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AMD Ryzen for Gaming: What’s Possible?
March 30, 2021
Reading time: 8 minutes
AMD has been making waves the past few years in the high-end gaming CPU market with its Ryzen™ series of processors. Not only do Ryzen processors offer plenty of threads and great gaming performance, but they’re also cost-effective. With a focus on multitasking and pricing, it’s no wonder that many gamers have turned to the AMD Ryzen series of processors.
If you’re interested in using a Ryzen processor in your gaming PC, you need to know the difference between what’s available from AMD and how they might fit into your rig. The right processor for you will differ depending on your game(s) of choice and their intensity.
For example, does your gaming PC run Cyberpunk 2077 at the highest possible settings or is your setup a multipurpose laptop used for both work and playing Minecraft on the weekends.
Here’s what you need to look for in each of the AMD Ryzen processors and, more generally, in a gaming CPU.
What to look for in a gaming CPU
While most people interested in building a gaming PC focus solely on the GPU, the CPU is just as important. If your CPU and GPU aren’t comparable, your machine will run into serious CPU bottleneck issues. For a crash course in the importance of each, you can read our article here: GPU vs CPU: What Matters Most for PC Gaming?
A CPU bottleneck occurs when the processor isn't powerful enough. If the GPU in your gaming PC is high-end and you try to play a game at maximum settings, then a mid-tier CPU won't be able to process this incoming data, leading to your game crashes or stuttering.
To get the best results, you need to purchase a CPU that is comparable to your GPU. To do so, look at several distinct factors that go into the quality of a CPU.
1. Clock speed
The first of these is clock speed, which is measured in gigahertz (GHz). CPUs generally adjust their clock speed based on the task they are performing and their current temperature, so every modern CPU is listed with a base, or minimum, clock speed and a turbo, or maximum, speed.
Since gaming is a resource-intensive task, make sure the base clock speed meets the recommended settings of any game you want to play. You can often find these recommended settings on the game’s Steam or Epic Games listing, or on the game publisher’s site.
Aside from clock speed, you also want to closely look at the number of cores in the CPU. Cores are processors within the main processor, and they’re what makes one CPU more powerful than another one. Think of them as lanes on a highway. Two-lane roads don’t move traffic as quickly as a four-lane highway. In the same way, more cores will move your computer’s information faster, giving you greater performance.
Modern CPUs tend to have at least 4 cores as a baseline, with higher-end processors having 12 or more cores.
Threads are another important component to look at in a gaming CPU. They’re the virtual components that divide the cores within a processor. Using multithreading, a single core can create two threads, meaning that a CPU with 4 cores will have 8 threads.
Higher-end Ryzen processors also use a technology called SMT (simultaneous multithreading), which can improve gaming performance by allowing your machine to utilize all of the threads at once.
Best AMD Ryzen processors for gaming
When you shop for a Ryzen CPU, you’ll need to designate the series, model, and special-use cases designated by the suffix.
AMD Ryzen processors are grouped into 4 distinct series. These are broken down into:
Ryzen 3: Entry-level CPUs for gaming
Ryzen 5: Mainstream CPUs for gaming
Ryzen 7: Hobbyist gaming CPUs
Ryzen 9: Enthusiast, hard-core gaming CPUs
While they’re all excellent CPUs, each has a distinct function with power for your specific gaming needs.
Each Ryzen series CPU is also assigned a model number, so you can compare CPUs within each series. Just remember to always start with the series number when comparing units, rather than the model number. For example, a Ryzen 5 1600 will always outperform a Ryzen 3 3300X.
The X suffix is also added to certain models. It means that this is a slightly faster version of the standard model. However, this difference in speed is not major, so when you’re shopping, only consider the suffix when comparing the same series number and model number range against each other.
Here’s what you can expect when purchasing a gaming PC with the accompanying Ryzen processor.
1. AMD Ryzen 3 - Best budget gaming processor
The Ryzen 3 is designed for budget-friendly PCs. While these CPUs are light on the wallet, they are no slouches when it comes to processing power. Both the Ryzen 3 3100 and Ryzen 3 3300X are quad-core processors, meaning that they have 4 cores and 8 threads.
They’re more than capable of running low-intensity games and even games from the last generation with higher graphical requirements such as The Witcher 3 at a steady 60 frames per second (fps). However, where the Ryzen really shines is with popular titles that you can pair with a budget GPU such as Minecraft, Fortnite, or Overwatch.
Do you need your computer to handle working from home and casual gaming during the week? Then the Ryzen 3 3100 and Ryzen 3 3300X are both excellent choices. This is particularly true if you’re budget-conscious or want a CPU that will work well with an entry-level GPU.
If you’re looking for a new computer with a Ryzen 3 processor, we recommend:
AMD's Ryzen 5 chips are where you can start to play current generation titles on your PC with increased processing efficiency. The increased pricing reflects this, and the current AMD Ryzen 5 processors are equipped with 6 cores and 12 threads.
This makes them formidable options for gaming and other intense workloads. Foremost among these is the Ryzen 5 5600X, but the Ryzen 5 3600 is a great option, too, if you can’t invest as much of your gaming computer budget in your CPU.
At this level of processor, you can easily run all games without issues with a comparable GPU. However, it may be more difficult to run graphics-intense titles such as Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin's Creed: Valhalla at higher settings, particularly if you don't want to create a CPU bottleneck.
You can also play games with large open worlds and many players on a server – Call of Duty: Warzone, Grand Theft Auto V, and Red Dead Redemption 2 – particularly if you choose the higher-end Ryzen 5 5600X.
For desktop and laptop options with great Ryzen 5 processors, we recommend you take a look at these machines, which are created specifically with gaming in mind and come with excellent graphics cards and cooling options for midrange gaming.
3. AMD Ryzen 7 and 9 - best hardcore gaming processors
AMD Ryzen 7 and 9 are both meant for more serious gamers. The Ryzen 7 CPU comes with 8 cores and 16 threads, while the Ryzen 9 CPU boasts 12 cores and 24 threads. This provides them with the processing power to run virtually any game at higher settings. The best options among these are the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X and the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X. Paired with a high-end GPU, both of these Ryzen CPUs will deliver excellent performance, and they can reach clock speeds of up to 4.5 GHz and 4.7 GHz, respectively.
Consider the Ryzen 7 3700X if you want to focus on gaming without multitasking. While the Ryzen 7 3700X can handle almost all tasks if they are run individually, you might encounter some lag issues when trying to multitask. If you want to stream video or run a Discord chat while playing Apex Legends with your friends you should consider the more advanced CPU.
A Ryzen 9 3900X will multitask without issue thanks to its increased core count. This Ryzen 9 is also a great option for those who want to stream their games to Twitch while playing at the highest settings.
There is, of course, a substantial price difference between an AMD Ryzen 7 processor and the Ryzen 9, but the option you choose depends on your current GPU and whether you intend to multitask.
For PCs you can customize or pre-package with Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 processors, here are our recommendations:
Finding the right CPU for your gaming PC can seem challenging at first, with all the models, numbers, and specs to choose from. However, when selecting a CPU, it’s important to focus on the clock speeds, core count, and thread count you need to play your favorite games.
You should also consider your GPU, determining whether it’s comparable to your gaming CPU pick. Whether you choose a PC with a Ryzen 3, 5, 7, or 9 processor, you can feel confident knowing that, with the right GPU, you’ll be ready to play.
About the Author: Daniel Horowitz is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Daniel is a New York-based author and has written for publications such as USA Today, Digital Trends, Unwinnable Magazine, and many other media outlets.
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