeds in lightly-threaded workloads, and it can clock up to 3.7 GHz under heavier load. The Ryzen 5 1500X features the most aggressive XFR implementation that AMD has yet shipped. That chip can take advantage of up to 200 MHz of XFR headroom for a 3.9 GHz maximum Turbo speed and a 3.7 GHz all-core speed. The 1600X's 95W TDP might give it more leeway to hit its XFR speeds compared to the 65W 1500X, however.

As Intel has done with its recent unlocked Core i5s, AMD won't be including a boxed cooler with the Ryzen 5 1600X as part of the bargain. The company did send along one of its Wraith Max coolers as part of the press kit we received, but the rank and file will be on their own for finding an adequate CPU cooler. The Ryzen 5 1500X comes with AMD's fairly hefty Wraith Spire cooler right in the box, however.

Now, for some bad news. While I expect exciting numbers from the Ryzen 5 1500X and Ryzen 5 1600X in our productivity benchmarks, those numbers will have to wait for a little bit. I've been battling a severe case of the flu since the middle of last week, so testing and writing for this review has been slow going. After some deliberation, I decided to go ahead and publish gaming benchmarks for the Ryzen 5 family first. I expect that many builders shopping for a CPU in this price range are more interested in a gaming PC than an all-out workstation, so I wanted to get this vital information out the door rather than publish nothing at all this morning. We'll have full productivity numbers for the Ryzen 5 chips soon, but for now, let's get our game on.