Whether you prefer desktops or laptops, buying a ready-made PC or building your own, there are all kinds of decisions to make. But the most important one of all sounds deceptively simple, and that's the choice of AMD or Intel.
The processor (also called CPU or APU) family you choose will dictate many of the other features of your PC, and while model from AMD and Intel both do much the same thing they go about it in very different ways. So how do you choose?
The short answer is – it depends. The longer answer – well, that's what we'll cover over the course of this article…
AMD vs Intel: which one is cheapest?
If price is your priority, a quick look through your favourite online emporium will demonstrate that current model AMD processors are generally quite a bit cheaper than Intel ones. However, that doesn't necessarily mean they are the best value, because Intel processors tend to run faster than their AMD rivals.
There are exceptions, though. AMD's on-board graphics tend to perform better than Intel's integrated graphics solutions, and if you're looking for multi-core processors AMD efforts are usually significantly less expensive than similarly performing Intel ones. For example, AMD's quad-core 3.9GHz A10-7870K is currently going for around £105 including VAT (around $165, or AU$230); a quad-core 3.1GHz Intel Core i5 4440 is £139 (around $220, or AU$300) on the same sites.
It's worth mentioning that CPU prices drop dramatically after they've been introduced – if you buy a brand new processor on the day it hits the shelves you'll pay considerably more than if you're willing to wait a few months.
AMD vs Intel: which one is best for gaming?
For budget gaming, AMD wins hands down – it bought graphics processor firm ATI back in 2006 and since then the company has invested heavily in graphics technology, especially for mobile devices such as laptops.
Intel has been investing too, but it's playing catch-up here – in budget processors and PCs, AMD's Radeon graphics system runs rings around Intel's integrated graphics (although Intel is closing the gap, and its Iris Pro technology, which appears in the latest generation of Core processors, is a vast improvement over the previous HD Graphics systems).
However, if you're serious about gaming then you'll be going for a dedicated graphics card rather than relying on integrated graphics systems – and in that case Intel may well be the better bet, because Intel processors deliver more impressive performance alongside high-end graphics cards.
Check out Anandtech's detailed benchmarks to see the difference, which can be pretty dramatic – for example in Alien Isolation, a $72 (around £45, or AU$100) Intel Pentium saw off an AMD A10 costing twice as much, a scenario that was repeated across a range of PCs and games.
AMD vs Intel: which one offers the best performance?
If you look at the fastest high-end systems around, they're generally Intel-powered – although once you get to those heady heights the differences between similarly specified Intel Core i7 and AMD A10 PCs can often be microscopic.
If you're a fan of overclocking, you'll find AMD processors are often more accommodating than Intel ones. If you've got time to spare, you can easily run direct spec comparisons between processors on CPU-World.com.
AMD vs Intel: what do all the names mean?
Processor firms tend to use descriptive codenames rather than meaningless strings of letters and numbers to describe their processor ranges, so for example Intel has Skylake and AMD has Carrizo. The latter is AMD's incoming processor range for moderately powerful laptops, while Skylake is the new sixth generation of Intel's Core processors.
Each new generation promises better performance with less power consumption than its predecessor.
AMD vs Intel: which is best for system builders?
Once again AMD wins on price, but the downside is compatibility; on a site such as eBuyer you'll find 74 AMD motherboards and 215 Intel ones. It's a little bit more complicated than that – there are several different processor socket designs to choose from, so you can't just say "ah, an Intel motherboard! That'll work!" – but there is a wider choice of boards for Intel processors of any socket design.
AMD vs Intel: which one will burst into flames?
Processor heat dissipation is usually expressed in TDP, which is short for Thermal Design Power. This is the average maximum heat a processor is likely to emit while running normal commercial software, and manufacturers publish it so that PC and accessory firms know how hot things are likely to get and how hard the cooling system will need to work. For the AMD A10-7870K the TDP is 95 watts, and for the Intel Core i5 4440 it's 84 watts.
That's a difference you'll see repeatedly if you compare similarly powerful processors from each firm, as while both companies have been pushing for ever more efficient processors, Intel has been doing a better job of keeping things cool. That's an ongoing process, too – when we tested the new Intel Core i7 5775C processor we found that even when overclocked to 4.2GHz, the CPU kept well under 60 degrees.
AMD vs Intel: which is best?
If you've only got £20 to spare, then there's only one name to consider – on a site such as eBuyer you can get an AMD processor for £19.53 (around $30, or AU$45) , while the cheapest Intel CPU is currently on special offer on the same site for £29.99 (around $45, or AU$65). If your requirements are a little more complex than that, however, then the short answer is, once again – it depends.
If you want budget gaming, the smart money's on AMD until Iris Pro-packing Intel chips drop in price. If power's all-important and money no object, it has to be Intel all the way. For everything else, it's about weighing up the pros and cons: AMD's lower cost versus Intel's better performance, or AMD's better integrated graphics versus Intel's better results with high-end graphics cards.
And more than anything, you must consider what you actually want to do with your PC. It's all very well dropping £280 (around $440, or AU$610) on a 4GHz Core i7 4790K, but it's a bit much if all you want to do is edit Google Docs.