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AMD's Ryzen 3 1300X and Ryzen 3 1200 CPUs reviewed

Zen for everyone

AMD's CPU division is on a roll. Excuse me while I pinch myself, but the company's Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 5 CPUs (as well as its Epyc server chips) have breathed fresh competition into what was until quite recently a stagnant x86 CPU market. AMD has further promised that its Threadripper high-end desktop platform will launch early next month, apparently far ahead of Intel's higher-core-count Core i9 chips.

This morning, however, AMD's attention is on the entry-level end of the CPU market. The Ryzen 3 1300X and Ryzen 3 1200 chips launching today demonstrate the scalability of the basic eight-core, two-core-complex (CCX) die that underpins Ryzen and Epyc CPUs. To make Ryzen 3s, AMD disables two of the four cores on each CCX, turns off simultaneous multi-threading, and halves the amount of L3 on board to get four-core, four-thread chips. With those resources at their disposal, the Ryzen 3 1200 and Ryzen 3 1300X seem like ideal competitors for Intel's various Kaby Lake Core i3s and their pairs of Hyper-Threaded cores.

Model Cores Threads Base clock Boost clock Two-core
boost clock
L3 cache TDP Price
Ryzen 5 1600X 6 12 3.6 GHz 4.0 GHz ??? 100 MHz 16MB 95W $249
Ryzen 5 1600 3.2 GHz 3.6 GHz 50 MHz 65W $219
Ryzen 5 1500X 4 8 3.5 GHz 3.7 GHz 200 MHz $189
Ryzen 5 1400 3.2 GHz 3.4 GHz 50 MHz 8MB $169
Ryzen 3 1300X 4 4 3.4 GHz 3.6 GHz 3.7 GHz 200 MHz $129
Ryzen 3 1200 3.1 GHz 3.1 GHz 3.4 GHz 50 MHz $109

The end result of all that trimming looks a lot like the difference between the four-core, eight-thread Ryzen 5 1500X and its Ryzen 5 1400 stablemate. The $130 Ryzen 3 1300X starts out at a 3.4 GHz base clock, and it promises a 3.6 GHz all-core boost clock and a 3.7 GHz two-core boost clock. It tops out with 200 MHz of XFR headroom when load and thermals allow, possibly yielding speeds of up to 3.9 GHz in bursty workloads. Those appealing clocks are similar to those of other X chips in the Ryzen family.

The Ryzen 3 1200 offers somewhat less appealing specs. This $110 chip has a 3.1 GHz base clock, a 3.1 GHz all-core boost speed, a 3.4 GHz two-core boost speed, and 50 MHz of XFR on top. Like other non-X Ryzens before it, the Ryzen 3 1200 seems most appealing to overclockers who aren't going to want or need AMD's SenseMI voltage-and-frequency-scaling magic. Builders can tweak both the Ryzen 3 1300X and Ryzen 3 1200X to their hearts' content thanks to the chips' unlocked multipliers. Both chips come with AMD's compact Wraith Stealth cooler in the box.

There's one major challenge for Ryzen 3 beyond mere performance parity, however. No matter what, Ryzen 3 builders (or system integrators) will need a discrete graphics card to make a complete PC. Even if they don't fancy gaming, end users will need to shell out anywhere from about $40 to $70 on a low-end discrete graphics chip, and they'll need to spend at the top end of that range to get a part with any sort of modern provenance.

Intel-fancying folks need not endure any such headache. As we've come to expect from the blue team's parts since Sandy Bridge, builders can drop any Kaby Lake Pentium or Core i3 into any Intel motherboard with video outputs to enjoy a machine that's ready to rumble at no extra cost. AMD says buyers who don't want the hassle of using a discrete graphics card should consider its now-available-at-retail Bristol Ridge APUs, but those chips hardly seem like appealing Core i3 alternatives at this point.

Regardless of how much they've been tweaked and optimized, Bristol Ridge APUs still trace their CPU cores' heritage through the maligned Piledriver and Bulldozer "modules," and we already know that Zen handily outpaces a representative of that architecture from our Ryzen 7 testing. Bristol Ridge parts will surely lessen that gap, but we're betting they won't come anywhere close to closing it.

On top of our own experience with AMD's construction cores in 2017, we know that Ryzen APUs are slated for release in the second half of this year. Even within the thermally-constrained mobile market, AMD is promising 50% better CPU performance and 40% higher integrated graphics performance from its Ryzen Mobile APUs with Zen cores and Vega graphics compared to its Bristol Ridge mobile parts. It's not a stretch to imagine similar APUs will eventually find their way into the AM4 socket, and they would seem to be vastly superior to Bristol Ridge. If you want an AMD APU to power a basic desktop or HTPC, it seems wise to wait.

Now that we know all that there is to know about the Ryzen 3 lineup so far, let's dive into performance testing.