After launching the high-end Ryzen 7 line of PC CPUs in March to somewhat mixed reviews, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD 2.67%) is now taking a crack at the mainstream portion of the market. Ryzen 5, comprised of four CPUs featuring either four or six cores, is aimed at Intel's (INTC 1.25%) Core i5 family of chips. Priced between $169 and $249, Ryzen 5 offers more cores and threads than Intel's comparable chips. But the same trade-off that made Ryzen 7 a mixed bag persists: Single-threaded performance is a weakness for Ryzen, and AMD's pricing may not be aggressive enough to overcome that issue.
A look at Ryzen 5
The highest-end Ryzen 5 chip, the 1600X, is priced at $249, offering six cores and 12 threads. The 1600X is essentially the Ryzen 1800X with two cores and $150 lopped off, making it a good budget option for those who use applications that can take advantage of that many threads. Like the 1800X, though, the 1600X falls short when single-threaded performance is important.
The 1600 also has six cores and 12 threads, but it comes with a lower clock speed and a $219 price tag. The 1500X and 1400 both come with four cores and eight threads priced at $189 and $169, respectively, with the 1400 having a lower clock speed and half as much L3 cache as the rest of the Ryzen 5 lineup.
The competition is Intel's Core i5 line of chips. All of Intel i5 chips come with at most four cores, and those quad-core chips don't support hyperthreading, meaning that the number of threads is equal to the number of cores. All the Ryzen 5 chips have a major advantage when it comes to multithreaded performance due to this discrepancy -- the same story that played out with Ryzen 7.
Good at some things, not so good at others
Like Ryzen 7, Ryzen 5 is at an inherent disadvantage when it comes to single-threaded performance. In its review of Ryzen 5, Anandtech puts that disadvantage at about 10% to 15%. The upside is that the two higher-end Ryzen 5 chips have 50% more cores and triple the threads compared to Intel's i5 chips.
In situations where single-threaded performance matters greatly, like opening PDF documents and in games that don't make great use of more than a few cores, Ryzen 5 gets trounced by Intel's Core i5 chips. The i5-7600 is 16.7% faster at opening a PDF document than the 1600X, according to Anandtech's review, a difference that will be noticeable to users.
Ryzen 5 falls well behind in some games. Anandtech's test of Rise of the Tomb Raider has the 1600X with a 28% lower frame rate at a 1080p resolution. That gap disappears at a 4K resolution, but that's only because the GPU becomes the bottleneck.
Ryzen 5 fares far better in other games, though, thanks to its core count advantage. Anandtech's Civilization 6 benchmark has the 1600X well ahead of the i5-7600 at both 1080p and 4K resolutions. When it comes to gaming, Ryzen 5 seems to be more competitive than Ryzen 7, which was beat by cheaper Intel chips in most gaming benchmarks.
Ryzen 5 shines in applications that can make full use of its cores. Applications like compressing files, encoding video, and 3D rendering all benefit greatly from a higher core count. Anandtech's 7-Zip compression benchmark, for example, has the 1600X scoring nearly 90% higher than the i5-7600. Ryzen 5 is the runaway winner for these types of applications.
Pricing might be a problem
The 1600X priced at $249 is a no-brainer for users that benefit from more cores. But as a mainstream gaming CPU, the 1600X is more of a mixed bag. Intel's i5-7600 is priced around $213, and the unlocked i5-7600K sells for around $242. The cheaper Intel chips outperform the 1600X in quite a few games, although they get beat in some CPU-intensive titles.
AMD's pricing isn't very disruptive, especially considering that Ryzen 5 is at a disadvantage when it comes to everyday tasks that benefit from better single-threaded performance. The 1600X is certainly a viable alternative to Intel's chips, but it comes with a lot of trade-offs and a higher price. If AMD's goal is to win back considerable market share from Intel, it will likely need to do better than this.