The central processing unity (CPU) is at the heart of any device, be it your phone, tablet, router, laptop, smart TV, and desktop PC. It's what handles all the tasks put forward by the operating system (OS) to function properly and allow you to do incredible things. Much like the discussion surrounding the OS, AMD vs. Intel has been a heated debate for decades.
Looking at a new laptop or parts for building or upgrading your desktop PC, should you choose Intel or AMD? I'm going to walk you through a short history lesson, as well as look at pricing and performance figures for various processors to reach a conclusion.
Intel vs. AMD: History of the chipmakers
AMD and Intel both go way back to the beginning of the computer. The two companies are responsible for the x86 platform, which is still used to this day as the basic architecture for making processors. However, it was AMD that made a massive breakthrough by developing 64-bit for its Athlon series of processors, hence the branding AMD64 (later x86-64). Intel was on the back peddle.
Things didn't improve much for Intel after working its own way into 64-bit computing, largely thanks to AMD launching the first-ever dual-core processor, the Athlon 64 X2 3800+. But AMD's time at the forefront of CPU development was coming to an end, and Intel began innovating with its Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs. Then, the situation escalated with new Intel mobile CPUs for laptops and desktop that far outperformed what AMD could muster.
AMD vs. Intel in the 2010s
Intel and AMD have been competing against one another for decades, and we took a look at some of the seismic changes that occurred between 2010 and today.
AMD came out with its Bulldozer architecture in 2011, and it wasn't great. While the family of processors offered amazing value, especially the FX-4100, the CPUs just couldn't keep up with what Intel had available at the time. Strangely, AMD's architecture did allow enthusiasts and PC owners to push their processors to insane levels.
The AMD FX-8350 holds the current record for the highest clock speed at a whopping 8,794.33 MHz. That can be rounded up to 8.5GHz, which doesn't sound high until you compare it to the average of between 3-4GHz. All the AMD processors at the time were unlocked, while Intel fans had to pay extra for the luxury.
The company went on to improve the platform in any way they could, leading to further generations of CPUs released to mixed reviews. Intel was able to keep to its Tick Tock release approach and price its hardware accordingly, seeing no immediate threat from AMD. The once heated market was now thoroughly frozen in the freezer.
AMD was unable to share its internal project to the world, but what was on the horizon would change the landscape for both companies in years to come. Cue, Ryzen. In 2017, AMD launched Ryzen, and we ended up where we are today, with both companies once again offering similarly priced and performing processors.
Intel vs. AMD: Price and value
This is arguably the most important deciding factor between AMD and Intel and has long been the highest point of discussion. Traditionally, AMD has been viewed as the budget-friendly, less energy-efficient CPUs that have more cores taped onto the silicon that you'd know what to use for. Older AMD processors like the FX series go hot, but they offered some compelling use cases.
Intel was able to become complacent due to AMD's downfall.
Intel attempted to remain competitive with pricing while simultaneously marketing its processors as simply better, and they largely were until recently. During AMD's downfall in the early decades of this century, Intel was able to essentially charge more than what they'd usually price processors because AMD didn't have a competing product. If you wanted Intel performance, you paid Intel prices.
Marketshare heavily favored Intel for years until AMD finally hit back at team blue with Ryzen and the Zen architecture. AMD was at the point of no return, and the launch of Ryzen had to be a success. Luckily for AMD fans, this new platform was an incredible leap forward compared to previous generation processors.
But because AMD was the underdog and had to claw back market share, it aggressively priced the first-gen Ryzen family. These new processors from AMD were as good (if not slightly better) than what Intel had on the market, and they costed less. Intel was caught entirely off guard, which is what led to the rushed Core X series and the debacle for slashing the Core i9 X pricing by 50%.
As of today, the pricing for processors is in a good position for PC builders and those looking to upgrade the CPU inside their machine. You can buy a six-core processor for less than $300, which rocks considerable performance per-core. AMD still offers better value in terms of cores and threads, without sacrificing too much in the performance department.
Even after matching Intel with performance, AMD maintains its aggressive CPU pricing.
The Ryzen 5 3600X is an amazing mid-tier processor, so too is the Core i5-9600K, Intel's counterpart. The former's RRP at launch was $199. The Intel Core i5-9600K was $269. Both CPUs can be found at roughly the same price today, but they're not identical. AMD's Ryzen 5 3600X comes unlocked with six cores and 12 threads. Intel's Core i5-9600K is also unlocked but only comes with six cores and threads. No Hyperthreading.
Even at the low-end, AMD is throwing some punches. The Ryzen 3 3200G has similar Radeon graphics to the Ryzen 5 3400G, which our Richard Devine reviewed most favorably, and is capable of playing games at decent quality settings. Compare that against the Intel Core i3-9100 with its mediocre integrated graphics and similar pricing, and you've got a clear winner.
Intel vs. AMD: Performance and gaming
For performance, Intel has generally led the fight comfortably. That's no longer the case with AMD's current generation of Ryzen processors, though Intel has lept ahead once again with Comet Lake. Take the new Intel Core i9-10900K, for example. This is a powerful 10-core processor with 20 threads. To make it even more capable is an AI that manages frequency on the fly, depending on temperature readings.
It can hit 5.3GHz on a single core using a new algorithm and is what Intel fans have been calling for. The best part is the price of $488 and the fact it's unlocked. Performance for general computing, gaming, and even enthusiast use is for what this beast is designed. But it's not all great for Intel, however, which still uses a 14nm process node and doesn't yet support PCIe 4.0 on any processor.
Intel's Core i9-10900K has the potential to be a monster CPU.
AMD isn't too far behind, however. The Ryzen 9 3900X is still widely considered by many to be the current sweet spot for gamers with a whopping 12 cores and 24 threads, as well as a boost clock speed of 4.6GHz. Both the Ryzen 9 3900X and Core i9-10900K are incredible processors at reasonable prices.
For general use and gaming, both processor platforms offer plenty of performance, and you're likely to avoid any bottlenecking, regardless of which high-end processor you pick. Still, Intel does pull ahead, taking everything into account. AMD forced Intel to get back into innovating, and we're now seeing the results with aggressive pricing. It's a win-win for PC owners.
Intel vs. AMD: Mobile laptop processors
The laptop market is dominated by Intel, even to this day. While AMD managed to win back some favor with the general public after Ryzen launched, it has been reluctant to get into the mobile space. AMD finally launched some new Ryzen 3000 processors for notebooks, but they were a disappointment compared to what Intel already had available.
Things changed with the launch of newer Ryzen 4000 mobile CPUs, which were actually good enough to be used in products. The Ryzen 9 4900HS is a beastly 8-core CPU with 16 threads and can boost all the way up to 4.3GHz. This monster outperformed Intel's high-end mobile processors, which should pave the way for some considerable market share chunks.
Our own laptop reviews with AMD processors have been positive too. Intel isn't out yet, and the market remains to be utterly dominated by blue stickers all across the budget spectrum. Buying a laptop today will most likely house an Intel Core i3, i5, i7, or i9 processor. Intel has the edge on mobile performance (aside from that Ryzen 9 4900HS), but AMD-powered laptops offer considerably more value.
So, which is better?
It's difficult to make the wrong decision when purchasing a CPU unless you try and install a processor on an incompatible motherboard. Whether you go with AMD or Intel, you'll have a capable PC that will be able to do tremendous number of tasks. There are clear differences in pricing and value, however.
AMD's collection of processors, especially the Ryzen 3000, offers far more value with more for your money. Whether you're installing a Ryzen 3 3100 or Ryzen 9 3950X, you'll likely be scoring more cores and threads than the competing Intel CPU, without sacrificing too much on per-core performance.
If you're already locked into a platform and don't plan on switching motherboards, upgrading to a better processor could provide substantial results. You'll just have to bear in mind that Intel only supports a chipset for two generations, while AMD has far better support on older motherboards for newer processors.
Intel has a slight edge on AMD when it comes to performance, but it's difficult to notice such results when you're not using a synthetic benchmark. We'll have to keep monitoring the battlefield as Intel and AMD continue to trade blows with Ryzen 4000, and Intel's 11th Gen move to a 10nm process.
The future's bright for the CPU market, and that's better for all of us.
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