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The Best AMD Processors for 2021 | Digital Trends


Although AMD and Intel have been going back and forth for years, Team Red is firmly in the lead in 2021. The best AMD processors offer top-tier performance for low prices, regardless of whether you’re in the market for a $1,000 computing powerhouse or a $50 CPU for an ultra-budget build.

Keep in mind that huge demand and a global semiconductor shortage has caused nearly all PC components to fly off the shelves. That’s especially true for the popular Ryzen 5000 processors, which seem to evaporate off the digital shelves as soon as they’re put there.

The best AMD processors at a glance

The best AMD processor for gaming: Ryzen 5 5600X

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. This processor 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. Compared to Intel’s latest Rocket Lake processors, the 5600X has a clear advantage.

The best budget AMD processor: Athlon 3000G

For ultra-budget builds, look no further than the AMD Athlon 3000G. It’s a dual-core processor with a base clock speed of 3.5GHz, and it’s the first Athlon CPU that’s unlocked for overclocking. You can’t push it very far, and we don’t suspect many buyers in this price range are interested in overclocking, but you can technically squeeze a little extra performance out of the 3000G.

The processor comes with integrated Vega 3 graphics, which are enough for light gaming. You can run games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Rainbow Six: Siege at Medium settings at 720p. 1080p gaming isn’t really possible, at least not for most titles released in the past five years. For e-sports titles and indies, though, the 3000G offers enough power.

It’s efficient, too. The processor comes with a cooler in the box, and it has a TDP of only 35 watts (less than some laptop CPUs). Given the shortage of PC components around the world, the Athlon 3000G is a compelling option for budget builders. The 3200G, for example, sells for nearly twice its MSRP at $200. Meanwhile, the Athlon 3000G is only $50 if you can find it in stock and around $80 if you buy from a third-party seller.

The best entry-level CPU: Ryzen 3 3200G

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G & Ryzen 3 2200G Review fingers
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 $200, 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.

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.

The best high-end CPU: Ryzen 9 5900X

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 Ryzen 9 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.

The most powerful CPU: Ryzen 9 5950X

AMD Ryzen 9 3900x
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 dominant 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.

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