What’s in an X?
Traditionally, of course, the use of an X stands for an unknown quantity.
Not to be obvious, but when it comes to AMD CPUs, that makes some sense, as people everywhere are wondering exactly what the difference between the Ryzen 5 3600 and its later iteration, the 3600X is. What’s in that X? What’s the practical difference between the two – and which should you choose?
If we’re going to nail the differences, let’s look at exactly what we’re dealing with.
Before we get into the technical specifications, let’s say this: there’s a price differential to be aware of between the two CPUs. It’s not huge, and prices will always fluctuate.
But when it comes to clicking the ‘Buy’ button, the 3600X costs a little more than the standard 3600. That means it has to demonstrate exactly where that extra money goes, and what it gets you in terms of a CPU.
PCIe 4.0 x16
Total L2 Cache
Total L3 Cache
TSMC 7nm FinFET
Incredible value for money
Extremely high single thread performance
Capable of producing 100+fps in the most popular AAA game titles
Bios update required if you want to pair with 300/400 series motherboards
PCIe 4.0 x16
Total L2 Cache
Total L3 Cache
TSMC 7nm FinFET
Huge overclocking headspace
Fantastic single thread performance
100+fps across the most popular AAA game titles
The 95W TDP is fairly high, especially when you consider the 3700x is only 65W
Now, let’s talk clock speeds.
The 3600 comes to you clocked at 3.6 GHz for the base and 4.2 GHz for the boost.
The 3600X gives you clock speeds of 3.8 GHz for the base and 4.4 GHz for the boost. That equates to a CPU that runs 200 MHz faster, up 6% on base clock speed and 5% on boost speed.
On thermal design power (TDP), you’re looking at a 30w increase (at least theoretically) between the 3600 and the 3600X. The 3600 has a TDP of 65 watts, while the 3600X gives you a TDP of 95 watts.
That means the 3600 gets the Wraith Stealth cooling fan, sitting snugly at 65w, while the higher TDP allows the 3600X to use the 95w Wraith Spire cooling solution – which AMD modestly describes as the ultimate cooling solution.
So, that’s it, right? A small speed increase on both the base and the boost, a significant upgrade on TDP, and access to the ultimate cooling system. Break out the pom-poms and cheer the 3600X all the way to your shopping cart.
You knew it wasn’t going to be quite that simple when it came to choosing between two pretty cutting-edge AMD CPUs, didn’t you? In your geeky little heart of hearts, you knew it.
In the first place, while the price differential may not amount to much, it amounts to something.
Ask yourself whether a bare 6% base clock speed and 5% boost clock speed is worth paying anything for? Does that increase buy you anything in practical computing terms?
The answer to that is both entirely up to you and entirely dependent on whether you’re thirsty to squeeze the very last drop of speed and performance out of your CPU.
In most other important respects, the 3600 and the 3600X are practically identical twins.
Each has 6 cores. Each has 12 threads. Each has an L2 cache of 3MB, and an L3 cache of 32 MB. Each has a dual-channel memory configuration. And each has maximum memory support of DDR4-3200.
You put these CPUs on a bench test, and your twin dilemma gets even harder. There is a very minimal overall performance enhancement to the 3600X over the 3600, but it evens out to something in the region of 2-3%.
Like all extremely narrow margin comparisons, there needs to be a conclusive case made for spending more money. That’s especially the case when the original, in this case the 3600, is already a very good CPU.
A performance enhancement of between 2-3% begins to look like it’s not enough to swing the decision one way or the other.
The 3600 is a great CPU. Built on the 7nm process node that’s behind the Zen 2 architecture, it’s been one of the impressive sit-up-and-take-notice CPUs in the last five years that have brought AMD back front and center in the gaming PC world’s attention.
The 3600X is also a great PCU. Of course it is, it’s almost exactly the same as the 3600. Plus, it comes with that 200Mhz clock speed bump. The truth though is that while you might know it’s 200Mhz faster because it says so on the packaging, the speed increase is ultimately too slim for we puny humans to actually see any real-world difference between the CPUs in action.
We want to. We try to. And in the wanting of it, sometimes we might even convince ourselves that “Oh, wait, was that a performance difference? Did we just log a performance difference?!”
No. Sadly, on investigation, we didn’t.
So much for the Emperor’s New Clock Speed. It might well be great in terms of technical specifications, but in the real world of PC usage, we’re not seeing any tangible increase in speed or power that justifies the extra spend, or if you already have a 3600 fitted, even the minimal extra hassle of swapping it out.
So, it’s all about the heatsink, then? The difference between the 65w TDP of the 3600 and the 95w TDP of the 3600X, with the extra celebrity power of the 95w Wraith Spire.
The question then becomes how important – and how noticeable – is the difference between the two? And crucially, whether it’s worth the small but important price hike to get the X version of the CPU on the back of a more powerful heatsink.
One of the issues with definitively talking about the differences between the Wraith Stealth (3600) and the Wraith Spire (3600X) is that you run into almost exactly the same issue as you hit when talking about the CPUs generally.
You probably wouldn’t mistake the Spire for the Stealth in an identity parade, because it has a bigger surface area. But you’d certainly link them in a family connection. The Spire is pretty much the big brother cooling solution the Stealth calls on when the bullies steal its lunch money.
In some respects though, the size bump in the Spire should be a no-brain game-winner. The extra size translates into extra heat dissipation potential over the Stealth, which means there should be little contest on that front.
But how much extra heat dissipation are we talking about? And while we’re at it, how much heat are the 3600 and the 3600X likely to be throwing out relative to each other? If we’re going to find a case to prove the 3600X is worth buying compared to the standard 3600, these are the lengths to which we have to go, the questions we have to ask. There’s precious little else to divide the two, so let’s take a look.
It’s worth testing the two coolers under at least two conditions – at idle and after a prolonged amount of continuous computer use, such as a hardcore gaming session. That way, we can understand the heatsinks’ operation when demand is low as a baseline.
Then we can measure the performance of the Coolers once the heat coming off the relative CPUs has built up for comparison. It’s in those times of prolonged use and heat build-up that the function of the cooling system might make its biggest potential difference to the operation of the machine.
Do you remember how on every other marker, there was little to divide the 3600 and the 3600X?
You should probably prepare yourself for absolutely no shock at all.
On a standard testbed, there’s very little to separate the Wraith Stealth and the Wraith Spire, either.
Sure, the size bump, we know. The logic should make the Spire the clear winner. And, if you want to split hairs – and believe us, we might have to split hairs – it probably is.
At idle, the Stealth will keep the 3600 CPU at 96.8F (36C).
Meanwhile, the bulkier Spire will keep the 3600X CPU at…98.6F (37C).
Enough to get you dancing in the aisles and waving a foam finger for the 3600X?
OK, what about after a quarter-hour of high-usage? The bigger heatsink has to come into its own then, right? We’re only looking for it to prove it’s worth a little extra layout.
After 15 minutes, the Stealth kept the 3600 CPU at 165.2F (74C).
After the same 15-minute testing session of heavy load, the Spire kept the 3600X CPU at 170.6F (77C).
Five degrees Fahrenheit.
OK. Technically, that’s a win for the 3600X. Wave your hands in the air, go buy one if you want one.
The thing is, we’ve had quite a lot of experience recently with things being almost too close to call and down to the wire. A decisive victory for the 3600X would have been so much easier on everybody, wouldn’t it?
We’d have been able to say, hand on heart, it was the obvious winner, you’d have been able to buy one with a clear understanding of what you were getting for your money. You wouldn’t have any doubts about paying more for it because we’d have been able to tell you exactly where your money was going and why.
That’s not something we can honestly tell you right now.
Importantly, neither cooler lets the CPU temperature get much above 170F, even after high load. And while it’s not entirely helpful that AMD doesn’t publish a list of safe temperatures for its PCUs, we’re going to jump on the bandwagon and take a guess that both the 3600 and the 3600X are probably safe up to around 210-212F (100C), in line with the likes of Intel chips.
If that’s anywhere near the case, then any small difference in the cooling capacity of the 3600 and the 3600X, like the 5 degrees Fahrenheit we see, becomes almost irrelevant.
Both the coolers do a good job of keeping their relative CPU temperatures low enough that they give you overclocking options with a good margin of probable safety.
That means there’s not a strong enough case to go for the 3600X and its extra cash outlay.
You still can, of course. We’re not in any way suggesting the 3600X is a bad CPU. It isn’t. But it’s a case where, say, the 3600 is Ryan Reynolds (other hot actors and actresses are available, your hotness-mileage may vary).
To justify spending the extra cash for the 3600X, you’d need it to be, for example, Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. Ryan Reynolds, but cooler. If it was really going to seal the deal, the 3600X would have to be Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, posing with you for selfies and video messages, so you could blow up your socials. That would be worth the extra layout and/or the potential replacement hassle of going for the 3600X over the standard 3600, no question.
The 3600X is Ryan Reynolds with a cool haircut and a false mustache. It’s still Ryan Reynolds (work with us here, remember, Ryan’s the 3600), but most of what makes it Ryan Reynolds is in the older CPU, which requires you to either do nothing if you already have a 3600 or to spend less money if you’re investing fresh.
The extra cash the 3600X will cost you doesn’t do enough to convince us that the false mustache is really pulling its weight when it comes to added Reynolds-coolness.
The shortfall in enough extra coolness – both literally through the Spire, and figuratively in the nightmare world we’ve created where Ryan Reynolds runs your computer – might not be an immediate issue for you. If you can, you might say, then why not get the sliver of extra cooling potential and the 200Mhz speed boost?
And you’d be right.
Up to a point.
On the other hand, it becomes an issue when we can’t give you enough of a reason to spend the extra money on a very, very slightly better CPU. Especially when you could spend the extra money and get, say, an easily, significantly, no contest, no questions asked, better-all-round graphics card. Or a bowel-rumbling soundboard. Or an [Insert extra cool thing you really want here]. When that’s a reality, it’s difficult to see why you’d upgrade from the 3600, or spend even a little extra cash on the 3600X (false mustache edition). If it were our money, we’d be looking for more Deadpool before we’d ditch or overlook the standard 3600.