AMD vs. Intel: How does tech’s oldest rivalry look in 2018?

In 2018, the rivalry between AMD and Intel has become more interesting than ever

AMD vs. Intel

When you decide to build a PC for the first time, or attempt to upgrade after years of procrastination, you are embarking on an epic journey into the unknown. There are hundreds, even thousands, of different components you can purchase, but the first and most important question to ask yourself is a simple one: AMD or Intel?

Like Apple vs. Microsoft or Quake vs. Unreal, 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, however, so let’s dig into the details to find out which one would be the best choice for your new PC.

AMD vs. Intel: Value

With cost serving as a major factor in building or upgrading your 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, like the G3930 dual-core processor will cost around $40. 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 chips.

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 new Ryzen 7 1800X sitting at the top of the consumer-focused end of AMD’s spectrum. It’s an eight-core behemoth with a turbo-clock of 4.0 GHz, and for $350, it’s among the least expensive eight-core processors on the market today. The eight-core Ryzen 7 1700 is even more affordable with a $290 price tag while Intel’s cheapest eight-core chip eats a bigger portion of your wallet at $600.

Meanwhile, the recent Intel Core i9 and AMD Threadripper CPUs targeting enthusiasts and gamers offer even more performance and continue to shake up the processor market’s traditional bang-for-buck dynamic. Intel’s Core i9-7900X CPU, which doesn’t sit on a traditional Intel-based motherboard, offers 10 cores, 20 threads, a maximum peak speed of 4.3GHz, and a price tag currently set at $966. But to really appreciate the price-per-performance differences between Ryzen Threadripper CPUs and Intel’s Core X-Series chips, you have to behold the glorious numbers:

Cores / Threads Base
Speed
Maximum
Speed
L3
Cache
Power
Use
Price
Core i9-7960X

16 / 32

2.8GHz

4.2GHz

22MB

165W

$1,600

Threadripper 1950X

16 / 32

3.4GHz

4.0GHz

32MB

180W

$900

Core i9-7920X

12 / 24

2.9GHz

4.3GHz

16.5MB

140W

$1,242

Threadripper 1920X

12 / 24

3.5GHz

4.0GHz

32MB

180W

$750

Core i7-7820X

8 / 16

3.6GHz

4.3GHz

11MB

140W

$599

Threadripper 1900X

8 / 16

3.8GHz

4.0GHz

16MB

180W

$449

As the chart shows, for a lower price tag, AMD Threadripper processors have higher base speeds and larger amounts of shared cache. Meanwhile, they require more power than Intel’s X-Series chips, and have lower peak speeds. What does all that mean for you? In short, the age-old AMD vs Intel contest is much more competitive than it’s been in years and offers much more choice for the consumer.

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.

AMD vs. Intel: Gaming

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 Accelerated Processing Unit, or 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.

Battlefield-4-naval-strike

Those who take their gaming seriously use an add-in graphics card or a discrete GPU rather than integrated graphics. In those scenarios, Intel tends to dominate in gaming performance because of the way the two chip giants build their processors. 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 Core i9 chips, Intel has a small edge. Still, we wouldn’t recommend either for a gaming system given that games don’t benefit from the extremely high core counts in these processors.

Ultimately, Intel chips tend to be better for gaming of today, but that doesn’t mean you should count AMD out. Intel’s rival does offer processors that can be a great gaming value, such as the Ryzen 5 chips in particular. Check out our Ryzen processor buying guide for details, including benchmarks. If you are on an extreme budget too and simply can’t afford a dedicated graphics card, AMD’s Ryzen with Vega APUs do offer low-end 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 — if you can find one at a good price — will usually yield better results than doing so for a more powerful processor.

Finally, here’s an interesting tidbit that manifested in November last year and became full-blown products in early January: the Core i7-8809G and three other Core-branded modules. They’re not the result of pigs finally sprouting wings, but rather a surprise collaboration to cram a discrete Radeon graphics chip, HBM2 graphics memory, and an Intel processor into one, single-chip solution.

For the Core i7-8809G, Intel’s portion contains four 7th-gen cores, and an on-die HD Graphics 630 GPU component. Meanwhile, AMD supplies 1,536 “Vega” graphics cores (24 compute units), and dedicated HBM2 memory. The jury is still out on how these all-in-one chips perform in benchmarks, but one of the first products to rely on a Core i7 module is the “Hades Canyon” NUC. Intel’s three other modules are the Core i7-8709G, the Core i7-8705G, and the Core i7-8706G.

AMD vs. Intel: Overclocking

Clock speeds are a great way to compare processors against each other — 2.7GHz, 4.5GHz, etc. — but keep in mind these numbers are not fixed figures. Boost clocks offer temporary performance gains under specific scenarios, but if you delve into the realm of manual ‘overclocking,’ you can net yourself a nice bump in performance as well.

extremeoverclock

Overclocking a processor is straightforward, depending on your chosen method, but not every processor can do it. Most CPUs ship with “locked” multipliers, which prevent any attempt to overclock the CPU’s cores.

Luckily, both Intel and AMD offer unlocked CPUs at a variety of price points. If you opt for an Intel CPU, look out for those with a “K” or “X” in the processor label, such as the Core i7-8700K. In comparison, all of AMD’s Ryzen chips support overclocked speeds — though not all have full support for the automated overclocking, XFR feature.

Overclocking, in general, is very much dependent on the chips themselves. In our tests, the Ryzen 7 1800X performed well after an overclock, but we weren’t able to squeeze too much extra power out of AMD’s eight-core processor. The more mid-range 1700 and 1700X chips, however, are said to be better at handling overclocked speeds.

Intel’s latest generation of chips that do allow overclocking are somewhat more even in their potential, though their maximum is very much down to luck, as some chips can go further than others. You’ll also need decent cooling for most overclocking scenarios.

If you’re in the market to purchase and overclock a processor, then Intel’s higher-end solutions would be your best bet given their highly-established overclocking scene. Ryzen and Threadripper chips have strong potential too, and with a host of new memory options, may be more suited for those looking to deep dive into pushing their chip to its maximum. And you can overclock affordable AMD chips, while most affordable Intel chips don’t offer that option.

AMD vs. Intel: 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.

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. Thanks to Ryzen’s leapfrogging of previous AMD chips in terms of power and value, the CPU market is now highly competitive after residing in a stagnant state for a number of years.

Arguably, Intel is still the safe bet, especially for gamers, but AMD’s alternatives are more viable than ever. For system builders with deep pockets, AMD’s Threadripper chips are incredibly powerful, so keep your eyes peeled on benchmarks. Gamers on the extreme budget-end of the spectrum may consider AMD’s Ryzen APUs, but if you can stretch your budget a little more, a CPU paired with a dedicated graphics card will offer much better performance.

AMD’s older FX and A-Series chips, meanwhile, are not competitive with Intel, and at this point never will be. So if you’re looking to older generations of hardware for whatever reason, our Intel recommendation is far more firm.