How to Choose an AMD CPU

Choose Amd Cpu Featured

In the last few years, AMD has launched some awesome CPUs. Names like Ryzen 3 and Ryzen 5 hint at the idea that they’re equivalent to Intel i3 and Intel i5.

And that’s true, for the most part. But this won’t be an article about AMD vs Intel. Instead, it will be a guide about how to buy the best AMD CPU for your usage. And just like it doesn’t make sense to buy a super car just to go grocery shopping, it doesn’t make sense to buy a 16 core AMD Ryzen Threadripper for casual web browsing or office work. And, contrary to what some might believe, it is often not the best choice for gaming either, and you will see why later in this article.

How to Understand AMD CPU Names

The first part of the name is easy enough to understand. You can consider it another way to say, entry-level, mid-level, high-end and so on.

  • Ryzen 3 groups CPUs with low-end performance, specifications and features. At the time of writing, these models come with four cores.
  • Ryzen 5 groups CPUs for the mid-end segment. They have four or six cores and a maximum of twelve processing threads.
  • Ryzen 7 signals the entry into the high-end performance segment. The CPUs come with eight cores and sixteen threads.
  • Ryzen 9 are the top of the high-end lineup, above Ryzen 7 CPUs. They have twelve or sixteen cores and a maximum of thirty-two threads.
  • Ryzen Threadripper may be considered above Ryzen 9, but it’s not a valid comparison, and you’ll see why later on. These CPUs come with eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty-four, and thirty-two cores, recently. The number of threads is double the number of CPU the model has.
Choose Amd Cpu Ryzen 5 Cpu

How to Interpret AMD CPU Model Number

Consider the following model: AMD Ryzen 7 3800X. What does “3800X” mean?

  • The first digit, “3,” tells you the generation number. So “3800X” is a third generation CPU, an improved version of the first and second generations.
  • The second digit, “8,” tells you the performance level. This means that 3800 performs better than a 3700. Usually, models with 6 to 9 as the second digit are found in desktop CPUs and below 6 are found in laptops since they consume less power but also perform worse.
  • The next two digits may signal minor differences such as slight increases in the frequency they operate.
  • The last suffix, “X” in this case, is optional.
    • X signals high-performance, higher clock speeds than the equivalent model without an X suffix.
    • G signals low-power desktop with integrated GPU.
    • H signals higher-power mobile device, e.g., laptop. (“high power” might suggest performance, but they’re still slower than standard desktop CPU.)
    • U signals standard power lower clocked, for mobile devices
    • M signals very low-power consumption, which also means very low performance.

What AMD CPU Is Best for You?

To answer this question, you first have to decide what kind of workload you throw at your computer most often.

Choose Amd Cpu Ryzen 4

To browse the Web, watch YouTube, Netflix and such, a Ryzen 3 is more than enough. If you are getting a laptop, though, try to pick a Ryzen 5, since the power-efficient processors are so much slower than the ones for desktops.

How to Choose Best AMD CPU for Gaming

If you play games, a high clock speed for the CPU is much more important than the core count. You should aim for at least six cores and then look for the CPU with the highest number of GHz you can find and afford. You might also focus on models with the “X” suffix, as those have increased clock speeds over the base models. The Threadripper series might seem like the best choice for gaming, but it isn’t since most of those models have lower clock speeds when compared to the best CPUs in the Ryzen 7 or 9 series.

You can read more about why CPU clock speed matters in games, in the last part of this article. An easy way to find a gaming CPU is to consult this list of processors that currently have the best benchmark results in single-thread performance.

Choose Amd Cpu Single Thread Benchmarks

You can see in the above picture how one of the best choices for a gaming CPU on that date is Ryzen 5 3600X, because it’s by far the cheapest in the list with very similar performance to all the others. AMD Ryzen 7 3800X is much more expensive because it has more cores. But the two CPUs might get almost identical frame rates in a game like GTA V.

Best AMD CPUs for Content Creators

So when is Threadripper a good choice? When you need lots and lots of parallelism. This is the case for video editing, photography/graphics work, editing, producing and mixing music, and so on. You should also buy a Threadripper if you often use virtual machines. Additionally, they’re great if you intend to use the machine as a server.

Conclusion

Often, you will find two or three models at a similar price and won’t be sure which one to choose. In that case, just google something like “amd ryzen 3800x benchmark” and consult the result from “cpubenchmark.net,” as that will show you a total score (how all cores perform when splitting a big task into small tasks) and a single-thread score, how fast a single core is.

If money is tight, you can also buy a CPU that is one generation behind, as you won’t lose a lot of performance but will save a lot on cost.

Happy CPU hunting!

Image credits: Ilya Plekhanov @ Wikipedia and Fritzchens Fritz @ Flickr

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4 comments

  1. I do quite a bit of trans coding of video from one format to another, such as M2TS to MKV, etc. Mainly it’s so I can watch BR or DVD movies on my computer. My BR players also will accept videos on a usb drive for viewing on my TV. So I am interested in which processor is best suited for creating these files. It looks like from your article that I probably need to go with the Threadripper, although I’m not sure if trans coding (and video editing) speed would benefit from “parallelism”. I guess I need more information about this term, “parallelism”.

    1. Most types of video processing are multi-threaded, that is, split into multiple chains of execution that all work at the same time (in parallel). As an oversimplification, think of it this way: one core can process the upper half of the video, while the second core can process the lower half, at the same time. But in the case of a video game, when the player moves the mouse, he will move around his third person view of his character. As often as possible, the CPU has to capture how much the mouse moved, and how this changes the world view. After it calculates this, and other things, it has to send this data to the video card, as soon as possible, so that it can redraw the world. It cannot split this in two operations to do it faster, because it cannot know in advance how the player will move the mouse. It has to react quickly to the new input.

      In your case, data is known in advance, and codecs are usually made in such a way so that they can take advantage of multiple cores. Not sure if all codecs are like this but I bet almost all of them are these days.

      Maybe you can do a simple test? Start Task Manager, go to the Performance tab, CPU monitoring. You might also have to enable multi-core view with a right click on the graph->change graph to->logical processors. Then start to convert from one format to the other and check CPU usage on all cores. If all are maxed out, or almost maxed out, then you’re going to get the best results with a Threadripper with as many cores as your budget allows. Also pay attention to their turbo frequency. 12 cores @ 4.5GHz may perform better than 16 cores @3.8GHz. Also check Cinebench benchmarks.

  2. Thank you, Alexandru, for the information. It has answered all my questions. I was already aware of the mult-core view, and it, indeed, shows the cores all maxed when encoding. Thank you for confirming my thoughts on this. I have been considering building my own system for some time, but have yet to commit to it. I will keep this information on hand. I would also like to see more information about this, concerning motherboards and memory requirements. I need to do more research on the codec/multi-core relationship as well. Thanks again.

  3. No one has mentioned heat generated by AMD CPU’s. I have shied away from AMD as keep tabs on how hot my units are running and AMD CPU’s were running much hotter than Intel units with comparable CPU’s. As we all know, heat is a killer, but no one has mentioned (what I consider) to be an important factor in making these decisions.

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