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AMD vs Intel 2021: Who Makes the Best CPUs?

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If you're looking for the best gaming CPU or the best CPU for workstations, there are only two choices to pick from – AMD and Intel. That fact has spawned an almost religious following for both camps, and the resulting flamewars, that make it tricky to get unbiased advice about the best choice for your next processor. But in many cases, the answer is actually very clear. In fact, for most users, it's a blowout win in AMD's favor, as you can see in our CPU Benchmarks Hierarchy. That's an amazing reversal of fortunes for the chipmaker after it teetered on the edge of bankruptcy a mere four years ago, making its turnaround all the more impressive as it continues to upset the entrenched Intel after it enjoyed a decade of dominance.

This article covers the never-ending argument of AMD vs Intel desktop CPUs (we're not covering laptop or server chips) based on what you plan to do with your PC, pricing, performance, driver support, power consumption, and security, giving us a clear view of the state of the competition. We'll also discuss the lithographies and architectures that influence the moving goalposts. Overall, there's a clear winner, but which CPU brand you should buy depends mostly on what kind of features, price, and performance are important to you. 

You can see how all of these processors stack up in our CPU Benchmarks Hierarchy, but the landscape has certainly changed in the wake of AMD's Ryzen 5000 launch. AMD's newest processors, the Ryzen 9 5950X and Ryzen 9 5900X, not to mention the Ryzen 5 5600X, have upset the entire mainstream desktop lineup. You can head to our expansive in-depth coverage of the Ryzen 5000 series, including pricing, benchmarks, and availability, for more info. Suffice it to say, the Ryzen 5000 series are the highest-performing chips on the market and beat Intel in every metric that matters, including gaming, application performance, power consumption, and thermals. 

That could change soon, though. Intel revealed its Rocket Lake processors at CES 2021, claiming they retake the gaming performance crown. They're slated for release on March 30, which is right around the corner. Intel touts Rocket Lake's 19% IPC improvement and high clock speeds that stretch up to 5.3 GHz. Intel also has its Alder Lake chips coming to market later this year, which will completely redefine x86 desktop PC chips with a new hybrid architecture. 

Intel has drastically reduced its pricing of late, capitalizing on the sweeping shortages that have kept Ryzen 5000 chips out of the hands of enthusiasts, but the supply situation does appear to be slowly improving. Of course, you could get lucky and score a Ryzen 5000 chip during the rare moments of availability.     

AMD vs Intel CPU Pricing and Value

Pricing is the most important consideration for almost everyone, and AMD is generally hard to beat in the value department, though we certainly can't say that for its XT series processors. The company's Ryzen 5000 series processors mark an across-the-board $50 price hike, but the faster chips earn their higher price tags. The company offers a plethora of advantages, like full overclockability on most models, not to mention complimentary software that includes the innovative Precision Boost Overdrive auto-overclocking feature. 

You also benefit from the broad compatibility of motherboards with the AM4 CPU socket that supports both forward and backward compatibility, ensuring that not only do you get the most bang for your processor buck, but also your motherboard investment (there are caveats with the 5000 series). AMD also allows overclocking on all but its A-Series motherboards (see our article on how to overclock AMD Ryzen), which is another boon for users.

And, in this battle of AMD vs Intel CPUs, we haven't even discussed the actual silicon yet. AMD's modern processors tend to offer either more cores or threads and faster PCIe 4.0 connectivity at every single price point, which we'll cover below.

Processor Pricing by FamilyAMDIntel
Threadripper - Cascade Lake-X$900- $3,750$800 - $1,000 ($2,999)
AMD Ryzen 9 - Intel Core i9$434 - $799$459 - $505
AMD Ryzen 7 - Intel Core i7$294 -$449$300 - $370
AMD Ryzen 5 - Intel Core i5$149 - $299$125 - $200
AMD Ryzen 3 - Intel Core i3$95 - $120$78 - $173

The arrival of Intel's Comet Lake-S models has found the company adding more cores, threads, and features to its mainstream lineup, but without increased gen-on-gen pricing. That equates to a substantial reduction in price-per-core and price-per-thread metrics, but AMD has reduced pricing in response to keep Intel on its toes. As such, AMD still holds the price-per-thread advantage in many price ranges, and generally offers more performance in several types of workloads (which we'll cover below). 

Intel includes bundled coolers with its non-overclocking SKUs (you have to pay more to overclock), but they are flimsy and 'good enough,' at best. We've even seen cases where Intel's stock coolers don't provide full performance at stock settings

Intel also doesn't throw in a cooler at all for its pricey overclockable K-series SKUs (see our article on how to overclock an Intel CPU). Be sure to budget in a cooler (and a beefy one at that) if you plan on overclocking an Intel processor. Meanwhile, most of AMD's bundled coolers are suitable for at least moderate overclocking. Still, those only came as a standard add-in with the previous-gen Ryzen 3000 series, most of which haven't been supplanted with new Ryzen 5000 equivalents yet. Only one of the first four AMD Ryzen 5000 processors, the Ryzen 5 5600X, comes with a bundled cooler. 

Intel did bulk up its bundled coolers for several Comet Lake-S models, but the aesthetic and slight thermal improvements aren't enough to match AMD's competent coolers that come with its Ryzen 3000 series, and they aren't available on all models.   

Intel not only charges a premium for its overclockable K-Series chips, but you'll also need to shell out for a pricey Z-Series motherboard for the privilege of overclocking your processor—Intel doesn't allow overclocking on B- or H-series motherboards. Intel also has a long history of rapid socket transitions, meaning the odds of dropping a new chip into your existing motherboard, or taking the older processor over to a newer board, aren't as high. Plan for limited forward and backward compatibility on the Intel side. You'll also miss out on PCIe 4.0 connectivity—Intel remains mired on the PCIe 3.0 bus that offers half the transfer speed of AMD's PCIe 4.0 connection. 

While AMD offers the most bang for your hard-earned dollar, as with any product, you can expect to pay a premium for the utmost performance, particularly the Ryzen 9 5950X. AMD's Ryzen 5000 series is also the end of the line for the tried-and-true AM4 socket, so you shouldn't expect those chips to work in future AMD platforms. 

AMD's new Ryzen 5000 processors also come without bundled coolers for the Ryzen 9 and 7 families, but AMD says the increased performance offsets the lack of coolers and higher pricing. Our reviews back up that assertion - the Ryzen 5000 chips still offer a compelling blend of pricing and performance, provided you can find them at retail near their recommended pricing. 

Win: AMD. When you're comparing Intel vs AMD CPUs, Team Red has a compelling value story across the full breadth of its product stack, especially when we take performance-per-dollar into account. However, if you're looking for integrated graphics paired with a processor with more than four cores, Intel is currently your only choice for chips at retail, though AMD does have its eight-core Renoir chips now shipping to OEMs and SIs for pre-built systems. Not that we'd recommend integrated graphics for most users, particularly if you're interested in gaming—check out our recent comparison of integrated graphics on AMD and Intel processors for more detail. 

AMD vs Intel CPU Gaming Performance

In the AMD vs Intel CPU battle, AMD holds the lead in the critical price bands, particularly right in the middle and high-end of its stack, but our benchmarks show the Intel's gaming performance is no slouch, either. Below we have a wide selection of collective gaming performance measurements for the existing chips in the different price bands. 

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Intel vs AMD Gaming Performance

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Intel vs AMD Gaming Performance

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Intel vs AMD Gaming Performance

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Intel vs AMD Gaming Performance

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Our first two slides encapsulate performance with the new Comet Lake-S and Ryzen 5000 processors included, while the remainder of the test results gives historical context to other previous-gen processors. As you can see, AMD has completely redefined the gaming landscape with its Zen 3-powered Ryzen 5000 processors, which now hold the advantage in both 1080p and 1440p gaming. The Ryzen 9 5900X slots in as the fastest gaming chip on the market, price be damned, but the Ryzen 5 5600X offers nearly the same level of performance but at a more amenable $300 price point, making it our uncontested top pick for gaming. 

Intel used to hold the ultimate in gaming performance with its most expensive desktop processor, the Core i9-10900K, and the Core i5-10600K wasn't far behind. Naturally, the Core i7-10700K slots in right between the two, and offers the lion's share of the 10900K's performance, but at a much lower price point and power consumption. You can see how these chips stack up in our CPU Benchmark Hierarchy, but be aware that these chips still fall behind AMD's potent Ryzen 5000 chips.   

However, the performance delta between Intel and AMD's comparably-priced chips often isn't worth the premium, at least for the vast majority of enthusiasts. You'd be hard-pressed to notice the small differences in gaming performance at the top of the AMD vs Intel stack, but things are more complicated in the mid-range. Referring back to our previous category, pricing is the ultimate measuring stick, and AMD pulls off key wins in the mid-range where most of us shop, but Intel's Core i5-10600K serves up a compelling lead in its price bracket, making it an attractive gaming chip for around $260. If you step up to the $300 range, the Ryzen 5 5600X is now the uncontested mainstream gaming champion.  

You'll need a fire-breathing high-end GPU and one of the best gaming monitors with a high refresh rate to get the most out of AMD's performance advantage, and you'll need to game at the mundane 1080p resolution, too. Kicking your resolution up to 1440p and beyond typically pushes the bottleneck back to the GPU, so you won't gain as much from your CPU's gaming prowess. However, a bit of extra CPU gaming performance could pay off if you plan on updating your graphics card with a newer generation while keeping the rest of your system intact.

We expect most builds in the mid-range to come with lesser GPUs, which generally serve as an equalizer in terms of CPU performance. It's also noteworthy that AMD often provides more cores and threads at any given price point, so there's less of a chance of erratic performance if you're running chat clients, web browsers, and other tasks in the background while gaming. If you're into game streaming, AMD is almost always the best choice due to its healthy ratio of cores and threads.

In terms of integrated graphics performance, there's no beating AMD. The company's current-gen Picasso APUs offer the best performance available from integrated graphics, and the Renoir series builds on that advantage. However, the Renoir chips are only available in pre-built systems from OEMs and SIs for now. That didn't stop us from getting our hands on a chip, and you can see the impressive performance in our Ryzen 7 Pro 4750G review. Intel has its Rocket Lake chips with the powerful new Xe graphics engine coming in early 2021, which might help level the integrated GPU playing field. 

Winner: AMD wins this round of the Intel vs AMD CPU showdown, but only because we measure strictly by the absolute top performance possible. If you're a gaming fanatic that prizes every single last frame you can squeeze out, particularly if you're into overclocking, AMD is your answer on the high-end. That leading-edge performance will also pay off if you plan to upgrade your GPU soon. Just plan to pay for the privilege.

You'll find that AMD is also often the best option in the mid-range. Unless you're running a tricked-out rig with the fastest GPUs paired with low-resolution high-refresh monitors, you won't miss the slim gaming performance deltas to be had with AMD CPUs, though. At that point, either an AMD or Intel chip will provide a more than acceptable level of gaming performance. However, it's always good to have a little extra gas in the tank for future GPU upgrades, and AMD's Zen 3 chips hold the lead there, at least for now. 

AMD vs Intel Productivity and Content Creation Performance

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AMD vs Intel Single and Multi-Threaded Performance

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AMD vs Intel Single and Multi-Threaded Performance

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In the non-gaming performance battle of AMD vs Intel CPUs, the picture is a lot clearer. AMD's chips take the outright win in terms of the ultimate performance in threaded productivity and content creation applications, and the Ryzen 5000 processors have expanded that lead. AMD's copious slathering of cores, threads, and cache on its processors also equates to a big win in the performance-per-dollar category.

Intel's trouble moving forward to denser process nodes has left it behind in the core count race, and now AMD has offerings on both the HEDT and mainstream desktop that Intel simply can't match. Consider this: AMD has a 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X for the mainstream desktop that offers far more cores and threads than Intel's most powerful Core i9-10900K. Meanwhile, AMD's Ryzen Threadripper 3990X comes with an insane 64 cores and 128 threads for HEDT. That's a 3.5X advantage in core counts over Intel's halo HEDT models. 

AMD's chips offer far more performance on both the mainstream desktop and HEDT platforms, so they are also more expensive than Intel's respective flagships. You don't need to drop major dollars to see the advantages of AMD's chips, though. 

The Ryzen 5000 series processors have also taken the uncontested lead in single-threaded performance across the full spate of our benchmarks. That's incredibly impressive and equates to faster performance in all manner of workloads, particularly day-to-day applications that rely on snappy responsiveness from the processor.

Winner: AMD. For professionals on the hunt for performance in content creation and productivity applications, the winner of AMD vs Intel CPUs is a pretty one-sided affair. AMD's lack of integrated graphics on its 8-core and above CPUs (for now) means you'll have to stick with Intel if you want to build a rig without dedicated graphics. Still, most professionals will want a dedicated graphics card regardless.

AMD vs Intel Processor Specifications and Features

AMD has its Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, Ryzen 9, and Threadripper lines, while Intel breaks its offerings up into the Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, Core i9, and Cascade Lake-X families. To compare Intel vs AMD CPUs based on specs and features, we could chart the entire product stacks, but we'll focus on the top chips in the respective families for the sake of brevity. Be aware that both companies have value options within each tier, but we can get a general sense of the current competitive landscape with these (relatively) shortlists. We're using both vendors recommended pricing and street pricing to give you a sense of the current state of the market.

The high end desktop (HEDT) is the land of creative prosumers with fire-breathing multi-core monsters for just about every need. Intel has long enjoyed the uncontested lead in this segment, but while AMD's first-gen Threadripper lineup disrupted the status quo, the Threadripper 3000 lineup destroyed it.

AMD vs Intel CPUs HEDT Specs and Pricing
High End Desktop (HEDT)MSRP / RetailCores / ThreadsBase / Boost GHzL3 CacheTDPPCIeMemory
Threadripper 3990X$3,990 / $3,75064 / 1282.9 / 4.3256280W72 Usable Gen4Quad DDR4-3200
Intel W-3175X $2,999 / N/A28 / 563.1 / 4.838.5255W48 Gen3Six-Channel DDR4-2666
Threadripper 3970X$1,999 / $1,89932 / 643.7 / 4.5*128280W72 Usable Gen4Quad DDR4-3200
Threadripper 3960X$1,399 / $1,39924 / 483.8 / 4.5*128280W72 Usable Gen4Quad DDR4-3200
Xeon W-3265$3,349 / N/A24 / 482.7 / 4.633205W64 Gen3Six-Channel DDR4-2933
Core i9-10980XE$979 / $1,09918 / 363.0 / 4.824.75165W48 Gen3 Quad DDR4-2933

Here we can see that when it comes to AMD vs Intel HEDT CPUs, AMD holds the uncontested lead with 64 cores and 128 threads in its flagship Threadripper 3990X, and the 32- and 24-core Threadripper 3970X and 3960X models cement the overwhelming lead over Intel's chips.

Intel splits its highest-end lineup into two classes, with the Xeon W-3175X and W-3265 dropping into exotic LGA3647 motherboards that carry eye-watering price tags to match the chips' insane pricing. These aren't really enthusiast-class systems, though; think of these as more for the professional workstation market. 

Intel's HEDT lineup truly begins with its 18-core Cascade Lake-X Core i9-10980XE that drops into existing LGA2066 motherboards. The chip is powerful given its price point, but Threadripper's 3.5X advantage in core counts is impossible to beat, so Intel has basically ceded the top of the HEDT stack to AMD. 

You'll get more cores, cache, and faster PCIe 4.0 connectivity with AMD's Threadripper lineup, but they do come with higher price tags befitting such monstrous processors. However, when we boil it down to per-core pricing, or how much you pay for each CPU core, AMD does offer a compelling value story.

AMD vs Intel CPUs High End Specs and Pricing
High End Mainstream MSRP/RetailCores / ThreadsBase / Boost GHz$-Per-Core (MSRP)L3 CacheTDPPCIeMemoryGraphics
Ryzen 9 5950X$79916 / 323.4 / 4.95064105W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N/A
Ryzen 9 3950X $749 / $73916 / 323.5 / 4.7$4664105W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N/A
Ryzen 9 5900X$54912 / 243.7 / 4.8$4664105W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N/A
Ryzen 9 3900XT$49912 / 243.8 / 4.7$4264105W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N/A
Ryzen 9 3900X$499 / $43412 / 243.8 / 4.6$4264105W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N/A
Core i9-10900K / KF$488 (K) / $472 (KF)10 / 203.7 / 5.3~$4920125W16 Gen3Dual DDR4-2933UHD 630 - 1.2 GHz (non-F only)
Core i9-10850K$45310 / 203.6 / 5.2~$432095W16 Gen3Dual DDR4-2933UHD 630 - 1.2 GHz
Core i9-10900 / F$439 / $422 (F)10 / 203.7 / 5.2~$442065W16 Gen3Dual DDR4-2933UHD 630 - 1.2 GHz (non-F only)
Core i7-10700K / KF$374 (K) / $349 (KF)8 / 163.8 / 5.1~$47 / ~$2416125W16 Gen3Dual DDR4-2933UHD 630 - 1.2 GHz (non-F only)
Ryzen 7 5800X$4498 / 163.8 / 4.7$5632105W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N/A
Ryzen 7 3800XT$3998 / 163.9 / 4.7$50 / $5032105W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N/A
Ryzen 7 3800X$399 / $3398 / 163.9 / 4.5$50 / $2532105W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N/A
Core i7-10700 / F$323 / $298 (F)8 / 162.9 / 4.8~$40 / ~$201665W16 Gen3Dual DDR4-2933UHD 630 - 1.2 GHz (non-F only)
Ryzen 7 3700X$329 / $2948 / 163.6 / 4.4~$41 / ~$213265W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N/A

In the battle of high-end AMD vs Intel CPUs, AMD's Ryzen 9 and Ryzen 7 families square off against Intel's Core i9 and Core i7 lineup. Again, AMD holds the absolute lead with the 16-core 32-thread Ryzen 9 5950X that sets the high watermark for the mainstream desktop both in terms of core counts and performance—and price, not including a cooler. The 5950X is hard to find in stock, but the Ryzen 9 3950X is equally impressive in most facets. Although it isn't as responsive in single-threaded work or gaming as the 5950X, it's still a good fit for most users.

Intel's 10-core 20-thread Core i9-10900K pales in comparison, but based on pricing, it actually battles the Ryzen 9 5900X (or AMD's Ryzen 9 3900X). Here we see that AMD has both the core count and price-per-core advantage in this price bracket, which it complements with more cache, PCIe 4.0, and faster base memory support. It also holds the uncontested lead in every performance metric.

The 10900K does offer impressive gaming performance and fast performance in lightly-threaded workloads. However, if you must have an Intel chip, we recommend Intel's Core i9-10850K instead of the 10900K. That's because the two chips are nearly identical in terms of performance, but the 10850K is significantly less expensive. That carries over to overclocking, too. The Intel Core i9-10850K offers nearly the same overclocking capabilities in our tests as the 10900K, making it an exceptional value for tuners. 

A similar story plays out in the decidedly more mainstream Ryzen 7 and Core i7 markets. Honestly, these are the chips the majority of gamers should buy. Here AMD's Ryzen 7 3800X (and Ryzen 7 3700X) match Intel's Core i7-10700K thread-for-thread, but the Ryzen 7 5800X beats the Core i7-10700K in our benchmarks. 

You'll notice AMD's XT-refresh chips, the 3900XT, and 3800XT, listed here. Unless you have a very specific need for workstation-class workloads that don't stress the cores fully, it's best to stick with AMD's standard X-series models. Unfortunately, the non-XT models are becoming rarer as AMD grapples with a crushing shortage. 

AMD vs Intel CPUs Mid-Range and Budget Specs and Pricing
MainstreamMSRP/RetailCores / ThreadsBase / Boost GHz$-Per-Core/Thread (MSRP)L3 CacheTDPPCIeMemoryGraphics
Ryzen 5 5600X$2996 / 123.7 / 4.6$503265W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N/A
Core i5-10600K / KF$262 (K) / $237 (KF)6 / 124.1 / 4.8~$44 / ~$2212125W16 Gen3Dual DDR4-2666UHD Graphics - 1.2 GHz (non-F only)
Ryzen 5 3600XT$2496 / 123.8 / 4.5$41.5 / $41.532105W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N.A
Ryzen 5 3600X$249 / $2056 / 123.8 / 4.4 ~$41.5 / ~$213295W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N/A
Core i5-10600$2136 / 123.3 / 4.8~$36 / ~$231265W16 Gen3Dual DDR4-2666UHD 630 - 1.2 GHz
Ryzen 5 3600$199 / $1756 / 123.6 / 4.2~$33 / ~$173265W24 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200N/A
Core i5-10500$1926 / 123.1 / 4.5~$32 / ~$161265W16 Gen3Dual DDR4-2666UHD 630 - 1.15 GHz
Core i5-10400 / F$182 / $157 (F)6 / 122.9 / 4.3~$26 / ~$131265W16 Gen3Dual DDR4-2666UHD 630 - 1.1 GHz (non-F only)
Ryzen 3 3300X$1204 / 83.8 / 4.316MB65W16+4 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200
Ryzen 3 3100$994 / 83.8 / 3.916MB65W16+4 Gen4Dual DDR4-3200
Ryzen 5 3400G$150 / $2074 / 83.7 / 4.2 4MB65W16 Gen3Dual DDR4-2933
Ryzen 3 3200G$99 / $954 /43.6 / 4.04MB65W8 Gen3Dual DDR4-2933

When it comes to AMD vs Intel mid-range and budget CPUs, the Core i5 and i3 families do battle with AMD's Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 processors. This market segment comprises the most substantial portion of both AMD and Intel's sales, so pricing and value here are paramount.

AMD's Ryzen 5 5600X matches Intel core-for-core and thread-for-thread to challenge the Core i5-10600K's clock speed and overclocking advantage. The 5600X dominates the Core i5-10600K in every conceivable way, meaning there's no reason to buy the Core i5-10600K. 

AMD also shored up its defenses with a new line of graphics-less $120 Ryzen 3 3300X and $99 Ryzen 3 3100 models, too. Three years ago, Intel's flagship chips cost roughly $350 and came with four cores and eight threads, but now AMD's Ryzen 3 lineup offers the same number of cores and threads for as low as $99. The Ryzen 3 3300X also offers more performance than the 7700K and beats all of Intel's chips in the same price range. 

That opens up a tremendous amount of threaded performance at every point in AMD's stack, and Intel's Comet Lake price adjustments obviously deal the resale value on older Intel chips yet another blow. AMD also has its B550 motherboards on offer, bringing a more value-conscious ecosystem of PCIe 4.0 products down to the low end of the market.   

AMD also leans on its Ryzen 5 3400G and Ryzen 3 3200G APUs to fend off Intel's Core i5-10500 and i5-10400. AMD's models come with potent Vega graphics units that enable low-end gaming across a broad spate of titles. Intel's chips can't hold a candle there—you'll need a discrete GPU if you plan to do any meaningful gaming. 

AMD has made its new eight-core 16-thread Ryzen 4000 "Renoir" chips available to OEMs and SIs for pre-built systems, but you can't buy them at retail. We recently put those chips through the wringer, and they expand upon AMD's traditional lead in iGPU performance. Hopefully, those chips, or a newer variant, will come to retail soon. 

Neither vendor offers integrated graphics units (iGPU) with their HEDT chips. Still, even though Intel sells its graphics-less F-Series chips for a discount, it holds the advantage of having a graphics option across the full breadth of its mainstream product stack.

In contrast, AMD only offers integrated graphics on its APU models, which means you'll need a discrete graphics card (GPU) for any retail chip that has more than four cores (or costs more than ~$150). That's a significant disadvantage for most mainstream users that aren't interested in gaming and also eliminates a big chunk of the professional/OEM markets. Intel's iGPUs are mostly useless for gaming but are useful for display and QuickSync purposes, while AMD's iGPUs offer the best gaming experience, hands down. However, AMD's limited selection cuts it out a significant portion of the market.

Winner: AMD. When you compare AMD vs Intel CPU specifications, you can see that AMD offers more cores and/or threads at every price point, more cache, support for faster memory, and PCIe 4.0 for the mid-range and high end. From the top of the HEDT market to the high-end, mid-range, and low-end sectors, AMD has a capable Ryzen processor that offers more value than comparable Intel models. 

AMD vs Intel CPU Overclocking

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There's no debate when you compare Intel vs AMD CPU overclocking. Intel offers the most overclocking headroom, meaning you can gain more performance over the baseline speed with Intel chips than you can with AMD's Ryzen processors. However, AMD's Ryzen 5000 series has largely eviscerated that advantage – they're often faster at stock settings than Intel's chips are after overclocking.

As mentioned, you'll have to pay a premium for Intel's K-Series chips and purchase a pricey Z-Series motherboard, not to mention splurge on a capable aftermarket cooler (preferably liquid), to unlock the best of Intel's overclocking prowess. However, once you have the necessary parts, Intel's chips are relatively easy to push to their max, which often tops out at over 5 GHz on all cores with the 10th-Gen Comet Lake processors.

AMD doesn't have as much room for manual tuning. In fact, the maximum achievable all-core overclocks often fall a few hundred MHz beneath the chips' maximum single-core boost. That means all-core overclocking can actually result in losing performance in lightly-threaded applications, albeit a minor amount.

Part of this disparity stems from AMD's tactic of binning its chips to allow some cores to boost much higher than others. In tandem with AMD's Precision Boost and innovative thread-targeting technique that pegs lightly-threaded workloads to the fastest cores, AMD exposes near-overlocked performance right out of the box. That results in less overclocking headroom.

However, AMD offers its Precision Boost Overdrive, a one-click auto-overclocking feature that will wring some extra performance out of your chip based on its capabilities, your motherboard's power delivery subsystem, and your CPU cooling. AMD's approach provides the best performance possible with your choice of components and is generally hassle-free. In either case, you still won't achieve the high frequencies you'll see with Intel processors (5.0 GHz is still unheard of with an AMD chip without liquid nitrogen cooling), but you do get a free performance boost.

AMD has also vastly improved its memory overclocking capabilities with the Ryzen 5000 series, which comes as a byproduct of the improved fabric overclocking capabilities. That allows AMD memory to clock higher than before while still retaining the low-latency attributes that boost gaming performance. 

Winner: Intel. When it comes to AMD vs Intel CPU overclocking, Team Blue has far more headroom and much higher attainable frequencies. Just be prepared to pay for the privilege. AMD's approach is friendlier to entry-level users, rewarding them with hassle-free overclocking based on their system's capabilities, but you don't gain as much performance. Also, you need to be aware that Intel's overclocking prowess can be a bit of a hollow win - At stock settings, AMD's Ryzen 5000 processors are often faster than Intel's chips, even after aggressive overclocking. 

AMD vs Intel CPU Power Consumption and Heat

When comparing AMD vs Intel CPU power and heat, the former's 7nm process node makes a huge difference. Power consumption comes as a byproduct of design choices, like lithography and architecture, which we'll discuss below. However, higher power consumption often correlates to more heat generation, so you'll need beefier coolers to offset the heat output of greedier chips.

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Ryzen 5 5600X Power Consumption and Efficiency

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Ryzen 5 5600X Power Consumption and Efficiency

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Ryzen 5 5600X Power Consumption and Efficiency

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Ryzen 5 5600X Power Consumption and Efficiency

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Ryzen 5 5600X Power Consumption and Efficiency

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Ryzen 5 5600X Power Consumption and Efficiency

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Ryzen 5 5600X Power Consumption and Efficiency

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Ryzen 5 5600X Power Consumption and Efficiency

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Ryzen 5 5600X Power Consumption and Efficiency

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Intel has improved its 14nm processes to strengthen its power-to-performance ratio by more than 70% in the five long years it's been on the market, but it's no coincidence that Intel's latest chips are known for high power consumption and heat. That's because Intel has had to turn the power dial up further with each generation of chips to provide more performance as it fends off the resurgent AMD. That leads to problems with some stock coolers and also requires robust power delivery on your motherboard. Those factors combine to make Intel a notorious power guzzler.

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Ryzen 5 5600X Power and Efficiency

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Ryzen 5 5600X Power and Efficiency

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Ryzen 5 5600X Power and Efficiency

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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Ryzen 5 5600X Power and Efficiency

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

In contrast, AMD has the benefit of TSMC's 7nm node, which is more efficient than Intel's 14nm. AMD does lose some of that advantage in its Ryzen 3000 and 5000 series processors due to a large central 14nm I/O die that comes as part of the package. Still, in aggregate, AMD's 7nm chips either consume less power or provide much better power-to-performance efficiency. As a result, you'll get more work done per watt of energy consumed, which is a win-win, and AMD's cooling requirements aren't nearly as overbearing.

In fact, the Ryzen 5000 series chips are the most power-efficient desktop PC chips we've ever tested, with the Ryzen 5 5600X offering the best efficiency. 

Winner: AMD. In judging AMD vs Intel CPU performance per watt, It's impossible to overstate the importance of having the densest process node paired with an efficient microarchitecture, and TSMC's 7nm and AMD's Zen 2 are the winning combination. The latest Ryzen processors consume less power on a performance-vs-power basis, which in turn equates to less heat generation. That eases cooling requirements.

AMD vs Intel CPU Lithography

There are a few major underlying technologies that dictate the potency of any chip. The most fundamental rule of processors still holds true: The densest process nodes, provided they have decent power, performance, and area (PPA) characteristics, will often win the battle if paired with a solid microarchitecture. When you judge AMD vs Intel CPUs based on these criteria, AMD has the lead in both lithography and architecture.

But whether or not AMD actually owns the process lead is a topic of debate: Unlike Intel, AMD doesn't produce its processors. Instead, the company designs its processors and then contracts with outside fabs that actually produce the chips. In the case of AMD's current-gen Ryzen processors, the company uses a combination of GlobalFoundries 12nm process and TSMC's 7nm node for its chips, with the latter being the most important.

TSMC's 7nm node is used by the likes of Apple and Huawei, among many others, so it benefits from industry-wide funding and collaborative engineering. The result is what Intel itself calls a superior 7nm process compared to Intel's 10nm and 14nm chips. Intel says its process tech won't achieve parity with the industry again until 2021, and it won't retake leadership until it releases 5nm at an undefined time. 

The benefits of TSMC's 7nm node means AMD can build cheaper, faster, and denser chips with more cores, and all within a relatively low power consumption envelope. That lends the designs a comfortable lead, provided they're combined with a decent design.

We don't have to focus on Intel's 10nm for this article: Intel has been stuck for five long years on the 14nm process for its desktop chips, which isn't changing any time soon, and its 10nm chips that have debuted in laptops are generally unimpressive. (Intel hasn't had a single 10nm model with more than four cores.)

Regardless of whether AMD can lay claim to developing the 7nm node to wrest the lead from Intel, the company had the foresight to contract with TSMC to gain access to a superior process node technology. That bedrock advantage gives AMD a wonderful silicon canvas to paint its microarchitectures on, a combination that Intel is finding impossible to beat with its 14nm chips.

AMD's only concern is production capacity: While AMD has access to 7nm production, the company can't source enough silicon from TSMC, at least in the near term, to match the power of Intel's captive fabs. That leaves AMD exposed to shortages and potentially restricts market penetration. We've seen the most painful example of that weakness in the wake of AMD's Ryzen 5000 and Radeon 6000 launches. AMD's CPUs and GPUs are almost impossible to find at retail, and even older models have fallen prey to the shortages. Meanwhile, Intel has plenty of processors available. 

Winner: AMD (TSMC). Intel has been stuck on 14nm for desktop processors for five years. The company has wrung an amazing amount of performance from its aging design through a series of "+" optimizations. Still, those enhancements aren't enough to help Team Blue win the battle of AMD vs Intel CPU process nodes. Intel needs a good 10nm or 7nm desktop chip; the sooner, the better.

(Image credit: Fritchenz Frinz)

AMD vs Intel CPU Drivers and Software

When we look at AMD vs Intel CPU software support, Team Blue has a stronger reputation. AMD has been beset by issues with its CPU chipset drivers and graphics drivers of late, a natural byproduct of its limited resources compared to its much-larger rivals. Intel isn't without its missteps on the driver front, but its reputation for stability helped earn it the top spot in the processor market, particularly with OEMs.

In terms of its established products, Intel's graphics drivers have become much better lately as the company ramps up to bring its dedicated Xe Graphics cards to market. Day-zero game drivers have become the norm for the chip producer, which by virtue of its integrated graphics on its chips, is the world's largest graphics vendor with an install base of over a billion screens—that's a billion slow screens, but who's counting? (Answer: Every PC gamer out there.)

You might be a little more cautious when approaching Intel's more exotic solutions, though. In the past, the company has developed innovative new products that have been relegated to the dustbin of history due to pricing and market forces, and long-term support for those products might not always be clear cut.

AMD still has its work cut out for it. The company has had several issues with BIOS releases that failed to expose its chips' full performance, though AMD has mostly solved those issues after a long string of updates. As a side effect of being the smaller challenger, AMD also faces a daunting challenge in offsetting the industry's incessant optimization for Intel's architectures above all others.

Upsetting the semiconductor industry is hard, particularly when you're fighting an entrenched and much-larger rival, and sometimes things get broken when you're redefining an industry. In AMD's case, those broken things consist of operating systems and applications that weren't tuned to extract the full performance of its fledgling first-gen Zen architecture, let alone the core-heavy designs of Zen 2 and Zen 3. 

Winner: Intel wins the battle of AMD vs Intel CPU drivers and software. Over the last year, Intel has addressed its laggardly driver updates for its integrated graphics, and the company has an army of software developers at its disposal that help ensure its products get relatively timely support with the latest software. A decade of dominance also finds most software developers optimizing almost exclusively for Intel architectures. AMD has made amazing progress convincing the developer ecosystem to optimize for its radical new Zen architectures. However, there's still plenty of work to be done as the company moves forward.

Intel vs AMD CPU Architecture

When comparing AMD vs Intel CPUs, we must consider that two design decisions have a big impact on performance, scalability, and performance-per-dollar: Interconnects and microarchitecture.

AMD's Infinity Fabric allows the company to tie together multiple dies into one cohesive processor. Think of this as numerous pieces of a puzzle that come together to form one larger picture. The approach allows the company to use many small dies instead of one large die, and this technique improves yields and reduces cost. It also grants a level of scalability that Intel might not be able to match with its new mesh interconnect inside its HEDT chips, and it undoubtedly takes the lead over Intel's aging ring bus in its desktop processors.

AMD first paired that advantage with its Zen microarchitecture, designed from the ground up for scalability, yielding an explosive 52% increase in instructions per clock (IPC) throughput over AMD's previous-gen 'Bulldozer' chips. The Zen 2 microarchitecture another 15% improvement to IPC. Paired with the 7nm process, AMD lunged forward another (up to) 31% in per-core performance (a mixture of frequency and IPC). Zen 3 brings another 19% jump in IPC, giving AMD it's largest single step forward in the post-Bulldozer era. 

In terms of per-core performance, the move to the Zen 2 architecture brought AMD's processors to near-parity with Intel's finest. That's largely because Intel is stuck on 14nm, and its architectures are designed specifically for the nodes they are built on. That means promising new Intel microarchitectures can only ride on smaller processes, like 10nm, leaving the company woefully unprepared for its prolonged issues productizing 10nm products.

Intel plans to fix this in the future with microarchitectures that are portable between nodes. Until then, the company is stuck on the same Skylake microarchitecture whose most significant changes have come as hardware-based silicon fixes for its plethora of security vulnerabilities, plus adding more cores.

Meanwhile, AMD continues plowing forward. AMD's Zen 3 microarchitecture is refined and powerful - allowing the company to eclipse Intel's performance in single-threaded workloads and gaming for the first time since the days of Athlon 64. Zen 3 truly is a watershed moment for AMD. Meanwhile, Intel remains on the same node and microarchitecture that debuted six long years ago, an eternity in the dog years of modern processors. 

Winner: AMD. In judging AMD vs Intel CPU architecture, it's clear that one brand is moving faster. Intel has been riding its Skylake microarchitecture since 2015, and it shows. AMD, fueled by rapid advances in its designs while Intel continues to lean on a six-year-old microarchitecture, has taken the lead in many of the most important aspects of chip design.

AMD vs Intel CPU Security

The last few years have found security researchers poking and prodding at the speculative execution engine that's one of the key performance-boosting features behind all modern chips. The resulting research has spawned an almost never-ending onslaught of new vulnerabilities that threaten the safety of your system and private data. Unfortunately, these types of vulnerabilities are incredibly dangerous because they are undetectable—these tactics steal data by using the processor exactly as it was designed; thus, they are undetectable by any known anti-virus program.

The rash of fixes required to plug these holes also continues to grow, and many of them result in reduced performance. That's particularly painful for Intel because it suffers from far more of these vulnerabilities than other vendors.

Intel currently has 242 publicly disclosed vulnerabilities, while AMD has only 16. That's a 15:1 difference in AMD's favor. It's hard to ascertain if these limited discoveries in AMD processors are due to a security-first approach to hardened processor design, or if researchers and attackers merely focus on Intel's processors due to their commanding market share: Attackers almost always focus on the broadest cross-section possible. We see a similar trend with malware being designed for Windows systems, by far the predominant desktop OS, much more frequently than MacOS, though that does appear to be changing.

Regardless, right now, AMD has had far fewer security holes to plug, and it made a few targeted in-silicon fixes for its Ryzen 5000 processors, thus lowering its exposure to the vulnerabilities. 

We've seen some of the fixes drop performance more than two or three architecture updates on Intel, which is particularly painful, and there's no end to these exploits in sight.

Winner: AMD. The gap in AMD vs Intel CPU security is just too large to ignore. As things stand, Intel is susceptible to far more vulnerabilities than AMD. That could change as AMD gains market share, and security researchers increasingly turn their microscopes on its architecture. For now, Intel processors require far more mitigations to improve their security standing. These mitigations often come with a performance penalty, and Intel tends to suffer larger performance losses than the few fixes we've seen from AMD, granting Team Red the win.

Which Processor is Best: AMD or Intel?

AMD's relentless onslaught with its Zen-based processors has redefined our expectations for both the mainstream desktop and the HEDT markets, catching Intel flatfooted as it remains mired on the 14nm process and Skylake architectures. The past several years have seen AMD CPUs go from value-focused and power hungry solutions to leading-end designs that deliver more cores, more performance, and lower power requirements.

Intel has fought back by slowly adding features and cores across its product stack, but that has also resulted in negative side effects, like more power consumption and heat generation. These only serve to highlight the company's struggles on the design and fabrication side of its operation.

The AMD vs Intel CPU conversation is changing as Intel lowers pricing on its mainstream lineup. However, Intel still hasn't eased its draconian segmentation policies that limit features, like overclockability, to pricey chips and motherboards. Intel's tactic of squeezing every penny out of every feature has allowed AMD to offer a more compelling value story across the full breadth of the consumer desktop CPU market. 

Aside from a misstep in the value department with its Ryzen XT series, AMD has the top-notch performance to match its value story and create a solid price-to-performance ratio. AMD also holds the leadership position in per-core performance, which also grants it a leading position in the gaming market, and that advantage now extends down to lower portions of its product stack.   

That's an amazing reversal of fortunes for a company that teetered on the brink of bankruptcy a mere three years ago. AMD still has some work to do as it expands its ecosystem of OEM partners and works with the community to broaden software optimizations for its chips. Still, given the great mix of price, performance, and value, AMD is already in a good spot. Now, all it needs to do is secure more production capacity – production shortages have hamstrung the company in the wake of the pandemic, making the new Ryzen 5000 series processors almost impossible to find at reasonable pricing. 

Intel still holds sway with the innumerable customers that don't use a discrete GPU, especially in the high-volume OEM market, so it has some time to try to wrest back the crown. The company's Comet Lake processors helped short up Intel's defenses in the critical mid-range, but, as we've seen, AMD isn't sitting still. Ryzen 5000 has changed the paradigm entirely, giving AMD leading performance in every metric that matters, including gaming and single-threaded work, leaving Intel waiting for its Rocket Lake processors that will land in Q1 2020.

AMD wins the CPU war overall right now, but an Intel processor could still be the better choice depending on your needs. If you want the best in overclocking or software support, or if you want productivity performance without buying a discrete GPU, Team Blue has the advantage. But if you want the best balance of price and performance in the Intel vs AMD lineup, or just the plain old fastest performance possible, but in a power-efficient package, Team Red deserves your money.         

AMD vs Intel CPUs
CPU Pricing and Value
Gaming Performancex
Content Creation/Productivity
Power Consumption
Drivers and Software
Process Node
Winner: AMD - Total28
  • maestro0428
    Lotsa info and no graphs?! I need my graphs.
  • Alvar "Miles" Udell
    I disagree with the overclocking section, and I would say it's either a tie or a win for AMD.

    Just because Intel sets base speeds so much lower than actually achievable speeds so they can slap on a ridiculously low TDP doesn't mean they're better overclockers, it just means Intel wants a low number to mislead people as to their efficiency.

    With AMD and Intel having all core boost speeds within a couple hundred megahertz, depending on cooling, of their single core boosts, and with both able to be manually overclocked to or past their all core boost clocks, often using less voltage than the boost voltage, it's pretty even there.
  • mangaman
    AMD currently makes the best processor for the value. You can buy a Ryzen 5 1600 on Amazon right now for $85 brand new, which is a 6 core 12 thread processor and fully unlocked. The core i3-9100f for comparison, is $10 less than the 1600 on Amazon, but only has 4 cores, 4 threads.

    For the value of the Ryzen 5 1600 and with games and programs using more cores, it's obvious the Ryzen series is a much better value than Intel. However, with Intel finally realizing the competition from AMD, they will be making better and more affordable CPU's for consumers.

    In the end, competition is great for us!
  • tiggers97
    maestro0428 said:
    Lotsa info and no graphs?! I need my graphs.
    With lots of RGB borders!
  • Jim90
    Alvar Miles Udell said:
    I disagree with the overclocking section, and I would say it's either a tie or a win for AMD.

    Just because Intel sets base speeds so much lower than actually achievable speeds so they can slap on a ridiculously low TDP doesn't mean they're better overclockers, it just means Intel wants a low number to mislead people as to their efficiency.

    With AMD and Intel having all core boost speeds within a couple hundred megahertz, depending on cooling, of their single core boosts, and with both able to be manually overclocked to or past their all core boost clocks, often using less voltage than the boost voltage, it's pretty even there.

    AMD -now- ships their latest CPU's (Zen2) PRE-OVERCLOCKED.
    Intel DOES NOT.
    Guess which CPU 'APPARENTLY"!!! has more overclocking headroom???

    If you do insist on pushing marketing crap, remember to do the following...
    Now link Intel's "high" overclock with wall-socket power draw: HOW DOES THAT COMPARE WITH AMD???
  • Math Geek
    intel is stuck where amd was with its fx series of chips. nothing new to offer, so you just keep cranking up the spped/power and relabel it as something new.

    at least what intel is doing it with started out as a much better cpu than the fx series ever was.

    but i do agree that their listed speeds and power consumption is downright misleading. to claim "stock" speeds so low just to claim low power usage is outright fraud. they don't need to list them at 5 ghz but obviously closer in speed and power the average user can expect would go along way to not be so misleading.
  • mattkiss
    mangaman said:
    You can buy a Ryzen 5 1600 on Amazon right now for $85 brand new, which is a 6 core 12 thread processor and fully unlocked.

    Cheapest one I see is $115.
  • mangaman
    mattkiss said:
    Cheapest one I see is $115.
    Try this link:
  • Walter Smith
    Math Geek said:
    intel is stuck where amd was with its fx series of chips. nothing new to offer, so you just keep cranking up the spped/power and relabel it as something new.

    at least what intel is doing it with started out as a much better cpu than the fx series ever was.

    but i do agree that their listed speeds and power consumption is downright misleading. to claim "stock" speeds so low just to claim low power usage is outright fraud. they don't need to list them at 5 ghz but obviously closer in speed and power the average user can expect would go along way to not be so misleading.
    Intel actually has another reason for what they do with their low base speeds. Ever got an i5 that just wouldn't over clock? If you do one of the cores will crash? They get to sell a certain percentage of silicon this way that otherwise would go to a lower product stack or the garbage bin.
  • Walter Smith
    I understand the reasoning of why all reviews are done on a clean install. Only way to compare apples to apples. However, no one games or does anything this way. So, a useless case scenario where someone is going to spend thousands on a top CPU, GPU, Whole system. And pair it with a 1080p monitor. And a clean install everytime they fire up a game, is misleading at best. But, let's assume this system exists. This gamer will be watching youtube and twitch, using discord, probably office, a HW monitoring suite, steam client, maybe streaming his awesomeness. etc. Not to mention all the other crap and registry stuff that happens to windows PC's over time. What happens to the numbers on a dirty system? Impossible to compare apples to apples in this scenario. But, an educated guess says that Ryzen with its multitasking advantages would really shine while intels CPU's would bog down. Taking away Intels one advantage it has left. Other than the one that matters most of all of course. Name recognition, and an unlimited horde of fanboys.