At the heart of your pursuit for a new or upgraded PC lies an important decision: Should you use an AMD or Intel CPU? Like MacOS versus Windows, the AMD versus Intel rivalry is one of the greatest debates for PC enthusiasts — and with a new Intel release around the corner, the competition is heating up.
AMD leapfrogged Intel’s 10th-generation processors with its Ryzen 5000 launch, holding a clear lead in gaming and productivity workloads. Intel is catching back up with its launch of 11th-gen Rocket Lake processors, though, and is undercutting AMD on price. In the laptop space, AMD offers its Ryzen 5000 mobile chips, but they don’t show up in nearly as many machines as Intel’s Tiger Lake processors.
Each new product launch marks a shift in the balance between AMD and Intel. Here’s the state of affairs in 2021.
In the past, AMD CPUs were the best option in only budget and entry-level portions of the market, but that changed with AMD Ryzen 3000 and AMD Ryzen 5000. While AMD still represents great value for the money, it now does so throughout the entire price and performance spectrum, competing with Intel on just about everything and taking a stark lead in a few specifics, even at the high end.
The most affordable AMD or Intel chips will cost between $40 and $60 for a couple of cores and energy-efficient clock speeds. The best midrange CPUs will set you back between $200 and $350, while a top gaming CPU is priced around $500. If you want to accelerate intensive tasks like video editing and transcoding, you can spend north of $1,000.
Intel and AMD have excellent processors for gaming and productivity tasks like video editing and transcoding, but they do have their specialties, too. AMD’s current best, the Ryzen 9 5900X and 5950X, beat anything Intel has to offer, clocking in with 12 and 16 cores, respectively.
The best Intel CPU currently is the Core i9-10900K. Intel already released its 11th-gen desktop platform, with the 11900K positioned to replace the 10900K. However, the last-gen chip offers a much better value for money. The 10900K performs about as well as the 11900K, and the price is dropping. The 11900K has some thermal issues, too, making the 10900K a no-brainer for team blue.
You don’t need to buy the best to get a great CPU for gaming or work, though. At around the $300 mark, the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X, with six cores and a high boost clock, is a fantastic AMD chip for work and play. Intel has the 11600K in this price bracket, which matches the 5600X with six cores and 12 threads. However, the 11600K has high power and thermal demands. On paper, the 11600K already has twice the power draw of the 5600X, and in real-world use, it can draw even more.
At the more entry-level segments of the market, an AMD processor tends to offer better value for money, with standouts like the 3300X and 3600 offering amazing multitasking and gaming performance. We don’t have budget Ryzen 5000 options yet, though we should sometime in 2021. Intel’s 10300F is credible competition, though.
Low-budget options like AMD’s 3200G and the Intel Core i3 10100 make it possible to start your system without an added graphics card, making them great for general office work and watching Netflix, though not too much more. If you want to dip your toes in light gaming, AMD offers Ryzen 5000 APUs with Radeon graphics.
Factors outside of performance may make you choose one manufacturer over the other. Intel’s latest-generation CPUs have far better support for Thunderbolt 3 ports if that’s something you can make use of. On the other hand, AMD offers overclocking on its cheaper B-series chipset, allowing budget builders to squeeze the most performance out of their machine.
AMD is the better option for desktops right now, but that could change soon. Intel is set to launch its hybrid Alder Lake processors in late 2021. This new architecture combines two core types to boost core counts, and rumors suggest they could run much faster than Intel’s current offerings.
If you want to use your PC for heavy video editing at high resolutions, perform intensive video transcoding, or perform any other intensive task that can benefit from even more power than the best mainstream CPUs can offer, then high-end desktop, or HEDT CPUs, could be what you need. Both AMD and Intel have their own options in this space, with higher core and thread counts. AMD’s options remain the most capable and cost-effective, however.
Intel’s HEDT line reaches up to 18 cores and 36 threads with the 10980XE, but even if you can find it in stock, you’ll pay its suggested retail price of $980 despite it being nearly two years old. Although it is technically a 10th-gen CPU, the 10980XE and its fellow Intel Core i9 X-series CPU models are based on the older Cascade Lake-X technology, which is far less capable than Intel’s mainstream Comet Lake CPUs on a core-for-core basis. It’s still a powerful CPU, but when you consider AMD’s alternatives, it’s hard to recommend.
AMD’s 5950X mainstream CPU already offers credible competition for the 10980XE at under $800, so it offers far better value for money. But if you want extra performance, the sky’s the limit.
AMD’s third-gen Threadripper CPUs offer 24, 32, and even 64 cores with support for double that number of simultaneous threads, all while maintaining clock speeds around the 4GHz mark. If your software can make use of all those extra cores, AMD’s Threadripper CPUs offer unparalleled performance outside of obscenely expensive server CPUs, easily outstripping the Intel competition. They also support a greater number of PCIExpress lanes — 64 versus just 44 on the Intel alternatives — making them more suited to larger storage arrays.
They do come at a premium, with the 3960X, 3970X, and 3990X costing $1,400, $1,850, and $3,600, respectively. If you can make your work more efficient and even more profitable by buying them, though, that cost might be worth paying.
AMD also offers Pro versions of these Threadripper chips, like the ones featured into the Lenovo ThinkStation P620. These versions are almost identical to the base models, just with support for more memory and PCIe lanes. AMD is set rumored to launch Threadripper 5000 chips this year.
Above HEDT offerings, Intel and AMD have server CPUs. AMD has its Epyc range, which is currently in its third generation. The AMD Epyc 7763 server CPU comes with 64 cores and 128 threads, 256MB of cache, and a boost clock of 3.68GHz. Intel doesn’t have anything comparable from its Xeon server processors. The Intel Xeon W-3275 is the most impressive of the lot with 28 cores and 56 threads, 38.5MB of cache, and a max turbo of 4.6GHz.
Intel is launching its Sapphire Rapids Xeon CPUs next year. These processors are based on the Intel 7 manufacturing process, which is also showing up in the Alder Lake desktop platform.
Despite sporting an insane amount of power, an Intel Xeon or AMD Epyc CPU is more hassle than it’s worth. Unless you plan on using one in the data center, it’s best to stick with the HEDT offerings from AMD and Intel for maximum multi-threaded performance.
The laptop market is a different story. Most notebooks you’ll find are based on an Intel processor of various generations and integrated graphics. As a Dell representative once indicated, Intel’s portfolio is simply huge compared to AMD, and its current lineup of laptops and the CPUs inside them are better than ever.
Where Intel’s desktop processor development has slowed in recent years, its mobile enhancements have been far more exciting. Ice Lake CPUs introduced a more efficient design with far more capable 11th-gen graphics, offering enough performance to play many esports games at around 60 frames per second (fps) without the need for a graphics card. The 11th-gen Tiger Lake mobile processors only further that, such as the one found in the Acer Swift 5.
For even more general compute power, Intel offers Tiger Lake H processors. These high-performance chips use the Tiger Lake design but push the power limits further, offering faster clock speeds and higher core counts. You can find Tiger Lake H chips on high-end gaming laptops like the Razer Blade 15. In mid-2021, you’ll also find many machines sporting a 10th-gen Intel processor based on the Comet Lake design. These machines often come at a discount compared to their Tiger Lake H counterparts.
The breadth of options and manufacturing support means most laptops still offer Intel CPUs as standard, but as in the desktop space, AMD is making inroads in mobile, too.
The Acer Swift 3 and the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 were some of the first examples of AMD’s recent mobile advance, and though they weren’t stellar, they showed promise. That push continued in 2020, with stronger releases like the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 serving as the launchpad for AMD’s new Ryzen 4000 chips for laptops. Lenovo refreshed its Legion gaming laptops in July 2020 with Ryzen 4000 mobile CPUs, pairing them with RTX 20-series graphics. Now, there are tens of options worth considering.
AMD announced its Ryzen 5000 processors for mobile during CES 2021, bringing the new Zen 3 architecture to thin and light laptops. You can find these processors in trim machines like the HP Pavilion Aero 13 and HP Envy x360 15.
Anandtech saw the 35W Ryzen 5980HS reach performance levels of the desktop Ryzen 5 5600X in rendering tests, far surpassing Ryzen 4000 and anything Intel currently has to offer. Much like desktop Ryzen 5000, the new mobile line seems to top charts across the board.
Other benchmarks show similarly impressive performance. The eight-core Ryzen 9 5900HS beats Intel’s i9-10980HK, which is one of the most powerful mobile processors available today. AMD chips are competitive with Intel in laptops. That said, you’re still more likely to find an Intel processor, making this market an easy win for Team Blue.
Both AMD and Intel offer credible performance for work and play, and there are many more considerations to make when buying a laptop than the CPU, so looking at individual model reviews is a must. That’s especially important in 2021, as the mobile Ryzen 5000 platform challenges Intel’s long-claimed mobile throne.
Which is best for you?
For everyday web browsing, watching Netflix, and answering emails, Intel and AMD CPUs will give you excellent performance right out of the box. There are certain tasks, though, where one company’s options perform better than the others.
If you’re looking to work with your processor performing intensive multithreaded tasks like video editing or transcoding, or heavy multitasking activities with tens of browser tabs open, AMD is the best option. Intel is undercutting AMD with its high-end chips, but the performance gaps are larger than price.
If you’re working and playing on a desktop, or even just gaming, an AMD Ryzen 5000 CPU is still the best option. Everything from the 5600X to the ludicrously powerful 5950X offer the best gaming and productivity performance. Intel’s options are becoming more affordable to make them more competitive, which might make them worth it. But for raw power, AMD holds the lead.
If you’re buying a laptop, things are a little different. Intel’s Tiger Lake offers the best onboard graphics, and its Tiger Lake H CPUs are exceedingly capable. Ryzen 5000 chips with Zen 3 cores also are amazing, though, and very efficient. Intel holds the mobile crown right now. Still, you’ll want to look at reviews of the overall machine rather than focusing just on the CPU performance to get a full picture of which laptop is best for you.
The good news is that there really isn’t a bad choice in a CPU market — AMD and Intel are both operating at full tilt, so the AMD vs. Intel comparison won’t stop anytime soon. Your best choice is to pick the processor that’s cheaper, available, and works with the components you already have.
- The best Mac games for 2022
- Intel Arc Alchemist could rival this high-end GPU
- HP’s new all-in-one PCs include wireless charging stands
- Apple’s iMac Pro could get an all-powerful 12-core chip
- Asus gives big bonuses based on demand for crypto-mining GPUs