This is a comparison we've been wanting to put together for some time. With Computex 2019 out of the way and the full confirmation of 3rd-gen Ryzen, before that hits us here's an updated comparison between the Ryzen 5 1600 and Core i5-7600K. It’s time to see which processor offers gamers the best performance in 2019.

When the R5 1600 was first released, you could easily argue in favor of the 7600K as the better gaming CPU. The vast majority of games performed better on the Core i5-7600K and often much faster in what we considered older games at the time. However, for newly released 2017 games they were more evenly matched and in a few core-heavy titles such as Ashes of the Singularity, the Ryzen CPU was a little faster or in Battlefield 1 it was overall more consistent.

We still saw Ryzen processors struggle in a number of titles such as Arma 3, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Far Cry Primal, Grand Theft Auto V, Total War Warhammer II, and Watch Dogs 2 to cite a few prime examples. And yet we liked the Ryzen 5 1600 as it was cheaper, held the promise of superior platform support, came with a box cooler and generally beat the Core i5 processor in productivity tasks. In effect, for intensive workloads the Ryzen 5 1600 mimicked what we saw from the Core i7-7700K and that was impressive at the time.

For those reasons and more, just two months after its release we named the Ryzen 5 1600 'the best value desktop CPU'. While we noted that for high refresh gaming the 7600K would be the better choice, at least in the short term, we did expect the 2 extra cores and 8 threads of the Ryzen 5 processor to come in handy before too long. It’s been roughly two years since those initial impressions and we haven't revisited this comparison. Most recently the focus has been on Zen+ processors such as the Ryzen 5 2600 and 2700. But today we'll see how times have changed and favored one side or the other.

The Ryzen 5 1600 was tested on the MSI B450 Tomahawk using G.Skill Ripjaws V DDR4-3200 CL15 memory. The Core i5-7600K was tested on the Asrock Z270 Taichi with the same G.Skill memory. Both systems were configured using the Xtreme memory profile and MCE was disabled on the Intel system, at least for the stock testing. We used a Gigabyte RTX 2080 Ti Aorus Xtreme and the CPUs were cooled using the Corsair Hydro H100i Pro AIO liquid cooler. Both CPUs were tested stock and then with a realistic overclock applied, so we’re not pretending every CPU sold is of the highest quality silicon.

In total there are eight games tested at two resolutions. That translated into over 200 benchmarks runs to create this piece... Let’s get into the results.

Benchmarks

First up we have Rage 2, the newest game we’ve benchmarked for this article. This title uses the Vulkan API exclusively and we've found it’s not very CPU demanding as it plays very well on a modest quad-core.

The Core i5-7600K offered a slight performance bump over the Ryzen 5 1600, though given the clock speed deficit you’d probably expect the margins to be a greater at 1080p with an RTX 2080 Ti. Moving to 1440p we see similar margins, the Core i5 processor is a little faster out of the box but once we overclocked the margin closes to almost nothing.

World War Z supports DirectX 11 and Vulkan but for best performance we always test with the latter API. Both CPUs allowed for over 100 fps out of the box, yet the 7600K was 14% faster on average. This is another title that isn’t particularly taxing on the CPU and we’ve found modern quad-cores will get the job done. Moving to 1440p and we see that the margins are virtually eliminated, here the 7600K was ~4% faster out of the box and 3% faster with both CPUs overclocked.

When we first benchmarked the Ryzen 1000 series in games, we found Far Cry Primal to be a particularly bad title for AMD’s new core heavy processors. Single thread performance seems to be the key here, that and the games just aren’t developed with Ryzen in mind, despite AMD sponsoring the latest installment in the series, though I believe that was mostly to optimize for their Radeon technology.

Whatever the case Ryzen CPUs don’t do well in Far Cry games and we have a good example of this here with Far Cry New Dawn. Although the R5 1600 was able to deliver smooth gameplay it was still much slower than the Core i5-7600K which delivered a whopping 25% more performance.

The margins are very similar at 1440p as well, here the R5 1600 isn’t able to come back and we saw way better performance out of the 7600K. We’re aware that some have reported frame stuttering from even the latest 6-core Core i5 processors in Far Cry 5 and Far Cry New Dawn, but I have to say the experience was certainly no worse than what we saw from the Ryzen 5 1600.

The Hitman 2 results for the 7600K are really strange. Given how CPU limited this title is you’d expect a 23% all core frequency boost to have a rather significant impact, but it doesn’t. We saw just a few more frames from the 7600K once overclocked, we often see strange results when testing with Hitman 2 and we honestly don’t know what’s going on here in our NPC heavy benchmark. The R5 1600, on the other hand, saw a decent 6% performance boost from a 8% all-core overclock. We see similar margins at 1440p, overall both CPUs delivered a similar gaming experience in Hitman 2.

Things are getting interesting now. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is one of the most demanding games released in the last year. The Ryzen 5 1600 was noticeably smoother in this title and with 22% more frames on average it was also a lot faster. We can see even when overclocked the 7600K appears so heavily choked that the frequency increase doesn't help, there appears to be some other kind of performance limitation.

The performance gains for the R5 1600 when overclocked are also very mild, but they’re also much more in line with the frequency increase. Moving to 1440p and the R5 1600 continues to blitz the 7600K, offering ~30% more performance with both CPUs overclocked.

The Ryzen 5 1600 also proves to be the superior choice for the Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, another modern demanding title. Here the Ryzen processor offered 16% more performance out of the box. At the more GPU limited 1440p resolution the results do come together but even so once overclocked the R5 1600 still enabled 8% more performance and overall was slightly smoother.

Battlefield V is the first time we’ve seen the i5-7600K fall flat on its face. While still playable, the experience was pretty horrible compared to the smooth R5 1600. We saw a similar thing in our day one Ryzen coverage, though not quite to this extent. Back then the 7600K provided higher frame rates on average, but the 1% low performance was weaker.

Today when testing with Battlefield V the 1% low performance is a disaster for the 7600K and this means although the R5 1600 was only slightly faster on average the actually gaming experience was worlds better. The Core i5-7600K crash and burned at 1440p, this is a game that simply requires more than four cores and threads, even if they’re clocked at or around 5 GHz.

Another series of horrible results for the Core i5-7600K can be seen when testing with The Division 2. The Ryzen CPU was 33% faster out of the box when comparing the average frame rate and 32% faster for the 1% low result. That margin is reduced once both CPUs are overclocked, though the margin was still ~25% faster on average and 24% faster for the 1% low.

The Ryzen 5 1600 remains well ahead at 1440p and even with both CPUs overclocked is the clear winner here.

What We Found

For those that skipped to this point we’ll quickly summarize: overall the Ryzen 5 1600 was noticeably slower in a single game, namely Far Cry New Dawn. Performance was still very playable, but frame rates were well down on the Core i5-7600K. Ryzen was also slightly slower in World War Z and it was a draw in Rage 2 and Hitman 2. As we moved into more demanding modern titles, we found the R5 1600 to be a good bit faster in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and then overwhelmingly faster when testing with Battlefield V, Shadow of the Tomb Raider and The Division 2.

These findings are inline with what we said and found two years ago. Back then the i5-7600K was a tad faster in the majority of games, however Ryzen showed a lot of promise when performing well in the most CPU demanding games of the time, delivering more consistent performance. We recommended the Ryzen 5 1600 over the Core i5-7600K in 2017 for a number of reasons, many relevant at the time, but one that is relevant today is that we believed it'd be the better gaming CPU in the long run and that happens to be the case.

Taking all this into consideration, if you were faced with upgrading or building a new gaming PC in mid-2017 and had the choice between these two processors, you could say going with the 7600K was a mistake. Today the R5 1600 is the superior performer enabling highly playable performance in all the latest games, while the 7600K struggles in a number of titles.

As a bonus, if you invested in the AM4 platform two years ago, you now have the luxury of upgrading to what we expect to be a much more powerful Zen 2 processor without having to change your motherboard. Core i5-7600K owners on the other hand would have to pay through the nose for a 7700K just to enable playable performance in titles such as Battlefield V. In fact, there’s almost no chance you’ll land a second hand 7700K for less than what a brand new Ryzen 5 3600X costs.

For this article our sole focus was on gaming performance, but if you care about core heavy application performance, there isn’t much to discuss. The R5 1600 thrashed the 7600K at launch and nothing has changed there (benchmarks from our original review below, for more go here).

If anything Ryzen has only improved in workstation tasks as software continues to be optimized for the Zen architecture. The platform has matured a lot, too, and it’s now faster and more stable. Meanwhile the Intel Kaby Lake range along with all their processors have become slower due to the security vulnerabilities that were publicly revealed in early 2018 and a few more recently. Hopefully next time you have us benchmarking a Ryzen processor it will be the brand new 3000 series, until the next one.

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