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TECHNOLOGY, DISCOVERY & INNOVATION. UPDATED 3 MINUTES AGO.
You are here: Home / Innovation / AMD vs Intel: Which One Is Better?
AMD vs Intel: Which Chipmaker Does Processors Better?
AMD vs Intel: Which Chipmaker Does Processors Better?
By Gabe Carey Like this on Facebook Tweet this Link thison Linkedin Link this on Google Plus
PUBLISHED:
OCTOBER
26
2017
Now that we've had some time to stew on it following the soft launch of Coffee Lake on October 5, let's talk AMD vs Intel.

The two chipmakers have been going head-to-head for a few months now -- ever since Ryzen dropped back in March if we're being honest -- but is there a clear winner? That's what we've set off to explore in this article.

You see, if the motherboard is a PC's skeleton, the CPU or processor is the brains of the operation. And, in a world where two companies dominate the brain sales market, it's important to know which one is doing it better, so that you can decide for yourself who to buy from.

If you've been scrupulously following AMD and Intel this year, you should know that they're both doing drastically different things with their processors. Intel has kept its focus on higher clock speeds and lower core counts while AMD has doubled down on what it knows by integrating insane numbers of cores in its processors at acceptable frequencies.

Naturally, this has put AMD on track to be the favorite for video game streamers and self-proclaimed 'mega-taskers.' Intel, on the other hand, is doing its best to appeal to gamers and content creators with one-tracked minds, those who don't need a million windows open on their computers at once.

It isn't far-fetched to say AMD and Intel can cater to different audiences side-by-side with some overlap in between. If you're not quite sure where you fit in yet, read on to the next slide for an always up to date look at the AMD vs Intel dynamic.

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 $97 (£80, AU$75) Pentium G4560 offering far better performance than AMD's $94 (£85, £148) 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.

If you can get your hands on one, the Core i7-8700K is $359 (£265, AU$450), while the still-less capable Ryzen 7 1800X is priced at $499 (about £391, AU$662).

With that in mind, CPU pricing fluctuates constantly. Wait a few months, and you'll soon discover that the Ryzen 5 1600X -- which is mysteriously showing 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.

Still, $249 (about £194, $330) for a six-core processor is unparalleled, even if the extra cores are only really beneficial in multi-tasking scenarios like streaming gameplay on Twitch.

There's a huge pool of Twitch broadcasters alone that might find AMD's Ryzen-series processors more appealing than Intel's Kaby Lake, although Coffee Lake presents a compelling counterpoint to that argument.

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 graphics-intensive games, particularly of the free-to-play variety, on a processor's built-in graphics if it has them. In this area, Intel is the clear winner, considering not a single Ryzen chip on the market will work without a graphics card, either from AMD itself or from its competitor Nvidia.

It doesn't appear as though this is set to change any time soon, at least on desktops, but with laptops it's a different story. Not only is AMD going to have onboard Vega graphics soon enough, but Intel might even start using its competitor's video technology upon the release of its Coffee Lake-H and Cannon Lake-Y processors due next year.

Be that as it may, 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 will likely fare just as well as any top-end graphics card.

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 $149 (about £100, AU$160) 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.

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 processor availability, AMD's latest are much easier to come by right now than Intel's, likely because of a manufacturing shortage. Save for select Core i3 models, the Coffee Lake-S chips released in October can only be widely found on backorder, as of this writing.

Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar retailers, like Micro Center, are fleecing their customers, of nearly a hundred dollars in some cases, over the manufacturer's suggested price. As a result, your best bet is to wait for the next shipment of Intel's 8th-generation processors, whenever that may come.

At the very least, you can pre-order an i5-8400, i5-8600K, i7-8700 or i7-8700K from B&H Photo to the tune of a vague promise that they're all ‘Coming Soon' and the worrying condition that you'll be charged full price at checkout. Or you could easily buy any Ryzen processor from just about anywhere right now.

Above all else, availability may be the most pertinent argument for AMD and against Intel, at least at this moment.

© 2017 T-break Tech under contract with NewsEdge/Acquire Media. All rights reserved.

Image credit: AMD; Intel; Artist's concept.

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