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

Renee Johnson
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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.

 

Our testing methods
As always, we did our best to collect clean test numbers. For each of our benchmarks, we ran each test at least three times, and we’ve reported the median result. Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor AMD Ryzen 7 1800X AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
AMD Ryzen 5 1600X  
Motherboard Gigabyte Aorus AX370-Gaming 5
Gigabyte AB350-Gaming 3    
Chipset AMD X370 AMD B350
Memory size 16 GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type G.Skill Trident Z DDR4-3866 (rated) SDRAM
Memory speed 3200 MT/s
Memory timings 15-15-15-35 1T
System drive Intel 750 Series 400GB NVMe SSD

 

Processor Intel Core i5-2500K Intel Core i5-3570K
Motherboard Asus P8Z77-V Pro
Chipset Z77 Express
Memory size 16 GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance Pro Series DDR3 SDRAM
Memory speed 1866 MT/s
Memory timings 9-10-9-27 1T
System drive Corsair Neutron XT 480GB SATA SSD

 

Processor Intel Core i7-4690K Intel Core i7-6600K Intel Core i7-7600K Intel Core i7-7700K
Motherboard Asus Z97-A/USB 3.1 Gigabyte Aorus GA-Z270X-Gaming 8
Chipset Z97 Express Z270
Memory size 16 GB (2 DIMMs) 16 GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance Pro Series
DDR3 SDRAM
G.Skill Trident Z DDR4-3866 (rated) SDRAM
Memory speed 1866 MT/s 3200 MT/s
Memory timings 9-10-9-27 1T 15-15-15-35 2T
System drive Corsair Neutron XT 480GB SATA SSD Samsung 960 EVO 500GB NVMe SSD

They all shared the following common elements:

Storage 2x Corsair Neutron XT 480GB SSD
Discrete graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming
Graphics driver version GeForce 378.92
OS Windows 10 Pro with Creators Update
Power supply Corsair RM850x

Thanks to Corsair, Kingston, Asus, Gigabyte, Cooler Master, Intel, G.Skill, and AMD for helping us to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available.

Some further notes on our testing methods:

  • The test systems’ Windows desktops were set at a resolution of 1920×1080 in 32-bit color. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled in the graphics driver control panel.

  • Because Ryzen processors perform best with Windows’ “High Performance” power plan enabled, we’ve broken a long-standing tradition and switched on that plan for our Ryzen systems. Our Intel systems were left on the “Balanced” plan, since to our knowledge, it doesn’t interfere with performance from those CPUs.

In response to popular demand, we’re re-benching AMD’s Ryzen 7 1800X and Intel’s Core i7-7700K with identical DDR4 speeds: DDR4-3200 at 15-15-15-35 timings. For fun, we’ve also included numbers from our Core i5-2500K pushed to 4.9 GHz in our test results. You’ll see this configuration called out in our results as “Core i5-2500K (OC).” As with any overclock, your mileage may vary.

The tests and methods we employ are usually publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

 

Doom (OpenGL)
Doom likes to run fast, and especially so with a GTX 1080 pushing pixels. The game’s OpenGL mode is an especially hard test for keeping that beast of a graphics card fed. We cranked up all of Doom‘s eye candy at 1920×1080 and went to work with our usual test run in the beginning of the Foundry level.


As we’ve come to expect from testing Ryzen CPUS, Doom‘s OpenGL mode favors single-threaded grunt over broad-shoulderedness. While the Ryzen 5 1600X isn’t in contention for the highest average frame rate around, it turns in a 99th-percentile frame time on par with that of the much more expensive Ryzen 7 1800X. The Ryzen 5 1500X falls toward the back of the pack a bit, possibly thanks to its lower clock speeds.


These “time spent beyond X” graphs are meant to show “badness,” those instances where animation may be less than fluid—or at least less than perfect. The formulas behind these graphs add up the amount of time the GTX 1080 spends beyond certain frame-time thresholds, each with an important implication for gaming smoothness. The 50-ms threshold is the most notable one, since it corresponds to a 20-FPS average. We figure if you’re not rendering any faster than 20 FPS, even for a moment, then the user is likely to perceive a slowdown. 33 ms correlates to 30 FPS or a 30Hz refresh rate. Go beyond that with vsync on, and you’re into the bad voodoo of quantization slowdowns. 16.7 ms correlates to 60 FPS, that golden mark that we’d like to achieve (or surpass) for each and every frame. And 8.3 ms corresponds to 120 FPS, an even more demanding standard that Doom can easily meet or surpass on hardware that’s up to the task.

For this review, we’ve also added a button for the 6.94-ms mark, or 144 Hz. In combination with the GTX 1080, some of our CPUs have no trouble pushing frame rates that high in some of our test titles. We figure it’s worth diving in and seeing how well they do at this most demanding threshold.

None of the CPUs we tested have more than a trace of frames that would drop frame rates below 60 FPS, so it’s worth clicking over to the more demanding 8.3-ms plot to see what’s happening. The Ryzen 5 1600X trails only the Skylake and Kaby Lake chips here, while the 1500X performs about on par with our overclocked Core i5-2500K. At the 6.94 ms threshold, all of the Ryzen chips spend significantly more time working on tough frames than the Intel competition does.

 

Doom (Vulkan)


Doom‘s Vulkan renderer brings every CPU in this bunch more or less on par. Where only the highest-IPC chips of this bunch could push a 170-FPS average under Doom‘s OpenGL mode, Vulkan lets nearly all of them do it. Check out those remarkably consistent 99th-percentile frame times, as well.


As with Doom‘s OpenGL mode, none of the CPUs under test here spend more than a breath of time past the 16.7 ms mark. They all do an admirable job keeping under the 8.3 ms threshold, as well. We have to click over to the 6.94 ms mark to see any major differences in CPU performance here, and even then, the Ryzen 5s are right in the mix with Intel’s best.

 

Crysis 3
Although Crysis 3 is nearly four years old now, its lavishly detailed environments and demanding physics engine can still stress every part of a system. To put each of our CPUs to the test, we took a one-minute run through the grassy area at the beginning of the “Welcome to the Jungle” level with settings cranked at 1920×1080.


With our test settings, Crysis 3 really isn’t happy with just four threads at its disposal. Witness the huge gap in 99th-percentile frame times between the pure quad-core chips in this bunch, the Ryzen 5 1500X, and the higher-end chips. There’s some serious fuzz in our frame-time graphs, as well. The Ryzen 5 1600X offers serious value for the high-refresh Crysis 3 gamer on a budget, but the 1500X can’t quite keep up.


Our time-spent-beyond-X graphs reveal that the older Intel quad-cores spend a few seconds of our test run on frames that drop the instantaneous frame rate below 60 FPS. The Ryzen 5 1500X spends less than a third of a second on tough frames past that threshold, by comparison. The real action is happening at the 8.3 ms mark, however, where the Ryzen 5 1600X and the Ryzen 7 1800X trade blows with the Core i7-7700K for superiority. Despite its best efforts, the 1500X sits far back of its many-threaded counterparts here.

 

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
With its rich and geometrically complex environments, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided can prove a challenge for any CPU at high enough refresh rates. We recently tweaked our preferred recipe of in-game settings to put the squeeze on the CPU, and it’s proven quite the torture test.


Under these grueling conditions, the most powerful Ryzen CPUs finish mid-pack in our average-FPS measure, but they deliver better 99th-percentile frame times than the Skylake and Kaby Lake Core i5s by a hair. The Ryzen 5 1500X trails those same Core i5s by just a bit in that critical measure of smooth frame delivery. 


At the crucial 16.7-ms threshold, the older Intel CPUs spend anywhere from one to two seconds on tough frames that would drop us below 60 FPS. Flip over to the 8.3-ms mark, and the 1600X and 1800X are hanging right with the Core i5-6600K and i5-7600K in the fight to stay above 90 FPS. The Ryzen 5 1500X splits the difference between newer and older Core i5s with the overclocked Core i5-2500K. The Core i7-7700K is unquestionably superior to every other chip here when it comes to sustaining high frame rates, though.

 

Watch Dogs 2
Here’s a new addition to our CPU-testing suite. We heard through the grapevine that Watch Dogs 2 can occupy every thread one can throw at it, so we turned up the eye candy and walked through the forested paths around the game’s Coit Tower landmark to get our CPUs sweating.

 


Watch Dogs 2 gives the Ryzen 5 1600X plenty of room to stretch its legs. The six-core chip’s average frame rate is only a bit behind that of the Core i5-7600K, and its 99th-percentile frame time is on par with the Kaby chip’s. Meanwhile, the Ryzen 5 1500X can’t quite keep up with the Core i5-6600K.


The 16.7-ms mark is the most relevant threshold for seeing where tough frames crop up for these chips in Watch Dogs 2. The Ryzen 5 1600X, the i5-7600K, the 1800X, and the 7700K all chalk up negligible amounts of time processing work for those frames, while the 1500X makes the GTX 1080 spend about two seconds of our one-minute test run waiting. Still, that’s a much better result than even the overclocked i5-2500K turns in here.

 

Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V can still put the hurt on CPUs as well as graphics cards, so we ran through our usual test run with the game’s settings turned all the way up at 1920×1080. Unlike most of the games we’ve tested so far, GTA V favors a single thread or two heavily, and there’s no way around it with Vulkan or DirectX 12.


GTA V is a worst-case scenario of sorts for the Ryzen 5 CPUs. The 1600X, for its part, does an admirable job of keeping up with the i5-6600K and i5-7600K despite its clock-speed and IPC deficits. The Ryzen 5 1500X can’t keep the average frame rate as high, and its 99th-percentile frame time is noticeably worse than its beefier stablemates’.


It’s good news for the Ryzen 5s at our 16.7-ms threshold of “badness.” None of AMD’s midrange contenders spend any noticeable length of time on frames that would drop the instantaneous frame rate below that magical 60-FPS number. Flip over to the more demanding 8.3-ms mark, however, and the superior single-threaded performance of the Skylake and Kaby Lake chips asserts itself. Even so, the 1600X does pretty well here. Unfortunately, the 1500X looks pretty anemic by comparison.

 

The Division (DX11)
Tom Clancy’s The Division features a vast, open-world New York setting with tons of complex geometry and visual density. Informal testing showed that this rich world could take up most of the power of our quad-core CPUs, so we cooked up some test settings and trudged through the endless garbage bags on the game’s streets to see how it performed.


In its DirectX 11 mode, The Division exhibits downright weird performance. Part of this may be down to variance in the in-game environmental conditions at which we tested, despite our best efforts to keep things consistent. Weather and time of day can have a major effect on The Division‘s performance, so that might explain some of the chaos. Regardless, the game’s DirectX 11 render path seems to benefit from more per-core performance, at least up to a point. Problem is, the Ryzen CPUs are all on the wrong end of that criterion, so they all cluster at the back of the pack.


 

Using our time-spent-beyond-X graphs, we can see that the Ryzen CPUs spend about twice as much time as the recent Intel competition working on tough frames that drop the instantaneous rate below our golden 60 FPS yardstick. What’s weird is that the 1600X suffers the most, while the 1500X and 1800X are about on par with one another. We might need to retest The Division and see if these results continue to hold. For now, let’s take a look at the game’s performance under DirectX 12.

 

The Division (DX12)
 


With its DirectX 12 renderer engaged, a lot of the performance problems we saw from The Division disappear. Problem is, the Ryzen 5 CPUs both exhibit noticeable spikes in frame times that can often be felt as little hitches or judders during movement. Even so, the major improvement in both average frame rates and 99th-percentile frame times across the board make it well worth it to flip on the next-generation API in this game.


For the first time in a while, we have to start at the 50-ms mark as we begin our time-spent-beyond analysis for The Division‘s DX12 renderer. Here, you can see the collected milliseconds representing the little spikes I was talking about from some of the Ryzen CPUs. Moving down to the 33.3-ms threshold reveals more of those troublesome frames, but that’s about the end of any concerning data from this particular test. None of the CPUs spend an appreciable amount of time past 16.7 ms making the graphics card wait for work, and they all spend under 10 seconds past the 8.3-ms mark, as well. Were it not for those inexplicable little spikes, the Ryzen 5 chips would be excellent performers in The Division‘s DX12 mode.

 

Conclusions—for now
Let’s sum up the performance of our group of test CPUs using one of our famous value scatter plots. The best values in gaming smoothness from this group of chips will tend toward the upper left of the plot, where prices are lowest and performance is highest. To make this higher-is-better view of the data work, we’ve taken the geometric mean of the 99th-percentile frame times we recorded for each CPU and converted it into an FPS value.

Going by our latency-sensitive 99th-percentile-frame-time metric, the Ryzen 5 1600X falls right between Intel’s most modern Core i5s for delivered gaming smoothness. AMD needed to nail that spot in order to have a chance at taking back a slice of the mainstream CPU market, and it’s stuck the landing perfectly. The Ryzen 5 1600X gives gamers real choice at the $250 price point for the first time in several years.

In games like Grand Theft Auto V that care a lot about single-threaded performance, the 1600X doesn’t fall that far behind the Core i5-7600K, and titles that can take full advantage of the 1600X’s many threads let the Ryzen chip match or even handily beat the Kaby Lake quad-core. Our early tests suggest that the 1600X’s generous core and thread count will let it take a hefty lead outside of games, as well. Given those early results, I think AMD may have delivered the best bang-for-the-buck, do-it-all CPU so far this year.

The $189 Ryzen 5 1500X could also be an appealing CPU value for gamers, even if its performance isn’t quite as eyebrow-raising as that of the 1600X. The hot Ryzen quad-core only trails the Core i5-6600K by about 7% in our 99th-percentile-FPS metric, and it’ll sell for 20% less than the unlocked Skylake quad-core did at the height of its popularity. Unlike Intel’s unlocked quads (and the Ryzen 5 1600X), the 1500X will also be ready to go out of the box thanks to its included Wraith Spire cooler. Gamers considering this CPU will almost certainly pair it with a more modest graphics card than the GTX 1080 on our test bench, and it should serve as quite the solid foundation for an RX 480- or GTX 1060-powered gaming PC. We’ll have to finish running the 1500X through our productivity testing to really get a sense of whether this chip is worthy of consideration alongside the Core i5-7500 in more affordable midrange builds.

The biggest challenge for AMD in this market may be the unlocked Core i5 CPUs already in builders’ systems. Although we didn’t get to overclock every Core i5 on our test bench, pushing our Core i5-2500K to 4.9 GHz often let it deliver gaming performance on par with even the Ryzen 7 1800X (except in Watch Dogs 2 and Crysis 3, where the extra cores and threads of the higher-end Ryzens let them keep a wide lead). Not bad at all for a six-year-old CPU. Assuming their workloads allow for it, folks who haven’t overclocked their unlocked Core i5s yet may find it worthwhile to strap on a beefy cooler and get to tweaking instead of shelling out for a whole new rig.

We’re hard at work finishing up our non-gaming testing on this Ryzen 5 duo, but for now, the Ryzen 5 1600X seems like the Ryzen chip to get if you’re a gamer. Its high clock speeds and generous thermal envelope let it deliver gaming performance on par with that of the $500 Ryzen 7 1800X, and its six fast cores and 12 threads should let it offer plenty of performance in non-gaming tasks. If the 1600X delivers on its considerable potential in our productivity testing, it might even topple the Core i5-7600K as our Sweet Spot CPU recommendation in our System Guide. Stay tuned.

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