The original Ryzen 5 5600X (opens in new tab) was the standout chip for gamers from AMD's initial Zen 3 launch. It didn't have the stupendous core count of the Ryzen 9 5950X (opens in new tab) or the 5900X (opens in new tab), but it still packed an impressively focused punch when it came to gaming. So much so in fact that it was our processor of choice (opens in new tab) for a good year and a half until Intel's Alder Lake upset AMD's dominance.
The Ryzen 5 5600 is AMD's answer to Intel's 12th Gen chips, along with the cache-rich Ryzen 7 5800X3D (opens in new tab), Ryzen 5 5500 (opens in new tab), and Ryzen 7 5700X. Apart from the 5800X3D, these are all budget versions of what has come before. And undercutting Intel is no bad thing in our book.
This is a six-core, 12-thread chip that closely resembles its namesake, the Ryzen 5 5600X, apart from dropping the list price down to $159 and easing back on the operating frequency ever so slightly as well. You're looking at a 3.5GHz base clock and a max turbo of 4.4GHz, both of which are 200MHz slower than the 5600X.
You get the same support for DDR4 and PCIe 4.0, there's 32MB of L3 cache, and it still comes with the impressively quiet Wraith Stealth cooler. It's built on the same 7nm TSMC production process and features the same 65W TDP too. Everything a gamer needs without paying over the odds.
Don't let that lack of a trailing X confuse you either, it's still an unlocked chip and therefore can be pushed that little bit harder with some judicious overclocking if you want to splash out on a serious cooler. The benefit of such activities isn't as obvious as it once was, especially when it comes to gaming, but if you want to get the absolute most out of your purchase, then at least you know it's an option.
This is of course assuming that the chip delivers where it matters most—in actual games.
A good gaming chip doesn't have to top the gaming benchmarks. It simply needs to offer strong performance at a reasonable price point. That's why the original Ryzen 5 5600X was our pick of the crop and why it was replaced by the more-affordable Core i5 12600K (opens in new tab), not one of these 'fastest gaming CPUs' that keep appearing at nearly $500.
Cooler: Zadak Spark AIO
Motherboard: Gigabyte X570 Aorus Master
RAM: 16GB Thermaltake DDR4 @3,600MHz
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
Storage: 1TB Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus
PSU: Ikonik Vulcan 1200W
The good news here is that while the 5600 is slightly off the pace of its bigger brother in some games, it's not by much, and the potential saving on offer can certainly make that difference a hit worth taking.
In our gaming suite, you're looking at a 9% difference in the worst-case scenario that is F1 2021, and essentially no difference in the likes of Total War: Three Kingdoms and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Indeed, this CPU actually had a small lead in the latest outing for Lara Croft, albeit within the margin of error. Generally though, you're talking about single-digit differences in frame rates.
Given this chip is unlocked, you could potentially make up that difference with a good enough cooler and some PBO tweakery. Not a bad place to be for a chip that can be had for half the price of what the Ryzen 5 5600X originally launched at.
The performance in more serious applications isn't bad either, although if you need to render 3D graphics or encode video on your CPU, then you'll be better off dropping more on the likes of the 5900X or 5950X. They're notable more expensive, but significantly faster too.
Don't let that detract from the positives for gaming though. This is an impressive CPU at a great price. This is exactly how you should release a budget version of a popular CPU after the fact. It's a shame we had to wait so long for AMD to hit this price point, but it got there in the end.
If there is a problem for the Ryzen 5 5600 it's that it doesn't exist in a vacuum and the Ryzen 5 5600X has dropped significantly from its original $299 retail price as well. You can now pick up the 5600X for $189, which is just $30 more than the $159 you can expect to pay for this. The extra outlay doesn't secure much in real terms, particularly when it comes to gaming, but $30 for a few more frames here and there doesn't feel ridiculous.
A slightly tougher issue is the spectre of Zen 4 looming on the horizon. The budget end of AMD's current lineup probably isn't under so much threat as the top end—the decision to support DDR5 makes for a more expensive upgrade path, and if the Ryzen 5 5600X launch price is anything to go by, then the Ryzen 5 7600X equivalent could be double the price of this chip.
Overall, the Ryzen 5 5600 is a great chip. It may be on a platform that isn't long for this world, and that does affect its value proposition to a degree, but there's very little out there than can compete in straight performance terms. Particularly when it comes to gaming. Paired with a budget B550 or X570 motherboard, 16GB of RAM, and a speedy PCIe 4.0 SSD, you can build a great core for not much money, leaving you more cash to drop on a quality graphics card. As it should be.