AMD vs Intel showdown: what’s the best gaming CPU?

Gaming CPU faceoff

When it comes to choosing a processor for PC gaming, there are only two contenders: Intel and AMD.

As part of TechRadar’s PC Gaming Week, we’ve pitted the two titans of the CPU world against each other. In the red corner, we have AMD, the plucky pretender to the throne that’s had a rough few years out in the wilderness, but has now come out swinging with its new line of Ryzen CPUs.

In the blue corner, there’s Intel, the current world champion – but for how long?The battle of the CPUs has just heated up with AMD’s release of Ryzen.

Competitive price and performance could mean that Intel’s once unassailable lead in the gaming PC processor race could be in trouble. So, which company builds the best CPU for slapping into your gaming rig? There’s only one way to find out… fight! 

Both PCs used in this showdown were built by Fierce PC, a UK-based company, and come packed with some of the latest technology. 

The Red corner

Imperial Clash - AMD Edition

CPU: 3.8GHz AMD Ryzen 7 1700 (8-core, 16MB cache)
GPU: Asus ROG STRIX GeForce GTX 1080 8GB
Hard Drive: Seagate 1TB Hybrid SSHD
Cooling System: Thermaltake Water 3.0 RGB Fans 240mm Water
PSU: Thermaltake Smart Pro 650W Fully ModularRGB Fan
RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 2400MHz 16GB DDR4 Memory
SSD: Samsung SM961 256GB Super Fast M.2 Drive Storage
Case: Thermaltake View 27 Mid Tower Case 

 The Blue corner 

Imperial Clash - Intel Edition

CPU: 4.6Ghz Intel Core i7-7700K (4-core, 8MB cache)
GPU: Asus ROG STRIX GeForce GTX 1080 8GB
Hard Drive: Seagate 1TB Hybrid SSHD
Cooling System: Thermaltake Water 3.0 RGB Fans 240mm Water
PSU: Thermaltake Smart Pro 650W Fully ModularRGB Fan
RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 2400MHz 16GB DDR4 Memory
SSD: Samsung SM961 256GB Super Fast M.2 Drive Storage
Case: Thermaltake View 27 Mid Tower Case 

Our two contenders first squared up over GTA V. You may have heard of this game – it’s sold 75 million copies since the last count – with its combination of violence, satire and storytelling obviously striking a chord with gamers around the world. And of course, the best place to play it is on PC.

With a huge open world that teems with people, wildlife and of cars to steal and drive, GTA V can give any PC it’s installed on a good workout.

For this round, we used the built-in benchmark tool for GTA V to see just how well each rig can run the game at 1080p resolution. 

First, we ran the benchmark on both PCs with all graphical settings set to low. As we suspected, this didn’t cause either rig a problem, with the AMD system hitting an average of 154.35 frames per second (fps).

The Intel system didn’t quite reach those heights, with an average fps of 148.59. Still, these are incredibly impressive speeds that console gamers could only dream of.

But, no one wants to play games at the lowest possible settings! So, we also put all the settings to maximum in order to really test these systems. 

This involved increasing texture and shadow details, as well as boosting the density of people and vehicle population.

Despite the extra workload placed on the machines, both PCs performed admirably, with the AMD rig averaging 66.61 fps, and the Intel machine scoring 70.23 fps. These are both more than double the frames-per-second scores that the Xbox One and PS4 can manage.

Round one winner: Intel 

Both AMD and Intel put up a great fight in this opening round, but Intel just ekes out a win, thanks to a few extra frames per second during the ultra benchmark test. Even so, the AMD machine nipped at its heels, and both CPUs proved they can produce an amazing GTA 5 experience.

The Division is another popular PC game that puts PCs through their paces, thanks to a combination of large open world design and impressive graphics.

Once again, we ran the built-in benchmark test that comes with the game on both low and ultra settings to see how well these PCs could cope.

On the lowest settings, the AMD Ryzen rig decimated the test, scoring a huge 189.9 fps on average. Not to be outdone, the Intel machine put up an an even better fight, managing 229.6 fps on the lowest setting.

But, what about with the graphical settings all whacked up to the max? The AMD machine remained sure-footed with an impressively high fps of 97.7.

That’s an immense performance considering all the graphical bells and whistles enabled in ultra mode. What’s even more impressive is that the PS4 just about manages 30 fps at 1080p, while the Xbox One can’t even reach 1080p resolutions and a solid 30 fps!

So, with that kind of performance, does AMD have this round in the bag? Unfortunately not, as Intel again comes out swinging with a whopping 104.1 fps!

Round two winner: Intel

In both benchmarks, Intel proves to be the victor, with a clear fps advantage. However, AMD shouldn’t be too despondent – its performance is still very good – and blows current consoles out of the water.

With the games out of the way, we’re now putting the AMD and Intel gaming PCs through a series of benchmark tests that will truly find out what the best processor is for gaming.

We’ll start with the 3DMark Time Spy benchmark. This is a recent test that puts DirectX 12-toting machines through their paces.

It does this by rendering a number of action scenes with an animated character as it walks through a museum (which contains exhibits of former 3DMark benchmarks, offering some geeky Easter eggs). The location the benchmark film takes place in is incredibly detailed, and at certain points the demo includes fast moving action, and a huge crystal-like monster. All of this is designed to bring even the most powerful PCs to their knees.

Despite being a benchmark that primarily targets graphics cards, it’s also a good indicator of how well each processor backs up the GPU when they are being thoroughly tested.

As with other 3DMark benchmark tests, the results are given as a set of numbers, with the higher the score, the better the performance. The AMD PC was first up, and managed 7,312 – a very decent score considering how intensive this benchmark workout is.

Next up, Intel entered the ring, and scored a still decent 7,135 – but not quite enough to best AMD.

Round three winner: AMD

Once again, the scores are pretty close, with AMD edging out Intel. This suggests that the AMD chip is slightly better at helping the GPU handle some of the advanced graphics tasks the Time Spy benchmark utilises – such as asynchronous compute.

Fire Strike is another graphically-intensive benchmark test that has been built to put the latest high-performance gaming PCs through their paces, and it features impressive real-time graphics that can show off what gaming rigs are capable of.

Once again, it features highly detailed environments, fast action and complex graphical and environmental effects, such as explosions and fire.

With this test, the AMD rig put in a very good performance with a score of 15,444. Meanwhile, the Intel machine, bruised from its loss in the last round, fought back with a mighty 18,043.

Round four winner: Intel

The Intel machine takes the lead with this test, showing that it’s a formidable processor for intensive games – as long as you pair it with a powerful graphics card – like we did with the GTX 1080.

Our final 3DMark benchmark is Sky Diver. This is one of the easier benchmark tests in the 3DMark suite, aimed more at gaming laptops and mid-range PCs. However, it is still a valuable tool for gauging just how well a PC can handle DirectX 11 graphics, especially when it comes to physics.

Showing off realistic physics (such as how scenery can get destroyed and react to gravity, for example) is a key part to making games feel more immersive and realistic than ever, so a good score in the Sky Diver benchmark is definitely a good sign that your rig is up to the task.

In this test, the AMD machine put in a great performance with a score of 36,851. Such a high score compared to the other 3DMark benchmarks shows how Sky Diver is a less intense benchmark to pass.

Not to be outdone, the Intel machine produced a score of 39,210.

Round five winner: Intel

Intel blasts ahead of AMD in this round. That said, the very high scores both PCs obtained shows just how powerful they are – either one would be a fantastic choice for your gaming rig.

The next benchmark test we put both PCs through was courtesy of Geekbench 4. This suite of tests can be used to benchmark a range of devices, and we used it to test out how well the processors in each machine perform under stressful circumstances.

As the processors are the two main features that differentiate the two PCs, this is a round that each contestant would really want to win. The benchmark replicates real-world tasks and applications, sometimes very complex ones, and uses them to see how the processors react. A higher score means the CPU is more proficient at completing those tasks.

Can the AMD Ryzen 7 1700 beat the Intel Core i7-7700K? Well, the AMD scored 3,589 in the single core benchmark, and 19,054 in the multi core tests.

Meanwhile, the Intel machine racked up 5,762 in the single core benchmark, and 17,314 in the multi core tests.

Round six winner: Draw

We’re going to have to call this one a draw, and the mixed results really show the strengths of both the AMD and the Intel processors. Intel’s higher single core score points to more powerful individual cores in the chip.

The fact that Fierce PC, the builders of the two rigs we’re testing, overclocked the Intel Core i7-7700K to 4.6GHz, while the AMD Ryzen 7 1700 is overclocked at 3.8GHz goes some way to explaining the improved single core success of the Intel chip.

Meanwhile, AMD’s dominance in the multi-core benchmark is a clear indicator that AMD’s choice to include eight cores in its Ryzen 7 CPUs, compared to the Intel chip’s four cores, was a wise one.

So, for single-core processes, the Intel chip is the one to go for, but for multi-core processes, you’d want the AMD.

DirectX 12, a popular collection of application programming interfaces (API) that many games use for advanced graphical effects, now uses multi-core CPUs more effectively than previous versions. So, while octa-core CPUs, like the AMD Ryzen 7 1700, may still be a bit of an overkill for some games, if you want to future proof your gaming machine, you may want to look at the CPU with the best multi-core performance.

Cinebench is the next hurdle our two competitors must clear, and it’s another benchmark that uses real-world tests to stress out the hardware of the machines it’s running on to see just how powerful (or not) your PC is.

In the CPU benchmark, it uses the PC’s processor to render a photorealistic 3D scene whilst using a number of algorithms designed to stress all available processor cores. According to Maxon, the company behind the Cinebench benchmark, the CPU test renders 2,000 objects (made up of over 300,000 polygons), with sharp and blurred reflections, lighting, shadows and many more complex effects.

At the end of the test, the CPU is given a score – and the higher the number, the faster the processor is.

Once again, we tested the AMD machine first, and it fared very well with a score of 1,368 points. It was then the turn of the Intel machine, which put up a valiant effort, but didn’t quite match AMD, with a score of 892.

Round seven winner: AMD

AMD once again took the lead in the CPU benchmark, showing that for pure processing power, the additional four cores in the Ryzen 7 1700 prove very useful.

Ding ding ding! The bell has been rung, but let’s sneak in a cheeky extra round: price. This is traditionally AMD’s strongest area, as it is often able to undercut Intel on price grounds.

On its own, an AMD Ryzen 7 1700 processor will set you back around £300/$310/around AU$400. Meanwhile, an Intel Core i7-7700K CPU will set you back around the same, at £320/$350/around AU$460.

The price is also very close if you buy the ready-made PCs we tested here. The Fierce PC Imperial Clash – Intel Edition goes for £1,849.95 (around $2,350, AU$3180), while the Fierce PC Imperial Clash – AMD Edition is priced at £1,819.95 (around $2,300, AU$3100).

Bonus round winner: AMD

It’s a very close result to call, but AMD is still marginally cheaper than Intel. So, if you’re a budget-conscious gamer, you’ll want to pick the AMD Ryzen 7 CPU for its price and performance combination.

However, the price difference isn’t that great, so if the rounds wherein the Intel machine pulled ahead have impressed you, then you won’t go wrong with paying extra for the additional oomph.

Crowning the champion

What a fight! When these two heavyweights first squared up, we wouldn’t think that it would be this close. Both machines put in brilliant performances in all the tests, and each one had a number of rounds in which they truly shined.

The Intel machine, packing a Core i7-7700K processor, pulled ahead in the first few rounds when it came to pushing the most frames per second in some of the most demanding PC games.

However, the AMD Ryzen 7 1700-toting PC remained competitive, especially during the rounds where it could really show off its octa-core might. The fact that it kept toe-to-toe with the Intel machine, while remaining cheaper, is also supremely impressive.

But neither machine landed a knockout blow that completely destroyed its competition. That means we can recommend either machine (and the CPUs they use) as an ideal choice for PC gamers.

But there can be only one champion, and while both competitors won the same amount of rounds, there was one contender who excelled at the gaming benchmarks, which is what counts in this contest.

So, this year’s PC Gaming Week CPU Champion is…

Can AMD take the crown next time? We’ll no doubt be holding a rematch very soon…

Welcome to TechRadar's 3rd annual PC Gaming Week, celebrating the almighty gaming PC with in-depth interviews, previews, reviews and features all about one of the TechRadar team’s favorite pastimes. Missed a day? Check out our constantly updated hub article for all of the coverage in one place.