Which processor brand should you be looking at in the mid-range market? AMD’s Ryzen 5? Or Intel’s Core i5? In this post, we compare Intel’s i5 series and AMD’s Ryzen 5 series to help you determine which option is right for you.
When it comes to Intel vs AMD for gaming, the battle often takes place in the midrange. AMD’s Ryzen 5 and Intel’s Core i5 lineups host some of the best gaming CPUs in each generation. This is because they tend to offer an unrivalled balance of gaming performance on the one hand and a reasonable price on the other.
High-end CPUs aren’t usually recommended just for gaming unless money is of no concern, because your money is often better spent on one of the best graphics cards which should net you better performance than a CPU upgrade. AMD Ryzen 5 and Intel Core i5 CPUs are great in this respect because they usually hit that sweet spot that occurs just before diminishing price-performance returns come into play, making them the perfect choice for gaming.
The middle of AMD’s ‘Zen 3’, 5000-series range, Intel’s ‘Rocket Lake’, 11th Gen range, and Intel’s ‘Alder Lake’, 12th Gen range is more inviting for gaming than the low- or high-end of these ranges. For AMD this means the Ryzen 5 5600X, and for Intel this means either the Core i5-11600K or the Core i5-12600K. We’re going to focus on the former Intel chip because the latter’s price and stock levels haven’t yet settled, and there aren’t many 12th Gen motherboards retailing at present.
AMD Ryzen 5 Overview
AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600X hit the market in the final quarter of 2020, and it’s still holding strong. Retailing for about $300, this 6-core, 12-thread CPU offers a great balance of multi-threaded power and single-threaded grunt. With a base clock of 3.7GHz and a boost clock of 4.6GHz, it can handle any moderate workload with ease, and it’s a dab hand at gaming, too, being able to keep up with the most powerful graphics cards on the market without bottlenecking them, even topping many of the gaming benchmarks for this CPU generation before Alder Lake hit the market.
The Ryzen 5 5600X costs more than Intel’s 11th Gen competing options, but price differences aren’t always what they seem. For instance, while this chip costs more than the i5-11400F or i5-11600K, the i5-11400F’s stock cooler isn’t great, and the i5-11600K doesn’t come with a cooler at all – and don’t forget that the best gaming coolers often let you squeeze out extra performance from your chip. Plus, the Ryzen 5 5600X might work out cheaper if you already own a B400-series motherboard capable of housing the 5600X with a simple BIOS update.
However, these price conundrums are often rendered irrelevant in 2021 thanks to chip shortages which seem to be impacting AMD more than Intel – sometimes, you just have to take what you can get.
Intel Core i5 Overview
Intel’s Core i5-11400F is the stand-out chip of its Rocket Lake generation. But whether you should opt for it depends on whether you’re comfortable, and have a motherboard that will support, unlocking this chip’s power limits. At stock settings, this $157-MSRP CPU boasts 6 cores, 12 threads, a base clock of 2.6GHz and a boost clock of 4.4GHz, with an all-core boost of up to 4.2GHz.
These numbers don’t scream ‘competitive’, but the magic happens when you unlock the Core i5-11400F’s power limits in the BIOS. When these limits are lifted, this chip comes close to the performance of the more expensive Intel Core i5-11600K and AMD Ryzen 5 5600X. Bear in mind, though, that it lacks integrated graphics, so you’ll have to run a graphics card alongside it.
Moving on to the Intel Core i5-11600K, this CPU was almost the stand-out chip of the Rocket Lake generation, but not quite, thanks to the i5-11400F. But even though the i5-11400F exists, the i5-11600K is still very competitive. Retailing for about $260, this 6-core, 12-thread chip offers a 3.9GHz base clock and a 4.9GHz boost clock. Its clock multiplier is unlocked, too, meaning it can be manually overclocked if it sits in an overclocking-compatible motherboard. Getting good returns from manual overclocks is very difficult with Intel’s 11th generation, though, so unless you’re a real overclocking enthusiast it’s probably better to save your energy.
As far as real-world performance goes, at stock settings the Core i5-11600K should beat – albeit only slightly – a power level-unlocked Core i5-11400F both when gaming and when undertaking multi-threaded workloads. It should also run neck-and-neck, or only a little behind, a Ryzen 5 5600X at stock settings, and yet costs a fair amount less.
The final chip to consider is Intel’s new Core i5-12600K. This ‘Alder Lake’ chip, retailing for around $320, combines ‘P-Cores’ and ‘E-Cores’ on a single die – the former core type is designed to deal with more strenuous tasks, the latter with background tasks. The i5-12600K has 6 P-Cores, 4 E-Cores, and 16 threads, with a P-Core boost clock of 4.9GHz.
The upshot is that this chip performs significantly better in many multi-threaded tasks than both the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X and 5800X, and the i5-12600K also matches or slightly edges in front of both of these chips in many games. But, for such a new chip with potential pricing and stock volatility, not to mention so few motherboard options, it’s too soon for a proper price-performance verdict.
AMD Ryzen 5 vs Intel Core i5
Intel Core i5-11400F: Best Value
The best value chip from the AMD Ryzen 5 and Intel Core i5 bunch is definitely the Intel Core i5-11400F. For a $157 MSRP, this chip is cheaper than the Intel Core i5-11600K and much cheaper than the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X.
Its performance measures only a sliver behind these two more expensive CPUs – but there’s a caveat: it only performs so well when its power limits are unlocked in the BIOS, which essentially gives it an easy all-core overclock.
This means you’ll need a motherboard that allows the CPU’s power limits to be unlocked and that has a good VRM, and you’ll probably also need a third-party CPU cooler that can handle the heat. But, providing you have the motherboard and cooler for it, and providing you have a graphics card running alongside it to compensate for its lack of integrated graphics, the Core i5-11400F is unrivalled in terms of price-performance.
AMD Ryzen 5 5600X: Best for Gaming
The best midrange CPU for gaming at the moment, not including Intel’s 12th Gen, seems to be the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X. I say ‘seems’ because there are slim deltas between the gaming performances of all three of these midrange CPUs, and these deltas will likely almost disappear on higher resolutions when paired with anything other than an Nvidia RTX 3090. In fact, the same can be said for any current-gen midrange or high-end CPU: they’re all roughly equal in terms of gaming performance. But slight differences still count.
When it comes to raw gaming performance, the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X wins, even if only just. This isn’t surprising, because we all know that AMD Ryzen is good for gaming and has been since its first generation’s inception. In fact, in some gaming benchmarks the 5600X can be seen competing with the most expensive high-end processors on the market. And while good overclocking results are never guaranteed, the Ryzen 5 5600X seems to offer more overclocking headroom than Intel’s Core i5 options. While each game is different – there are certainly games where Intel Core i5 CPUs will perform better than the 5600X – the 5600X seems to perform better in more of them. This is especially true when it comes to eSports titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. So, while it’s not a landslide win, the gaming victor is the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X.
Intel Core i5-11600K: Best out of the Box
Despite the great value of the Core i5-11400f and the stellar gaming performance of the Ryzen 5 5600X, it’s not all hopeless for the Core i5-11600K. For one, with the i5-11600K you get great out-of-the-box performance that beats the stock-limited i5-11400F by a large margin, and that still beats it by a smaller margin when the i5-11400F is running at full power. We see similar performance deltas in multi-threaded tasks, too. Compared to the Ryzen 5 5600X, while it loses by a slim margin in gaming and by a bigger margin in multi-threaded workloads, the i5-11600K holds its own and is more than justified by its cheaper price tag. This is only exacerbated by the 5600X’s stock issues which have often led to the red team’s chip costing even more than intended.
The ultimate win for the i5-11600K, then, is its great out-of-the-box performance. Such competitive performance from the i5-11600K doesn’t requiring any BIOS tinkering or overclocking, and it comes with integrated graphics unlike the i5-11400F, all for a lower price than the Ryzen 5 5600X. If you want something that’s more likely to be in stock than its AMD competitor, offers great value, can be unboxed, plugged in under a CPU cooler, and booted up, all the while being confident that you’re getting close to the best CPU gaming performance out there, the i5-11600K is your best bet.
Intel Core i5-12600K: Most Promising
Intel’s Core i5-12600K is the most promising chip on the market at the moment. Its new architecture which mashes together P- and E-Cores works surprisingly well, giving us a midrange CPU with 16 threads that beats its competition handily in productivity tasks and only a little less handily in games. Intel’s 12th Gen platform also offers a great deal with DDR5, PCIe 5.0, and XMP 3.0 support.
Unfortunately, it’s too soon to give this chip a full verdict, because pricing and stock fluctuations are likely to occur, and a full range of compatible motherboards will likely only hit the market next year.
Plus, Microsoft still has some issues to smooth over for Alder Lake’s CPU task scheduling. It’s definitely the processor to look out for, though, because it looks like it could be the very best gaming CPU considering price and performance.