AMD and Intel have been going back and forth for decades, but now, AMD is starting to maintain a lead. In 2021, AMD’s Ryzen 5000 processors are the best option for building a computer, not only for gaming, but for productivity, too. From a processor under $100 to a processor nearing $1,000, here are the best AMD processors available in 2021.
“Available” is a strong word at the moment, though. Ryzen 5000 processors are out of stock at most retailers. Brick and mortar retailers, such as Micro Center, have slowly started restocking chips, however, so we should see more plentiful stock in a few months.
The best AMD processors at a glanceThe best entry-level AMD processor: Ryzen 3 3200G The best midrange AMD processor: Ryzen 5 5600X The best high-end AMD processor: Ryzen 9 5900X The most powerful AMD processor: Ryzen 9 5950X Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
AMD’s accelerated processing units (APU) have never offered much competition to midrange gaming hardware, but the latest Ryzen APU generation with Vega graphics are much more impressive. Our testing didn’t suggest they were going to overtake traditional processors with dedicated graphics anytime soon, especially if you’re trying to do anything more than entry-level gaming.
That said, if your budget or system chassis doesn’t have room for a discrete graphics card, the Ryzen 3 3200G is a great little chip.
Although the four Zen+ CPU cores are plenty powerful for 1080p, entry-level gaming, its onboard Vega 8 graphics cores are far more capable than Intel’s HD graphics.
At around $100, there isn’t much in the way of stiff competition. The last-generation 2200G isn’t as capable, but it is currently more expensive, making AMD’s 3200G the more obvious choice. The Athlon 3000G is around $55, but that’s delving into extreme budget territory.
If you don’t need the onboard graphics and you can stretch your budget a bit further, the last-generation Ryzen 5 2600 is an amazing six-core CPU for around $153. It will far outstrip the 3200G in multithreaded workloads thanks to its additional cores and threads. It can overclock up to near 2600X speeds too.
That might be your only option as of early 2021, actually. The 3200G is out of stock at most online retailers, and where it is in stock, it’s selling for twice its MSRP. At that price, you could even spring for the Ryzen 5 3600, which is far more capable than the 3200G and even the 2600. Currently the only option at around $100 is Intel’s i3-10100. We’d recommend waiting for more stock of the 3200G, however.
For around $300, it’s hard to beat the Ryzen 5 5600X. Although it’s the cheapest processor out of AMD’s current Ryzen 5000 lineup, the 5600X is squarely targeting the mainstream. For the money, you get six cores and 12 threads, a base clock of 3.7GHz, and a boost clock of 4.6GHz. It comes with 35MB of combined L2 and L3 cache, too, just 1MB less than the 5800X (a $450 CPU).
The six cores inside use AMD’s Zen 3 architecture, improving instructions per clock (IPC) and memory management. The IPC improvements show clearly in limitedly-threaded tasks like gaming. The 5600X can keep up with processors that cost twice as much, sitting near and occasionally passing the 5800X, 5900X, and Intel’s i9-10900K. If all you’re interested in is gaming, the 5600X is the perfect processor. By comparison, higher-end processors don’t offer anywhere near the kind of performance improvements to justify the added cost.
The 5600X starts to show some weakness in productivity. Although still topping the pack in single-threaded performance, the 5600X falls behind the last-gen 3700X and even the Intel i7-10700K in multithreaded benchmarks like Cinebench R20. The 5600X is a very impressive processor, because of and despite its price. However, it’s still a six-core CPU, and in heavily threaded workloads, it falls behind processors with more cores.
There’s one processor surprisingly absent from this list: The Ryzen 7 5800X. Instead, we’re jumping from the six-core 5600X to the 12-core 5900X. The reason why is simple. The 5600X is really all you need for gaming, while the 5800X falls just short of serious productivity performance. Furthermore, the 5800X is $150 more expensive than the 5600X, while the 5900X is only $250 more. That extra $100 is worth it, as the 5900X shoots ahead of the 5800X in nearly all benchmarks.
In gaming, there isn’t much to say. The 5900X destroys basically every consumer processor available when paired with an equally capable graphics card. It even beats the 5950X in some titles. Not that this level of performance comes as a surprise. With 12 cores and 16 threads, a boost clock of up to 4.8GHz, and 70MB of combined L2 and L3 cache, the 5900X is more than capable for gaming.
The processor really shines when it comes to non-gaming applications, though. In video transcoding, one of the most demanding tasks for a CPU, the 5900X tops the pack, even beating the last-gen 3950X. The 5900X runs away with Blender, too, overtaking Intel’s i9-10980X (a processor that costs nearly twice as much).
From gaming to working, the 5900X is a processor that does it all. For tasks like video editing, data science, video encoding, and 3D modeling, it’s enough of an improvement over the 5600X to make a difference without going overboard in the pricing department.Dan Baker/Digital Trends
For most users, the 5950X is too much. It’s a 16 core, 32 thread processor that can boost up to 4.9GHz and comes with a whopping 72MB of combined L2 and L3 cache. As is the case with most high-end components, the 5950X’s power is clear from the specs, but it takes a little more digging to see its performance benefit in real-world use. Even if you run a lot of CPU intensive applications, the 5950X provides a marginal benefit over the 5900X. It’s a benefit nonetheless, though, which may be important, especially if you use your computer to make money.
Single-core performance is similar to the 5900X. In multithreaded performance, however, the 5950X shines. In tasks that require a lot of cores, such as hardware encryption and 3D rendering, the 5950X dominates anything Intel has to offer, and even shoots far ahead of the 5900X. Tasks that use a dominate core will see less of a benefit compared to the 5900X.
That shows in gaming. Although the 5950X can show slight improvements in certain titles, most games won’t be able to take advantage of the processor’s full horsepower. Even in CPU intensive titles like Hitman 2 and Microsoft Flight Simulator, the 5950X is overkill. It’s a highly capable gaming CPU, topping benchmarks alongside all of the Ryzen 5000 processors. It’s just not worth the extra cost if you’re primarily gaming.