AMD vs. Intel: Which CPU is best for you?

At the heart of your pursuit of a new or updated PC is an important decision: Are you using an AMD or Intel CPU? Like MacOS against Windows or Star Trek against Star Wars, the rivalry between AMD and Intel is one of the biggest debates for PC enthusiasts.

However, one of these two suppliers of finely corrugated silicon delivers the intellectual performance behind your PC. Which CPU is right for you? We examine the details to find out.

Desktop processors

Because the cost of building, upgrading, or buying a PC plays an important role, choosing the right CPU often means finding the one that offers the best for your money.

In the past, AMD CPUs offered lower prices with lower performance. This is not the case with the latest CPU generation. While AMD is still good value for money, it does offer some costly options that in some cases are even more powerful than the Intel alternative.

At the lower end of the scale, AMD and Intel chips cost between $ 40 and $ 60 for a few cores and energy-efficient clock speeds. At the top of the scale, however, both camps have amazingly powerful $ 500 chips.

Dan Baker / Digital Trends

With AMD, the Ryzen 9 3950X is the current king with 16 cores and 32 threads. It pervades this $ 500 range at a suggested price of $ 722.

Intel's former top gamer chip, the Core i9-9900K, has eight cores and 16 threads. With a 5 GHz single-core boost, it is clocked somewhat higher than AMD's 3950X with 4.7 GHz. The price is $ 510, depending on where you buy the chip

Intel announced on April 30, 2020 the "fastest" gaming processor in the world, the Core i9-10900K, for a suggested price of $ 488. The unlocked 10th generation Comet Lake-S chip has 10 cores, 20 threads and, with its new Velocity Boost algorithm, offers a maximum clock speed of 5.3 GHz on a single core. It can reach a maximum of 4.8 GHz over all cores at the same time.

This highest clock is driven by artificial intelligence, which opportunistically increases the frequency when the chip stays below a certain temperature threshold. This higher number of clocks and cores also comes at the expense of performance and thermal requirements, since this 10th generation chip (and all other models in the K series) has a TDP of 125 W.

With Comet Lake, Intel has introduced 11 new desktop processors that range from the 10-core flagship to the 4-core i3-10100. Half are unlocked "K" variants like the i7-10700 and an unlocked i7-10700K version. All desktop parts remain on the 14 nm process node from Intel and, in contrast to the latest AMD CPUs, support PCI Express 3.0.

We recommend the Intel chips for middle-way options Core i5-9400F for $ 150 and the Core i7-9700K for $ 380. However, this can change as soon as we have had the opportunity to test the offers.

On the AMD front, the Ryzen 7 3700X is a fantastic option with eight cores and 16 threads and a big increase in instructions per clock compared to its 2700X predecessor – all for $ 299. It's a killer chip that gives the Intel i7-9700K a run for its money while gaming and dominates it in multi-threaded workloads.

Intel Core i9 and AMD Threadripper CPUs for enthusiasts and prosumers offer even more multithreaded performance and further increase the number of core and thread threads. The seventh, ninth and tenth generation i9 CPUs from Intel offer between 10 and 18 cores and up to 36 threads thanks to hyperthreading.

The i9-10980XE is currently leading the 18-core, 36-thread enthusiast pack at a suggested price of $ 979. This is significantly less than the $ 1,999 price at which its ninth-generation predecessor debuted, while the maximum boost increased to 4.8 GHz and the number of PCI Express lanes increased to 48. The product line launched in November 2019 includes three additional chips, including the 10-core i9-10900XE for $ 590.

The Threadripper 2000 series is also worth considering at the right price as it may not be as fast as the third generation options, but it still stores many cores under the hood, making it ideal for multi-threaded workloads. They are also a lot cheaper.

CPUs offer between 12 and 32 cores and up to 64 threads with simultaneous multithreading. We recommend that Threadripper 2950x for around $ 640 If you want a high-end upgrade at a low cost.

If price doesn't matter, AMD's third generation Threadripper chips are also available. The 3960X offers 24 cores and 48 threads for $ 1,399, while the 3970X offers 32 cores and 64 threads for $ 1,999. If that's not enough cores, the new 3990X thread ripper offers 64 and 128 threads for an impressive $ 3,700. That's far more cores than anything Intel has to offer outside of its server room, and even then it's cheaper.

The first and second generation thread ripper chips support 64 PCI Express lanes. This is a big advantage over the maximum of 44 in the Intel series. The third generation CPUs increase this number to 72 usable lanes (88 in total). However, thread ripper chips can be more power hungry thanks to all of these additional cores.

Laptop processors

The laptop market is a different story. Most of what you find is based on multi-generation Intel processors and integrated graphics. As a representative from Dell once indicated, Intel's portfolio is simply huge compared to AMD: the gap between the two companies is considerable in terms of market share and “use cases”.

However, AMD wanted its hardware to be at the center of many laptops by the end of 2019. It is already included in some new offers, such as the new Acer Swift 3 or the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3.

AMD's advances in mobile communications will continue in 2020, although there is still a long way to go. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 serves as the launch pad for AMD's new Ryzen 4000 chips for laptops. In particular, this model offers the Ryzen 9 4900HS eight-core chip (16 threads) with a base speed of 3 GHz and a maximum single-core boost clock of 4.3 GHz.

When testing the G14, we found that the Intel Core i7-9750H six-core chip used in other gaming laptops simply couldn't keep up. It even outperformed the Intel Core i9-9880HK 8-core chip. Thermal problems surrounding an 8-core chip in a thin form factor, however, result in loud fans that run continuously in the background.

Still, the G14 is just a taste of what AMD and its partners can expect in 2020. Other laptops with a Ryzen 4000 CPU include two other G14 models with the Ryzen 9 4900H and the Asus TUF Gaming A17 (FA706IU) with AMD's Ryzen 7 4800H among others.

In the meantime, HP will add Ryzen 4000 chips to the upcoming Envy x360 13 and 15 2-in-1 models, while the Omen 15 gaming laptop is said to have a Ryzen 4000 chip in combination with an RTX 2060 GPU . Lenovo's new Legion 5 gaming laptop, arriving in May, uses the Ryzen 7 4800H.

Bill Roberson / Digital Trends

Currently the market is mainly dominated by Intel. You can choose from a variety of configurations, including 8th, 9th and 10th generation CPUs. The latest product line features 10th generation Intel Ice Lake processors with 11th generation onboard graphics. They represent some of the most powerful and efficient laptops on the market, like the new Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.

As an alternative to Ice Lake, Intel also offers 10th generation Comet Lake H processors. The company launched six new chips in April to give laptops a desktop-like performance. At the forefront is the Core i9-10980HK with eight cores, 16 threads, a base clock speed of 2.4 GHz and a maximum single-core turbo speed of 5.3 GHz via Thermal Velocity Boost. The other five chips range from the eight-core i7-10875H to the four-core i5-10300H.

If you are looking for good all-round performance in a laptop, Intel Core i5 processors of the last generation are a good choice. Core i7 and Core i9 CPUs offer much more general computing power. However, if you're not running heavy workloads, a Core i5 is more than sufficient in most cases.

Overall, both companies produce processors in almost every respect within striking distance – price, performance and performance. Intel chips tend to offer better performance per core, but AMD compensates with more cores at a certain price and better onboard graphics.

Play

Gaming is an area where choosing a CPU can be difficult. Every Intel processor contains Integrated graphics on the chip, but the performance does not match the discrete, independent graphics graphics Chips or add-in graphics cards.

Meanwhile, most AMD desktop processors do not contain integrated graphics. Those who do this are called Accelerated Processing Units or APUs. These chips combine Ryzen CPU cores with Radeon graphics cores on the same chip. They typically have better graphics capabilities than Intel's built-in GPU cores, but weaker overall processing. However, Intel's Ice Lake changed this paradigm with its new Iris Plus graphics.

Regardless of whether you choose Intel or AMD, you can expect to spend between $ 200 and $ 350 for mid-tier gaming processors and over $ 500 if you have a premium chip for high frame rates or streaming and Need gaming.

2019 Razer Blade Pro 17Dan Baker / Digital Trends

Reputable gamers use an add-in graphics card (these are the best) or a discrete GPU instead of built-in graphics. In these scenarios, Intel typically dominates game performance because the two giant giants build their processors. The 9900K is probably the most powerful gaming CPU at the moment – even if early benchmarks were a bit suspicious.

However, AMD's chips – especially the latest Ryzen CPUs – are excellent competitors. The Ryzen 9 3900X and Ryzen 7 3800X give the 9900K a run for its money in most games. They also decimate Intel in multi-thread scenarios and are great for running applications that support multiple cores.

AMD introduced the Ryzen 9 3950X 16-core processor for $ 749 in November 2019. The AMD chip outperforms any Core i9 CPU on multi-core workloads and is the best gaming CPU AMD has ever made, even if it's only a percentage point or two. That's not really the focus as it acts as a HEDT-Lite chip, but it's still an amazing feat to pack so many cores in a single chip, but not lose any single-threaded performance.

AMD's CPU dynamics now make it more difficult than in the past to recommend Intel for gaming. If you're just playing, Intel's 9700K, 9900K, and 9900KS are currently the best CPUs you can buy until we see how the new Comet Lake S chips work. If you're doing something on the side or not playing, Ryzen 3000 chips are a better choice. They are sold at similar prices, deliver comparable performance in games, and perform much better elsewhere.

best graphics card for gamesBill Roberson / Digital Trends

Mid-range Ryzen processors are also worth considering. The Ryzen 3600 and 3600X offer incredible value and are also very powerful gaming chips. AMD's Ryzen APUs with Vega graphics offer decent gaming performance, even in the lower range, which is worth considering. However, due to their weaker processing functions, they are not the best value for money in the long run unless you are planning a later upgrade.

Unless you're trying to play at very high frame rates or set to lower resolutions like 1080p, the CPU in games is rarely the limiting factor. Choosing a more powerful graphics card will usually give you better results than spending cash on a more powerful processor.

And don't forget that synchronization technologies like FreeSync and G-Sync, with or without optimizing your processor, can make a big difference in the look of games.

In some cases, you can choose the best of both worlds. Intel and AMD have teamed up to develop combination chips with Intel CPU cores and AMD GPU cores on the same chip as the Core i7-8809G. During our tests of the “Hades Canyon” NUC equipped with 8809G, we found that it was a solid slot machine. Therefore, this partnership could lead to much larger hardware options in the future.

Who wins?

During a daily workload, a top-class AMD chip and a top-class Intel chip do not lead to radically different results. There are clear differences in certain scenarios and benchmarks, but the CPU isn't the cornerstone of the PC performance it used to be.

However, the AMD CPUs, especially the latest Ryzen 3000 models, offer an amazing price-performance ratio and astonishing performance for the entire product range. From the humble 3600 to the 3950X, the bang for the buck is a lot better with AMD CPUs, even if you're mostly a gambler.

Intel CPUs are still great, but to stay competitive with AMD, Intel has to cut its prices – which may be worth it if you only want to buy Intel.

The best thing to do when choosing your next upgrade is to look at the individual metrics of the chip you want to buy. You should also consider these general guidelines to get a good starting point.

AMD Ryzen 3000 processors offer the best price-performance ratio over almost the entire value range. While Intel has a slight head start when it comes to gaming, even then the advantages of AMD CPUs outside this range easily outweigh such a small head start. They also have a better upgrade path as AMD promises that existing motherboards will continue to work with new AMD chips in 2020.

If you find Intel chips at a cheap price, you will still get great performance for your money. However, you know that if you ignore the new landscape that AMD processors gave us in 2019, you might leave some performance on the table.

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