Hardware Talk: Gaming Processor Options in Mid-2020
The CPU market can be hard to navigate in this day and age. It feels like there’s a bevy of processors available, all with their unique naming schemes, sub-categories, and endless specifications. Most of which means very little to the end-consumer. Still, they offer vastly different performances and can heavily affect your entire gaming experience. Let’s go over what’s available (that’s worth buying) and break down which processor will give you the best performance per dollar!
But first, a bit of history!
For what feels like an eternity, Intel has been the only viable option in the CPU space. It wasn’t a battle as AMD didn’t have a product worthy of mentioning for the longest time. There were a couple of standout offerings way back when. Still, they paled in comparison to the blue giant whose name evoked respect and admiration and spoke volumes about performance, efficiency, and sheer power.
Intel dominated for so long that they stopped innovating. You don’t have the urge to push the envelope when you’re the only one with a product worth buying. Why invest the resources into research and development? They didn’t have a competitor and were repackaging the same tech repeatedly, with incremental improvements barely noticeable to the end-user.
AMD came out with their now legendary Ryzen series of processors a couple of years back, and things changed forever. They were imperfect products at the start, unexpectedly powerful but rough around the edges. They also seemed too good to be true as they offered insane performance for a fraction of the price. Years later, AMD refined their products and worked diligently to provide their consumers with the absolute best. Now, they’ve rightfully overtaken their age-old rival in quite emphatic fashion.
If you’re looking to build a computer (regardless if it’s for gaming or other workloads) and need a processor, look no further than AMD.
Intel v. AMD
While Intel processors still pack a punch, buying them just doesn’t make any sense. They’re almost always priced higher than equivalent AMD offerings while providing you with less bang for your buck. Most of them aren’t overclockable (except the models with the K suffix, which come at a hefty premium), they’re an outdated manufacturing process creates them. They’re compatible with only a single motherboard socket updated on a yearly or bi-yearly basis.
AMD, on the other hand, hit a home run with their AM4 socket. They made a promise to their users and, against all the odds, actually delivered.
If you purchased a B350 motherboard years ago, you’d still have a viable, well-rounded product. This motherboard allows its users to choose a CPU that best fits their needs across three entirely different processor generations. The B450 refresh allows for the same. It’ll also be compatible with the upcoming Ryzen 4000 processors, all created on a 7 nm manufacturing process. Intel will reach the same process by 2022, by which point AMD will be further ahead.
The story of Intel vs. AMD is the story of the rabbit and the turtle. The way things are unfolding is hugely beneficial to us, the end-users. There has never been a wider range of options to choose from, and frankly speaking, AMD is starting to compete with itself. All of their processors offer insane value for the asking price. Buyers who want to get the most bang for their buck will almost always choose between two Ryzen models. There’s no reason to go for Intel at this point as AMD has reached even their legendary single-core performance.
AMD v. AMD
This is where things get a lot more interesting. AMD has released many different processors over the last couple of years and, much like their age-old rival Intel, they’ve completely botched the naming schemes for the most part. The deeper you go, the less sense it all makes. Some processors are built on the Zen architecture, and some are Zen+, their latest ones are Zen 2. They all share the same socket (AM4). Still, not all motherboard chipsets are compatible. Their desktop and laptop offerings diverge in architecture and naming (for no concrete reason). It’s becoming harder to navigate this space if you’re a newcomer. Heck, it’s confusing even if you’re a grizzled IT aficionado.
The processors listed below are all fantastic in one way or another. They’ll surely meet your needs regardless of whether you’re a professional looking for ample processing power or someone who wants as many frames as possible.
Ryzen 5 1600AF (used) and 2600 (used) — The 1600AF and 2600 are by no means old, but AMD’s most recent releases overshadowed them. Still, they’re not that expensive and will provide you with insane value for the money. With six cores and twelve threads, they’re more than adequate for the latest and greatest titles and other workloads.
They were great for the asking price once they were released. They’re even better now when they can be found used on the aftermarket for even less. Frankly speaking, with a 1600AF or 2600, you won’t need to think about your processor, even though there are more powerful options. It’s better that you invest that price delta in a better graphics card. Maybe something from AMD, with Godfall and World of Warcraft: Shadowlands thrown in to sweeten the deal?
You’re probably wondering: what’s the difference between the 1600AF and 2600? Well, they’re the same processor with the 1600AF running at slightly lower clock speeds. If you can find one or the other, don’t hesitate. They’re phenomenal options even though they’ve been superseded by the Ryzen 5 3600.
Ryzen 5 3600 — The 3600 has quickly become the go-to recommendation for an all-around fantastic processor for gaming, content creation, content consumption, and anything in between. With six cores and twelve threads, it is well-equipped for any task you might throw its way. You can even overclock it and squeeze out even more performance free of charge (with 4.4 Ghz on all cores being well within reach, given that you have a good enough cooler). There’s nothing bad about it, which is why it’s one of the most popular processors today. It’s also your best option if you’re looking to game at 1440p compared to 2600, with gains up to 20% depending on the resolution, title, and graphics card.
With a price tag that goes between $160 and $200 depending on your area, it’s not exactly the most budget-friendly option. It is, however, something that you can buy and not think twice. If you have the money and want the best in this price category, look no further than the 3600.
Tip: It does run a bit toasty, so make sure to pair it with a solid aftermarket cooler, and you’ll be good to go. If you’re tech-savvy, you can undervolt it a bit for even better performance and thermals. These things might sound a bit overwhelming, but they’re not that hard. There’s more than enough content online that’ll guide you along the way!
Ryzen 3300X — The 3300X is a fascinating beast. For gaming, it’ll perform as well as the 3600, and it’ll even surpass it in certain scenarios. This is nothing to scoff at, especially given that it costs less ($129.99 at the time of this writing). It is a 4 core 8 thread processor that’s perfectly suitable for gaming and, frankly, anything else you might throw at it. If you’re someone who needs a beastly CPU for other workloads (think streaming, editing, rendering, etc.), then the 3600 is the clear winner as it packs more cores and threads underneath the hood. Whether you need all that horsepower is less critical, it’s good to futureproof your gear whenever possible.
The 3300X is much better than its cheaper alternative (Ryzen 3 3100) because of its higher clock speeds and its internal core layout, which results in much lower latency and yields better results across the board. It’ll run a bit hotter, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off, especially seeing how many top-notch aftermarket coolers go for $20-30.
And don’t let the “Ryzen 3” moniker fool you. This is every inch a powerhouse and will blow you away with its performance.
Finally, if you can find a used Ryzen CPU from a trustworthy dealer, you can save quite a bit of money by buying used instead of new. Most of these processors will still be under warranty, and seeing how overclocking is safe and easy these days, there’s almost no chance you’ll wind up with a bad CPU. Processors, in general, rarely malfunction these days, so there’s nothing to fret. Just make sure none of its pins underneath are bent as that can happen if handled recklessly.
What About the Motherboard?
AM4 motherboards that carry the B450 tag will provide you with the absolute best bang for your buck. They’re compatible with all current Ryzen processors and will accept even the upcoming Ryzen 4000 series once each manufacturer releases a BIOS update. They’re cheap; they can be bought in different formats, are great for overclocking (not as good as the X570 chipset but still more than sufficient), and have all the bells and whistles you could crave.
If you want peace of mind (futureproofing and all), going for B550 would be your best option, although that’ll come at a (relatively acceptable) premium.
Why the Hype?
A lot of people are excited about AMD’s Ryzen processors of both the desktop and laptop variety. There’s a very good reason why that’s the case, and we’ll explain why — without any of the overwhelming technical jargon and lingo that can make your head spin.
AMD is years ahead of Intel in terms of processor manufacturing and integrated graphics, and they’re also willing to sell their products at incredibly low prices. Because their processors are designed and created using a much more nuanced process, AMD has turned the CPU market. This means their processors have more cores, more threads. They don’t run as hot, which means you don’t need a beefy cooling solution. Because they don’t thermally throttle as much (if at all) when compared to Intel they can sustain much higher base and boost frequencies, which will directly affect performance (both in the short and long term). AMD has the superior product. They’re selling it for a fraction of the cost we’re used to seeing from Intel.
Talk about an ingenious strategy, a coup de grâce for the ages.
If you need a top-tier processor for gaming and standard PC work, you can go for the Ryzen 5 3600. If you want an ultraportable laptop that can handle any task and do some light esports gaming on the side, you have the Ryzen 5 4500U. If, on the other hand, you’re into heavy video/3D work and need those extra cores and processing power, you can always purchase the mind-blowing 3900X or 3950X. AMD has a processor for every scenario and workload. They’re all much more affordable when compared to what Intel has to offer.
The tables have turned. The Intel we once knew is no more. “The king is dead! Long live the king!”