Is AMD Ryzen good for gaming? This has been a pretty common question since the initial launch of the Ryzen series in 2015. Even today, there can be legitimate debates launched when AMD fails to compete with Intel in some way. To properly answer the question, we need to dive into the details of how AMD has competed with Intel in the CPU space, in recent years ousting it as far as value for money goes.
AMD’s Meteoric Rise
First, let’s talk about why people think AMD CPUs aren’t good for gaming. There was a time when this was definitely true. The pre-Ryzen era of AMD was defined by a limited socket and constant re-use of the same basic CPU architecture for each generation.
Before Zen/Ryzen, the architecture that AMD released and iterated was called Bulldozer. Bulldozer’s big innovation when it launched in 2011 was superb multi-core performance. The issue was that games and most applications at the time weren’t particularly well-optimized to use multiple CPU cores yet. This was worsened when Intel had market-leading per-core CPU performance, which they didn’t lose for many years.
It goes to show how dangerous a fundamental CPU architecture rework can really be. Bulldozer definitely improved with its iterations, but it never caught up to Intel in gaming performance.
How the Ryzen Launch Changed That
Back in 2017, Ryzen and its new Zen architecture arrived just in time for AMD. Intel, having not been faced with competition in years, lazily refreshed their own architectures and increased their pricing pretty much on a whim.
When Ryzen launched, it absolutely blew away Intel in terms of price-for-performance in every range. Not only had multi-core improvements been further built upon, but single-core performance was now within swinging range of Intel’s, enough that Ryzen CPUs became good for gaming. In the case of game engines well-optimized for multiple cores, Ryzen 5 CPUs could even pull ahead of Intel Core i5 CPUs completely, making them the best if you were playing something like Crysis 3, with an industry-leading game engine.
Is AMD Ryzen Good For Gaming Today?
There are still games where Intel and AMD trade blows, but absolutely AMD Ryzen is good for gaming today! Newer generations of Ryzen have further improved upon single-core performance and pricing per core. As of mid-2021, the Ryzen 9 5900X pretty much dominates the more expensive Intel Core i9-11900K across the board.
Intel only maintains a marginal lead in games extremely reliant on single-thread performance, and even that has diminishing returns past 120 Hz gaming. Intel used to have a greater lead in that field, but today the margins are something like 5 FPS for $50-$100 more on the high end.
Now, let’s talk about Ryzen desktop CPUs that you can get for your own PC build.
The Best AMD CPUs For Gaming
Best Ryzen APU: Ryzen 5 5600G
- Cores: 6
- Threads: 12
- Rated Frequency: Up to 4.4 GHz
- Integrated Graphics: Vega
- Price: $270
The Ryzen 5 5600G is one of AMD’s latest, greatest desktop APUs.
The reason you would want to get an APU rather than a traditional gaming CPU like one of the ones listed below is that you can’t find a graphics card or don’t want to have to buy a cheap one you’ll get rid of anyway. An APU’s integrated graphics can serve as a great holdover, especially if you don’t mind playing at 720p and low/medium settings to get high framerates.
And once you’ve added a discrete GPU, if that’s the goal, you still have a fairly powerful, modern Ryzen CPU that’s on the same architecture as the other Ryzen 5000 CPUs. This CPU with a discrete GPU will be more than enough for pushing 120-144 FPS in the majority of games.
Is it not available? Consider the Ryzen 3 3200G, which has a similar integrated GPU but is still a decently powerful quad-core for 60 FPS gaming. It’s also much cheaper.
Best Budget Ryzen Gaming CPU: Ryzen 5 3600X
- Cores: 6
- Threads: 12
- Rated Frequency: 3.8 GHz (4.4GHz boost)
- Price: $250 approx.
Our previous AMD CPU in this position was the Ryzen 5 1600 AF, but that’s a good few years old now so we figured it was time for a refresh. And considering you get much better performance for much the same price with the 3600X, it was about time too!
The 3600X has excellent multi-threaded and single-threaded performance, beating Intel’s competing Core i5-9600K in terms of performance-per-dollar (though it’s just a little behind in terms of raw performance). While CPUs don’t usually directly boost FPS, a good CPU won’t hold a good GPU back from delivering maximum FPS, and with the 3600X you can expect largely unfettered performance for a great price.
There is no discrete GPU here, but more than enough raw CPU power for quality gaming if you bring the graphics card.
Best Mid-Range Ryzen Gaming CPU: Ryzen 5 5600X
- Cores: 6
- Threads: 12
- Rated Frequency: Up to 4.6 GHz
- Price: $300
The Ryzen 5 5600X is the ideal mid-range gaming CPU. It’s more than enough for pushing 144+ FPS in the latest games and should even push 2-300+ FPS in more lightweight titles (like Fortnite or CS:GO). Besides having 6 cores and 12 threads, what really sets the 5600X apart is its Zen 3 architecture, which even further improves on the already-impressive Zen 2 performance.
The single-core performance margin has never been thinner than with this generation of Ryzen CPUs, and once you balance for pricing, the 5600X becomes a nearly unbeatable gaming CPU.
Best High-End Ryzen Gaming CPU: Ryzen 7 5800X
- Cores: 8
- Threads: 16
- Rated Frequency: Up to 4.7 GHz
- Price: $370
The Ryzen 7 5800X is an AMD CPU for those who want to push the highest in-game framerates. While a higher-end Ryzen 9 CPU exists with double the cores, the actual performance difference it makes in modern games is absolutely minimal due to the limitations of current game engines.
Where an overkill Ryzen 9 5950X CPU would be useful for a gamer is when they are also a streamer, but truthfully, the Ryzen 7 should work pretty well for that purpose too (or your pre-existing, integrated video encoder on your graphics card).
At this point, you’re reaching the practical limit for raw CPU performance in modern games – and pretty sensibly, since the current-gen consoles are based on the older Zen 2 architecture with 8 cores but a much lower power limit and weaker GPU.
Get the Ryzen 9 if it catches your fancy or you anticipate doing more than just gaming. Otherwise, the Ryzen 7 5800X is the best place to stop when looking for the best AMD CPU for gaming.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How many CPU cores do I need for gaming?
If you’re trying to achieve 60 FPS in the latest games, a modern quad-core Ryzen 5 should do the trick for you. For higher framerates, you’ll want to go for a six-plus core processor with great single-core performance. Ryzen 7 should prove capable for 144 Hz and Ryzen 9 for 360 Hz and other high framerates.
2. Does multi-threading impact gaming performance?
In the majority of cases, no. Where it does, it’s only if you also happen to be streaming in the background or the game is just that well-optimized. In the rare scenarios where multi-threading is present, the improvement is rarely if ever over 5 to 10 percent for games.
3. Can I overclock a Ryzen CPU?
Yes! All Ryzen CPUs, on desktop and laptop, can be overclocked. Be careful on laptops due to thermal restrictions, though, and consider upgrading your cooling on desktop! Overclocking goes hand in hand with maintaining great cooling and maintenance of your PC.
4. What is an APU? Why should I get one?
An APU is AMD’s term for putting an integrated graphics chip on a CPU. There are also some fundamental differences that make APU performance tied to RAM speed, enabling more tangible improvements with RAM overclocking.
5. Are Intel CPUs better than AMD CPUs?
At the highest end of multi-core performance, it’s no question at all: AMD dominates with Threadripper. But that likely isn’t the kind of performance you’re looking for.
In the more realistic range of eight-core and under, Intel CPUs usually outright lose in pricing and only have marginal leads where they’re present.
That being said, it really depends on the pricing and availability. If you can’t get your hands on a Ryzen CPU, and often you can’t, then a competing Intel CPU can be a viable alternative. Plus, Intel’s integrated graphics performance is starting to catch up with that of Ryzen’s Vega-based APUs, though that may change once they start using RDNA2 instead. Don’t forget to check out this Intel vs. AMD article to see which CPU is better.
And that’s it! I hope this article helped you learn everything wanted to know about Ryzen CPUs. Let me know in the comments below if you have any more questions!
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