Almost a year and a half after the launch of the first Ryzen 5000 processors, the Zen 3 CPU architecture is finally coming to cheaper chips.
AMD’s Ryzen 5 5500 and 5600 processors (which go on sale today for $159 and $199, respectively) are both six-core, 12-thread CPUs aimed at mid-range, price-conscious PCs used for games and photo and video editing. The new Ryzens have drastically reduced the original $299 price of the Ryzen 5 5600X (the 5600X was, for many months, the cheapest way to get Zen 3). And the processors are finally replacing the last-gen $199 Ryzen 5 3600.
But the new chips have stiff competition in the Intel Core i5-12400 processor ($210 with an integrated GPU, $180 without one). Intel’s desktop processors have struggled with the aging Skylake architecture and/or aging 14nm manufacturing process for years, but modern architecture and the Intel 7 process make the Intel 12400 the processor option mid-range car in a long time. The Ryzen 5 5600X has also seen price drops recently, dropping to around $230 to make more room for the $300 eight-core Ryzen 7 5700X.
Let’s take a look at how the Ryzen 5500 and 5600 chips work and if they’re good buys for a new PC build (or if you’re upgrading an old one).
Performance: No surprises from Zen 3
Zen 3 is a known quantity at this point, and it’s not too surprising where the 5500 and 5600 end up in most of our benchmarks. In terms of single- and multi-threaded performance, the Ryzen 5500 and 5600 represent a solid step up from the Zen 2-based Ryzen 3000 and 4000 chips, as well as any of Intel’s various six-core Skylake derivatives. Intel chips are represented here by the Core i5-10400, but many 8th and 9th generation Core processors also fall into this category.
The Ryzen 5 5500 performs particularly well, delivering between 90-95% of the performance of the Ryzen 5 5600 for around 80% of the money in the majority of tests we’ve run. This makes sense, since the 5500’s 4.2GHz maximum clock speed is about 95% faster than the 5600’s 4.4GHz clock. The only outlier was our Handbrake video encoding test, where the Ryzen 5600 was around 13% faster. The 5500’s reduced L3 cache (along with its reduced clock speeds) might slow it down a bit.
The Ryzen 5600 also looks a little mediocre next to the Core i5-12400. The 12400 beats the Ryzen in everything but the Handbrake encoding test and is typically $20 less if you buy the version without an integrated graphics card. The Ryzen 5 5600’s multi-threaded performance isn’t everything this different from the Core i5-12400, but Intel manages to take a 12% lead in the Geekbench test and 17% in the more intensive Cinebench test. This makes the i5-12400 a more attractive option, especially if you’re playing 1080p games at high frame rates. (Lower resolutions at higher frame rates tend to be CPU bound, while 1440p and 4K resolutions are generally more GPU bound.)
One thing we couldn’t test was how the 5500 and 5600 stack up to the existing six-core Zen 3 chips in AMD’s lineup, the Ryzen 5 5600G and Ryzen 5 5600X. 5600X benchmarks from other sites (and similar specs) suggest the 5600 is so close in performance to the 5600X that you can safely skip the 5600X most of the time, saving you $30. But the 5600G still has a useful niche as the only such chip with an integrated GPU. This feature makes it a decent choice for a low-end non-GPU gaming PC (whether you have no intention of adding a dedicated GPU at all or are waiting for prices to drop to more reasonable levels).
Energy efficiency: Intel is catching up
Our Handbrake encoding test is quite useful for performing quick energy usage and energy efficiency calculations. This is because it is a timed test and the power consumption is generally constant throughout the encoding task.
AMD’s power efficiency compares well to older 10th and 11th generation Intel chips. Ryzen PCs draw a little more power to the wall, but they also take less time to complete the job. But the Core i5-12400 manages to catch up and more, thanks to the Intel 7 process. Now, Intel has a small advantage (at least when you’re not using a Core i7 or i9 processor with its increased power limits).