Now that the hype around Coffee Lake has died down a little bit, let’s get into that age-old debate: which is better, AMD or Intel?
Ever since March, when AMD dropped its new Ryzen line of CPUs these two behemoths of the tech industry have been going at it, but is there a clear, decisive winner? Well, that’s precisely the question we aim to answer here.
Your CPU is basically the brain of your computer, behind everything you do on your PC, from basic things like powering on and deciding when to go into sleep mode, to more complex and intense tasks like playing games or rendering video. Because of how important your processor is for everything you do, you should make sure that you can trust the brand you’re buying from. Additionally, whether you choose AMD or Intel, you should make sure that their CPUs cater to what you actually need to do with them. Nobody wants to pay for features they’re not going to use.
So, if you’re anything like us, you’ve been watching AMD and Intel duke it out throughout 2017 and you probably already know that they’ve each been focusing on entirely different things with their products. Intel, as ever, has been focused on featuring higher clock speeds on their CPUs while keeping their core counts more modest – while AMD has been doing the opposite, shoving as many cores into their processors as they can while keeping their clock speeds lower.
It shouldn’t be surprising then that AMD has been killing it with its Ryzen processors this year, especially with the high-performance Threadripper series that has been a huge hit with gamers. And, Intel is experiencing huge growth in every category – except for desktop processors. AMD is finally giving Intel a run for its money.
Still, it isn’t that bizarre to say that AMD and Intel can coexist while catering to different audiences, with maybe some room for direct competition in between. But, if you’re not quite sure where your loyalties lie just yet, continue to the next slide for a constantly updated look at the AMD vs Intel battle.
- Whether you go for Intel or AMD, these are the best PC games
Gary Marshall originally contributed to this article
For bargain shoppers on the prowl for the next hottest deal, it used to be a widely debatable misconception that AMD’s processors were cheaper, but that was only because the Red Team did its best work at the entry level.
Now that Ryzen processors have proven AMD’s worth on the high-end, the tide has ostensibly turned. Now Intel reigns supreme in the budget CPU space, with its $83 (£76, AU$88) Pentium G4560 offering far better performance than AMD’s $159 (£99, AU$166) A12-9800.
Much of this is due to the Advanced Micro Device company’s reluctance to move beyond simply iterating on its antiquated Bulldozer architecture and onto adopting the current-generation ‘Zen’ standard it’s already introduced with pricier CPUs.
Still, on the low end, Intel and AMD processors typically retail at about the same price. It’s once you hit that exorbitant $200 mark where things get trickier. High-end Intel chips now range from 4 up to 18 cores, while AMD chips can now be found with up to 16 cores.
While it was long-rumored that AMD’s Ryzen chips would offer cutting-edge performance at a lower price, benchmarks have demonstrated that Intel is remaining strongly competitive.
With that in mind, CPU pricing fluctuates constantly. Wait a few months, and you'll soon discover that the Ryzen 5 1600X – which mysteriously shows up in 8-core variants now – you were eyeing has dropped well below market value. However, we understand patience is a virtue easier said than followed, so we wouldn’t blame you for procuring one right now.
If you want the best of the best performance with little regard for price, then turn your head towards Intel.
Not only does the Santa Clara chipmaker rank consistently (albeit only slightly) better in CPU benchmarks, but Intel's processors draw less heat as well, blessing them with lower TDP (thermal design point) ratings – and thus power consumption – across the board.
Much of this is owed to Intel's implementation of hyper-threading, which has been incorporated in its CPUs since 2002. Hyper-threading keeps existing cores active rather than letting any of them remain unproductive.
Even though AMD has implemented simultaneous multi-threading (SMT) in its Ryzen processors, Intel has – for the most part – maintained its place on top in performance benches.
Historically, however, AMD has taken pride in its focus on increasing the number of cores in its chips. On paper, this would make AMD's chips faster than Intel's, save for the impact on heat dissipation and lower clock speeds.
Luckily, the newer Ryzen chips have mitigated a lot of the overheating concerns of the past, so long as you have a decent cooling rig attached.
While it’s not hard to keep an Intel processor cool, because AMD likes to shove as many cores as possible into its silicon, the chips tend to run hotter, meaning you’ll probably have to invest in one of the best CPU coolers to avoid throttling.
This looks to remain the case on the mobile (laptops) front as well, wherein AMD has only recently announced its contributions. The flagship Ryzen 7 2700U (quad-core, 2.2GHz – 3.8GHz) will be most compared to the Intel Core i7-8550U (quad-core, 1.8GHz – 4.0GHz) and seems promising based on those numbers alone.
Now that the Santa Clara company’s own consumer range of desktop-class Core i processors start out with four cores and go all the way up to six, mega-taskers might be tempted by Intel. While it and AMD have loosely achieved performance parity, the battle is now ostensibly over whose chips can do more at once rather than which can do one thing the fastest.
If you're building a gaming PC, truthfully you should be using a discrete graphics card, or GPU (graphics processing unit), rather than relying on a CPU’s integrated graphics to run games as demanding as Middle Earth: Shadow of War.
Still, it’s possible to run less graphically intense games on an integrated GPU if your processor has one. In this area, Intel is the clear winner for now, considering not a single Ryzen chip on the market will work without a graphics card. But that’s all set to change soon enough – at least in the laptop space.
That’s right, presumably starting in the first quarter of next year, Intel will officially start shipping its high-end H-series mobile CPU chips with AMD graphics on board. In turn this means, at least according to Intel’s Christopher Walker, that laptops will be thinner and their accompanying silicon footprints will be over 50% smaller.
All of this is accomplished using Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge (EMIB) technology, along with a newly contrived framework that enables power sharing between Intel’s first-party processors and third-party graphics chips with dedicated graphics memory. Even so, it’s too early to tell whether this is a better solution than the purebred AMD notebooks slated for the end of this year.
Still, if all you're looking to do is play League of Legends at modest settings or relive your childhood with a hard drive full of emulators (it's okay, we won't tell), the latest Intel Kaby Lake, Coffee Lake or AMD A-Series APU processors for desktops will likely fare just as well as any forthcoming portable graphics solution.
On the high end, such as in cases where you'll be pairing your CPU with a powerful AMD or Nvidia GPU, Intel’s processors are typically better for gaming due to their higher base and boost clock speeds. At the same time, though, AMD provides better CPUs for multi-tasking as a result of their higher core and thread counts.
While there is no clear winner in the graphics department, survey says AMD is the better option for integrated graphics (for now), while hardcore gamers who don’t mind shelling out the extra cash for a GPU will find that Intel is better for gaming alone, whereas AMD is superior for carrying out numerous tasks at once.
When you buy a new computer or even just a CPU by itself, it's typically locked at a specific clock speed as indicated on the box. Some processors ship unlocked, allowing for higher clock speeds than recommended by the manufacturer, giving users more control over how they use their components (though, it does require you know how to overclock).
AMD is normally more generous than Intel in this regard. With an AMD system, you can expect overclocking capabilities from even the $129 (about £110, AU$172) Ryzen 3 1300X. Meanwhile, you can only overclock an Intel processor if it's graced with the “K” series stamp of approval. Then again, the cheapest of these is the $149 (£133, AU$195) Intel Core i3-7350K.
Both companies will void your warranty if you brick your processor as the result of overclocking, though, so it’s important to watch out for that. Excessive amounts of heat can be generated if you’re not careful, thereby neutralizing the CPU as a result. With that in mind, you’ll be missing out on a few hundred stock megahertz if you skip out on one of the K models.
Intel’s more extravagant K-stamped chips are pretty impressive, too. The i7-8700K, for instance, is capable of maintaining a 4.7GHz turbo frequency in comparison to the 4.2GHz boost frequency of the Ryzen 7 1800X. If you’ve access to liquid nitrogen cooling, you may even be able to reach upwards of 6.1GHz using Intel’s monstrous, 18-core i9-7980XE.
Availability and support
In the end, the biggest problem with AMD processors is the lack of compatibility with other components. Specifically, motherboard (mobo) and cooler options are limited as a result of the differing sockets between AMD and Intel chips.
While a lot of CPU coolers demand that you special order an AM4 bracket to be used with Ryzen, only a handful of the best motherboards are compatible with the AM4 chipset. In that regard, Intel parts are slightly more commonplace and are often accompanied by lower starting costs, too, as a result of the wide variety of kit to choose from.
That said, AMD's chips make a little more sense from a hardware design perspective. With an AMD motherboard, rather than having metal connector pins on the CPU socket, you'll notice those pins are instead on the underside of the CPU itself. In turn, the mobo is less likely to malfunction due to its own faulty pins.
As for availability, two months after the release date of Intel’s 8th-generation processors, AMD’s latest chips are still much easier to find, giving the Red Team an unequivocal advantage. Despite the fact that certain Core i3 models can be found outfitted in Coffee Lake, we wouldn’t bank on finding any i5 or i7 Intel desktop CPUs on Amazon or Newegg just yet.
Though you won’t have as much of an issue finding an i3-8100 or i3-8350K, both Newegg and Amazon lack availability information on the Intel Core i7-8700K all the way down to the i5-8400. That’s why, above all else, availability may be the most pertinent argument for AMD and against Intel, at least at this moment.
At the same time, brick-and-mortar retailers that do have stock, like Micro Center for instance, are upcharging nearly a hundred dollars in some cases over the manufacturer’s suggested price. As a result, your best bet is to hold out if you’re absolutely set on getting a current-gen Intel Core i chip for your PC. Otherwise, you’ll have no issue nabbing a Ryzen 7 1800X.