AMD vs. Intel

AMD or Intel? We take a look at the pros and cons of both processors

At the heart of your quest for a new or upgraded PC lies the single most important decision you can make: AMD or Intel? Like Apple vs. Microsoft or Fortnite vs. PUBG, AMD vs. Intel is one of the great debates for PC users. One of these two purveyors of finely-wafered silicon will produce the beating heart of your new PC. AMD and Intel are just as different from one another as the products they produce.

That said, let’s dig into the details to find out which one would be the best choice for your new PC.

Value comparison

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G & Ryzen 3 2200G Review fingers motherboard
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

With cost serving as a major factor in building, upgrading, or purchasing a PC, choosing the right CPU often comes down to finding the one that offers the best bang for your buck. In just price alone, AMD’s chips are generally cheaper than comparable Intel chips. Low-end, dual-core AMD Sempron, Athlon, or A-series dual-core processors start at about $30. In comparison, a low-end Intel chip will cost around $40. These processers don’t make very good upgrades, since they are so far on the cheap end — in fact, we recommend something like the $100 Ryzen 3 2200G for an entry level chip. That said, you’ll find similar pricing as you climb the performance ladder, with Intel’s offerings almost always coming in a little higher than AMD’s.

For the better part of a decade, this was the typical pricing scenario endured by most PC enthusiasts until the arrival of AMD’s new Ryzen CPUs. Their debut in early 2017 shook up that long-standing formula, with the Ryzen 7 1800X sitting at the top of the consumer-focused end of AMD’s spectrum at that time. Today the second-generation 2700X is the king of that pile, with eight cores, 16 threads and a price tag around $300. Intel’s current top consumer chip, the 9900K, comes with eight cores and 16 threads of its own, but its price is far higher, at $530. For more middle-ground options, our recommended Intel chips include the Core i5-8400 for $205 and the Core i7-9700K for $410.

Meanwhile, Intel Core i9 and AMD Threadripper CPUs targeting enthusiasts and prosumers offer even more multithreaded performance and continue to expand the kind of core and thread counts that anyone can enjoy in a home-built system. Intel’s seventh and ninth-generation i9 CPUs offer between 10 and 18 cores and thanks to hyperthreading, up to 36 threads. Prices can be sky-high though, with the flagship 9980XE costing as much as $2,000.

AMD’s chips, on the other hand, offer larger core counts, lower price points, and more uniform specifications throughout the range. The first-generation Threadripper CPUs have been heavily discounted as of late, with some of the eight and 12 core options costing just a few hundred dollars. However, the new-generation Threadripper 2000-series CPUs offer between 12 and 32 cores and up to 64 threads with simultaneous multithreading. They are more expensive options too, ranging between $650 and $1,800. We recommend the Threadripper 2950x for $800 if you want one of these high-end upgrades for a really top-line PC setup.

All Threadripper chips support 64 PCI Express lanes, which is a big advantage over the Intel range’s maximum of 44. They are more power-hungry though, thanks to all those additional cores.

All of this means that the competition at the top end of the desktop CPU market is hotter than ever with plenty of choice for consumers, no matter their budget.

Value in laptops

intel could make billions off meltdown spectre insecure exploits processor
Intel

The laptop market is a different story. Most of what you’ll find are based on Intel processors of various generations and integrated graphics. As a Dell representative pointed out earlier this year, Intel’s portfolio is simply huge compared to AMD: The gap between the two companies is substantial in terms of market share and “use cases.”

We can’t know for sure, but the problem could be that AMD spent too many years focusing on all-in-one chips that sip power. AMD’s desktop processors typically don’t include integrated graphics, thus the Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) designed for mobile crams CPU cores and GPU cores into one chip that draws very little power. They’re typically associated with low-end laptops promising long battery life, like the 7th-generation A-Series slurping around 15 watts of power. AMD’s recent Ryzen-branded all-in-one chips consume the same 15 watts.

Meanwhile, Intel’s portfolio puts CPU processing power first and graphics second regardless of the form factor. Technically you could say they’re all-in-one chips too, but the CPU cores are at the heart of the Intel package. Sure, the four-core i7-8550U sucks slightly more power than AMD’s recent Ryzen 7 2700U four-core all-in-one chip, but you get higher base and boost speeds with the Intel model.

AMD’s argument is performance per watt, and we get that. But laptop manufacturers apparently aren’t falling for the hype and seemingly prefer Intel’s portfolio, even more so when they build laptops with discrete graphics. Don’t get us wrong: There are laptops with AMD all-in-one chips on the market, they’re just not in abundance like the Intel-based variants.

But times could be changing for AMD. Acer recently introduced a gaming laptop that relies on AMD hardware, but it’s not an all-in-one chip. Instead, the Predator Helios 500 offers up to an AMD Ryzen 7 2700 eight-core processor and a discrete Radeon RX Vega 56 graphics chip alongside more commonplace Intel/Nvidia build options.

Overall, both companies are producing processors that are within striking distance of one another on nearly every front — price, power, and performance. Intel chips tend to offer better performance per core, but AMD is compensating with more cores at a given price.

Gaming

Dell G3 Gaming Laptop Review | Fortnite close up
Nate Barrett/Digital Trends

Gaming is one area where picking a CPU can get tricky. All of Intel’s processors include on-die integrated graphics, but the performance isn’t up to par with discrete, stand-alone graphics chips or add-in graphics cards. Meanwhile, AMD’s desktop processors do not include integrated graphics. Instead, AMD combines its processor cores and its Radeon-branded graphics cores into one package/chip called an APU. Although those tend to offer better performance than Intel’s on-die graphics solutions — especially with the new-generation Vega-powered models — they still don’t hold a candle to add-in graphics solutions that are only a little more expensive. Either way, you can expect to spend between $200 and $400 for mid-level gaming processors…and much more for stream-worthy gaming.

Those who take their gaming seriously use an add-in graphics card or a discrete GPU rather than integrated graphics (these are the best ones). In those scenarios, Intel tends to dominate in gaming performance because of the way the two chip giants build their processors. Its 9900K is inarguably the most powerful gaming CPU available at this time — even if early benchmarks were a bit suspicious.

AMD’s chips, and specifically its latest Ryzen CPUs, are excellent at multi-threaded scenarios and good at running applications that support multiple cores. Intel’s chips almost offer the reverse of that, losing out in heavy multi-threaded settings, but excelling in more restricted thread settings.

Games, although much more multi-threaded today than they were in the past, still rarely use more than two to four threads, which typically gives Intel the edge — even with Ryzen’s optimizations.

That gap is less pronounced than it used to be thanks to improvements in the new “Zen” architecture used in AMD’s Ryzen processor cores. We saw a net loss of about 10 FPS when running Civilization VI‘s internal benchmark on the Ryzen 7 1800X, compared to the i7-7700K. The gap narrowed when running a more graphically-demanding game like For Honor, with the Ryzen CPU providing an average of 109 FPS, while the Intel Core i7 averaged 110 FPS.

As for Threadripper versus extreme Core i9 chips, Intel still has the edge, especially with the Core i9-9900K. You can get this processor for around $530 at the right locations

best graphics card for gaming
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Ultimately, Intel chips tend to be better for gaming today, but that doesn’t mean you should count AMD out. Intel’s rival offers processors that can be a great gaming value, such as the Ryzen 5 chips in particular. In fact, AMD chips are our recommendation for those on entry-level and medium budgets as they are so much more affordable while being comparable on performance to their Intel counterparts. Even at the very low-end, AMD’s Ryzen with Vega APUs offer decent gaming performance so could be worth considering, but their weaker processing capabilities mean they aren’t the best value long term when upgrades are factored in.

The CPU is rarely the limiting factor in games. Springing for a more powerful graphics card will usually yield better results than doing so for a more powerful processor.

In some cases, you can opt for the best of both worlds though. Intel and AMD recently partnered to create combination chips with Intel CPUs and AMD graphics on the same die with the likes of the Core i7-8809G. In our testing of the 8809G-equipped “Hades Canyon” NUC, we found it to be a solid gaming machine, so it could be that this partnership leads to much greater hardware options in the future.

Who wins?

During an everyday workload, a top-end AMD chip and a top-end Intel chip won’t produce radically different outcomes. There are clear distinctions in specific scenarios and benchmarks, but the CPU isn’t the keystone of PC performance that it once was.

That said, AMD’s CPUs, especially at the mid-range and lower-end of the spectrum, do tend to offer slightly better value than Intel’s chips. Conversely, Intel CPUs have stronger single-core and gaming performance than even AMD’s best Threadripper CPUs. In return, those looking to use applications with a heavier multi-threaded focus should derive more benefit from a modern AMD CPU, especially with some of the big price cuts on first-generation Threadripper chips we’ve seen as of late.

1216788 autosave v1 intel core i7 socketsidexcu

When it comes to choosing your next upgrade, looking at the individual performance numbers of the chip you want to buy is still your best bet, but considering these general guidelines will give you a good foundation of where to start. AMD’s chips offer better bang for the buck for most users in the entry-level and midrange, even for gaming where the more expensive Intel chips are slightly better performers. That’s not the case once you get into 9900K territory at over $500, but AMD’s Threadripper chips are still a worthy consideration at that price point, especially if your CPU is going to be doing more working than playing.

Finallly, keep in mind that things can change as new chip generations are produced by both companies in a constant push and pull for consumer attention. AMD is producing 7nm Ryzen 3000 chips that may boost instructions per clock speed by as much as 15% as well as increasing overall clock speeds and core counts. That could be a game changer in what makes the best game-playing processors. Intel, meanwhile, is working on a Core i5-9400 model, as well as several new “F-series” chips like the Core i7-9700KF and the Core i9-9900KF, which appear to be providing options to consumers who find the i9-9900K a little too expensive for their budget.

Computing

Decades-old Apple IIe computer found in dad’s attic, and it still works

A New York law professor went viral last weekend after he discovered an old Apple IIe computer sitting in his dad's attic. In a series of tweets, he showed that the vintage machine still works perfectly fine after 30 years.
Computing

Between Intel and AMD, these are the best gaming CPUs at every price

What are the best processors for gaming you can buy? You don't need to spend a fortune to get an amazing gaming CPU and now that AMD is competitive again, there are more choices than ever.
Computing

Ryzen 3000 chips will be powerful, and they might be launched as early as July

AMD's upcoming Ryzen 3000 generation of CPUs could be the most powerful processors we've ever seen, with higher core counts, greater clock speeds, and competitive pricing. Here's what we know so far, based on both leaks and the recent…
Computing

Is AMD's Navi back on track for 2019? Here's everything you need to know

AMD's Navi graphics cards could be available as soon as July 2019 — as long as it's not delayed by stock problems. Billed as a successor to Polaris, Navi promises to deliver better performance to consoles, like Sony's PlayStation 5.
Computing

Here's what you need to play games and watch movies in 4K on your PC

4K display tech is now cheaper than ever, but there's more to running stuff at such a high display resolution than just handing over the dough for a 4K-equipped display. Here's what you need to run 4K.
Computing

Logitech’s G MX518 gaming mouse pairs classic looks with all-new tech

Logitech is relaunching one of its most popular classic gaming mice, the MX518. Now called the G MX518, it sports upgraded internals that give it a 16,000 DPI optical sensor and new and improved memory.
Computing

Microsoft could be planning a laptop with foldable screen, hints patent filing

Filed in late 2017 and titled "Bendable device with Display in Movable Connection With Body," the patent filing explains a new mechanism for laptops which can eliminate a hinge and allow the screen to fold shut from the inside,
Deals

From Chromebooks to MacBooks, here are the best laptop deals for February 2019

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we've got you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Deals

Here are the best Chromebook deals available in February 2019

Whether you want a compact laptop to enjoy some entertainment on the go, or you need a no-nonsense machine for school or work, we've smoked out the best cheap Chromebook deals -- from full-sized laptops to 2-in-1 convertibles -- that won't…
Computing

RTX might be expensive, but the 16 series could have the best Nvidia Turing GPUs

Set to debut at a step below the RTX 2060 on the price and performance spectrums, the GTX 1660 Ti and its other 16-series brethren could be Nvidia's killer mid-range cards of 2019 — especially with Tensor Core-powered DLSS.
Computing

With no plans for merging operating systems, Apple opts to combine apps instead

Apple is working on combining all of the the apps it offers to iPhone, iPad, and Mac users by 2021. App developers will soon be able to build and submit one version of their apps to be used by Apple product users.
Gaming

These are the coolest games you can play on your Google Chrome browser right now

Not only is Google Chrome a fantastic web browser, it's also a versatile gaming platform that you can access from just about anywhere. Here are a few of our favorite titles for the platform.
Computing

Amazon takes $200 off Apple’s latest 13-inch MacBook Air with retina display

Amazon is taking $200 off Apple's latest MacBook Air. This MacBook Air has 13-inch retina display, a built-in FaceTime HD camera, and that classic lightweight wedge shape the Air is loved and known for.
Deals

Samsung drops a solid $100 discount on the Chromebook Pro

If you're in the market for a new laptop, but can't afford to drop $1,000 on one of the best models out there, Chromebooks are an excellent option. Right now, Samsung is offering $100 off the Samsung Chromebook Pro.