When it comes to processors, there are two big names you might have to weigh the pros and cons of: AMD and Intel.
Of course, tech is all relative, which means that one size won’t fit all: neither literally, nor metaphorically.
A discussion about AMD vs Intel should also make note of an actual AMD vs Intel court case (any one of multiple such lawsuits filed) wherein Intel has been repeatedly accused of abusing their power to either establish a monopoly or engage in unfair competition. The first suit of this nature was filed in 1991, despite technology exchange agreements with each other. Another high-profile case followed in 2004, leading to billions of dollars exchanging hands.
The rivalry between AMD and Intel processors is a long and storied debate with no end in sight. More important than picking a side is picking a CPU that gives you the best bang for your buck and doesn’t compromise on performance.
What Should I Consider When Choosing my Processor?
Two factors should go hand-in-hand when it comes to tech: performance and price. Keeping a check on the price is important since you should be able to finance the best overall system instead of just spending too much on a CPU with superfluous features you didn’t need.
A system with a good CPU can be brought down if the graphics, RAM, and HDD don’t match the processor’s strength, meaning the system overall falls flat and your money hasn’t been spent as well as it could have been.
Interestingly, though, previous-generation models might quickly be worth even less than what you’d pay. Newer generation models are always a better investment in the long run (which isn’t that long a period in today’s fast-paced world of tech disruption).
Choosing the best CPU for gaming, for example, would require a different kind of system than if your primary purpose was to have a PC for use at your accounting firm.
This point is important to note – each processor will only work with a specifically corresponding CPU socket and compatible chipsets. This is particularly useful to keep in mind when upgrading a CPU instead of simply starting from scratch as even a slight snag can screw up the entire situation.
What do You Need from Your CPU?
All of what we’ve discussed so far hence shows that there’s more to choosing your processor than just installing the most expensive and latest processor you find and jumping in at the deep end: your processor’s price should match its power, and its power should match your requirements, and that’s enough.
However, it’s good to be honest with yourself about your ‘mod’ abilities and how much you want to tinker with your system yourself. Things such as overclocking your CPU, how fast your PC is at intensive tasks such as transcoding or multimedia production, or your motherboard options will all depend on your choice of CPU.
(CPU temperatures also depend on your processor and how well-matched it is with your system, particularly when attempting to overclock).
A Note on Clock Speeds vs. Cores
Before we head back to the AMD vs Intel debate, let’s keep this in mind: the comparison between clock speeds and core number is up to you and your needs in the same way. More cores mean speedier work (usually through better multitasking) whereas higher clock speeds are the basics of swift and faster performance for all tasks.
The latter is usually more important if cost must be prioritized, and higher clock speeds will also translate to better single-threaded performance. However, utilizing more cores (even with slower clock speed) is a more cost-effective way to enhance your system’s performance on all fronts, especially for running lots of tasks and apps at once, particularly those that support multi-threading.
AMD vs Intel: Multithreading
Here’s where the third-generation AMD chips are a true revelation: in particular, the Ryzen 9 3900X, beaten by only other Ryzen models in a cost-per-thread comparison. Intel’s Core i9 9900K has a cost-per-thread of 27 dollars in comparison to the Ryzen’s 21, but it only edges over it in a single-core performance scenario otherwise.
While AMD has been reported to fall behind in single-threaded workloads (especially paling in comparison to the Intel Core i7-9700K), they’re a clear winner in the multi-threading category, as well as offering more PCI Express lanes and PCIe 4.0 compatibly.
What this means for you is multiple NVMe SSDs combined with the power of AMD’s CrossFire feature boasts your multi-GPU performance. Throw in a Nvidia SLI for good measure, and you’re good to go: take the example of the 16-core, 32-thread Ryzen 9 3950X, maintaining a 105W TDP while featuring a 4.7 GHz boost clock and handling 72MB of L3 cache. If you want to avoid all the technical jargon, AMD is better at multithreading while Intel has better single-core performance.
AMD vs Intel: A Price Comparison
Recommended low-end models: AMD Athlon 200GE, Intel Celeron models
Recommended high-end models: AMD Ryzen 3 1300X/2200G, Intel Pentium models
This is the entry-level range, and for a long time, Intel reigned supreme here – however, this changed quickly with the advent of the AMD Ryzen. Within this range, basic tasks (such as Internet browsing, watching films, and basic productivity tasks in Office) are a breeze, but anything more might have you running into problems. Yes, even multitasking can be troublesome for some of these processors. The remedy, of course, is in the next price range.
Recommended models: AMD Ryzen 5 CPU, Intel Core i5
Gamers should be comfortable in this price range, especially since a surprisingly uncontroversial gaming opinion is that the graphics card should be prioritized instead of overspending on more powerful chips. However, do remember that certain games (e.g large scale FPS games like Battlefield or Squad) can be more CPU intensive than GPU intensive.
AMD vs Intel gaming can largely be an equally comparable experience. AMD processors offer more cost-effective and price-conscious performance, but the ultimate is Intel’s stronger single-core, more expensive CPUs.
Recommended models: AMD Ryzen 7, Intel Core i7
We recommend this price range and these models for overclockers and creatives, particularly those who might need to batch edit photos, work on art, or edit high-quality (but not 4K) videos. For slightly more extensive needs in the same line of work or interests, see the next and final section for our recommendations.
However, the AMD models in the previous price range are also adept at being overclocked, what with their Overdrive technology and the often-updated Work Tool utility, but this is again something that’s recommended only at the user’s discretion and with strict adherence to guides and, preferably, past experience.
Recommended models: AMD Threadripper, Intel Core X, Intel Core i9
With this, we come to the crème de la crème. These CPUs are dragon-wranglers, with cores up to numbers such as 32, meaning you could stream your high-definition gaming session on Twitch while a bunch of things run in the background.
Artists who need to edit 4K video or 3D animations may consider models such as the AMD Threadripper or Intel Core X CPUs. The Threadripper models all support 64 PCI express lanes, taking them in a completely different league from the Intel ones.
We end where we started: reiterating the importance of personal research (such as looking at the performance numbers of the chip you want to buy!) and knowing your own needs.
However, at the end of the day, AMD’s latest Ryzen models – from the 3600 to the 3900X – seem to have a clear advantage in terms of what they offer for the price they ask. What’s more, AMD is primed for upgrades up to 2020, with the assurance that existing motherboards are compatible with any new chips until then.
Intel might ultimately have a slight edge when it comes to the most top-shelf product, but for anyone less than the few people who’re at that stage (and might not even have needed this article); AMD seems to have an advantage for now.