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AMD vs Intel: which chipmaker does processors better?

An AMD Ryzen against a yellow background and an Intel Core i9 against an orange background
(Image credit: AMD; Intel)

The AMD vs Intel battle isn't going anywhere any time soon, and if anything, it's only intensifying as the two chipmakers have made some important pivots toward new technologies in 2022.

While AMD and Intel have been releasing the best processors they've made in years in late 2021 and early 2022, they have taken two very different approaches to innovating their way out of the looming dead end of Moore's Law.

Intel has struggled in recent years to hold its ground against a resurgent AMD. AMD's Ryzen processors have turned the fortunes of the company around after Intel seemingly built a daunting lead in the market with the introduction of its Core series processors. The best AMD processors started going toe-to-toe and even beating the best Intel processors in recent years, putting Intel on its back foot as it tried to keep pace with Team Red.

You can't count Team Blue out though, and it rebounded solidly with the release of its Alder Lake generation of chips, built on the big.LITTLE chip architecture pioneered by ARM and adopted by Apple for its M1 series SoCs. The 12th-gen chips represent a real sea change in the company's production and design strategy, and suddenly it was AMD that found itself falling behind.

But AMD hasn't been idle. It, too, has been looking for new technologies that could help propel it to the next level of innovation, and it's exploration of more unconventional chiplet designs is paying dividends. Its first 3D V-cache processor, which puts Intel's silicon to shame in the gaming segment, a huge revenue driver for tech companies of all kinds.

How will these new developments play out in the years ahead? It's anyone's guess at this point, but with the next-gen Intel Raptor Lake and AMD Zen 4 processors in the works and due to launch in a fairly close timeframe, it looks like the next generation's fight between AMD and Intel is going to be even more exciting than this most recent release.

AMD vs Intel: price

intel Alder Lake, processors on motherboard and on table

(Image credit: Future)

In the past, if you were looking for a decent CPU with a budget-friendly price, your go-to choice was AMD. However, with their newest generation of Ryzen CPUs, AMD has been on par or even surpassed Intel components on price. 

We noted in our AMD Ryzen 9 5900X review how the price of the 5900X went up $50 (about £35, AU$70) over the Ryzen 9 3900X it replaced. The AMD Ryzen 9 5950X, meanwhile, is even more expensive with an MSRP of $799 which is the same price as Intel's new Alder Lake Core i9-12900K processor.

This is more or less the pattern now as you move down the stack to the Core i7 and Ryzen 7, and the Core i5 and Ryzen 5 processors. And while AMD Ryzen processors are generally going to be cheaper than and equivalent Intel chip, the price difference is narrow enough now that depending on where you get the processor, you could end up paying more for an AMD chip than an Intel one.

In the other direction, if you're in the market for a really high-end CPU and have super deep pockets, the third generation of AMD Threadripper units is the best choice for professional 3D modeling artists, animators, filmmakers, and data scientists. 

The Threadripper 3990X retails for a whopping $3,900 (£3,030, AU$5,890), putting it well out of range of casual PC builders and average PC gamers. This CPU is built with 64 cores and 128 threads to give you plenty of power to render 3D models and rip through complex mathematical models to get the most out of your workday.  

AMD vs Intel: performance

intel Alder Lake, processors on motherboard and on table

(Image credit: Future)

So you've set yourself a budget for a new CPU, but you still have a ton of options when it comes to performance.

If you're looking for pure, raw performance, than the Intel Alder Lake chips are going to serve you very well. The most powerful processor overall in the consumer class is the Core i9-12900K, which outperforms anything comparable that AMD is putting out and it's not even really close.

If we were to compare apples to apples, as we did in our Intel Core i9-12900K vs AMD Ryzen 9 5900X breakdown, then the Ryzen 9 5900X comes in at a lower cost to the Core i9-12900K (and that's not even factoring in the new motherboard and cooling you likely need for it). 

The Ryzen 9 5900XT is a 12-core, 24-thread processor that maxes out at a boost frequency of 4.8GHz and whopping 70MB of cache memory.

The Core i9-12900K is a 16-core processor, but only eight of those cores are dual-threaded performance cores. The other eight are efficiency cores that are single threaded and less powerful, but take on all of the low level background tasks. This frees up the performance cores to dedicate themselves to tackling heavy workloads.

Ryzen

(Image credit: Ryzen)

This means that the total number of threads available for workloads is the same, but the difference comes in how those threads are used, and whatever Intel is doing is definitely working.

In the Cinebench R23 benchmarks we ran for our Intel Core i9-12900K and Core 15-12600K review, the Core i9-12900K scored about 21% better than the Ryzen 9 5900X in the single-threaded run and about 23% better during the multi-threaded run.

In fairness the AMD Zen 3 architecture in the Ryzen 9 5900X is a little bit behind the Alder Lake chips, generationally, so it's not an entirely fair comparison, but these are the two best processors out there right now from the two companies, so if it's not a fair comparison, then AMD is at fault for getting their next-gen chips to market sooner.

Where AMD does deserve some recognition in the performance department is gaming. In our AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D review, the Ryzen 7 5800X3D couldn't keep up with the beefier chips like the Ryzen 9 5900X or Core i9-12900K in just about any task – except one. When it came to gaming, the Ryzen 7 5800X3D sweapt the field before it and took the crown as the best processor for gaming out there right now.

How it was able to do this is very much tied to the direction AMD is going with its processors, and that direction is interesting because it is a very different one than Intel is taking.

AMD vs Intel: future speculation

An AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D processor seated into a black motherboard

(Image credit: Future)

Intel's approach to its next gen processors looks a lot like Apple's. With the M1 chip, Apple moved to a hybrid architecture that had long powered mobile phones and tablets and is only just now making it to mobile and destop PCs. This architecture, known as big.LITTLE, uses a mix of performance and efficiency cores and delegates tasks to specific cores based on their priority and processing demands. 

This introduces a lot of efficiency into the processor by better managing its resources (why use up an entire full-fat thread to poll a keyboard to see if a key was pressed? It's a waste of energy, and this efficiency is how big.LITTLE chips are able to get such extraordinary battery life. And now, those performance cores are powerful enough to absolutely blow through major computing tasks like video editing and gaming in ways that wasn't possible even a few years ago. 

How that technology develops will be interesting to see because it looks like AMD is explicitly not going in that direction with their processors. Instead, AMD and semiconductor fabricator TSMC are co-developing a 3D chip-stacking process that introduces more verticality to the traditional processor chiplets.

It was this technology that allowed AMD to introduce a whole new 3D V-Cache chiplet on top of the processor die that expanded the pool of available cache memory for the eight processor cores of the Ryzen 7 5800X to create the Ryzen 7 5800X3D, and the result seriously impressive.

These are two different technologies that could radically transform how computer processors are designed and produced in the future, adding a lot more depth and complexity to the AMD vs Intel debate we've been having for years now. How these two technologies diverge and interact in the next several years could chart the course for consumer computing for decades to come.

John Loeffler
John Loeffler

John (He/Him) is the US Computing Editor here at TechRadar and he is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY. 


Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.


You can find him online on Twitter at @thisdotjohn


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