AMD vs Intel: which chipmaker does processors better?

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Now that the battle between Coffee Lake and AMD Ryzen has died down a bit, and the war between Ryzen 2nd Generation and Coffee Lake Refresh is about to begin. It’s also time for us to dive into the perennial deathmatch: AMD vs Intel.

Essentially acting as the brain of your computer, the best processors are behind everything your PC does. This is why it’s so important to find the one for your specific needs – you don’t want to pay for features you don’t need. 

If you’ve followed the frenetic war of Intel vs AMD like we have over the decades, you probably already know that both of these tech behemoths are focused on different parts of the CPU market. Where Intel has focused on higher clock speeds and efficiency with low core counts, AMD has focused on upping the core count to boost multi-threading performance.

However, it’s still possible for AMD and Intel to coexist while catering to entirely different audiences, with some room for direct competition in between. If you’re not quite sure where your loyalties lie just yet, continue to the next slide for a constantly updated glance at the AMD vs Intel CPU war.

Gary Marshall originally contributed to this article

For bargain shoppers on the prowl for the next hottest deal, it used to be assumed 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 $64 (about £46, AU$82) MSRP Pentium G4560 offering far better performance than AMD’s $110 (about £80, AU$140) MSRP A12-9800.

Even among mid-range, current-gen chips, Intel is leading the pack by offering 8th-generation Coffee Lake CPUs as low as $117 (about £83, AU$152) for the Core i3-8100T. 

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 (around £142, AU$252) 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 32-cores.

And, thanks to some recent price cuts you can find the AMD Ryzen 5 2400G and the Ryzen 3 2200G for $160 (around £129, AU$208) and $105 (around £84, AU$135), respectively.

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 (about £260, AU$420) MSRP, while the still less-capable Ryzen 7 2700X is priced at $329 (about £230, AU$420)  MSRP. And, if you want to get your hands on the new hotness, the Intel Core i7-8086K is available for $425 (£380, about AU$560).  

For anyone looking to dip their toes into the realm of the HEDT processors, AMD and Intel are very close right now, especially on the heels of the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX CPU, at $1,799 (£1,639, AU$2,679). That might seem like a lot, but compared to the $1,999 (£1,649, AU$2,729) Intel Core i9-7980XE, it’s a downright bargain – especially given that AMD’s offering has nearly double the cores. 

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 graphically intense games on an integrated GPU if your processor has one. In this area, AMD is the clear winner, thanks to the release of the Ryzen 5 2400G that packs powerful discrete Vega graphics that outperforms Intel’s onboard graphic technology by leaps and bounds – it can even run Battlefield V at 30 fps.

Yet, as we mentioned before, Intel has officially started shipping its high-end H-series mobile CPU chips with AMD graphics on board. In turn, this means that hardier laptops powered by Intel can now be thinner and their accompanying silicon footprints will be over 50% smaller, according to Intel client computing group vice president Christopher Walker.

All of this is accomplished using Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge (EMIB) technology, along with a newly contrived framework that enables power sharing between Intel’s first-party processors and third-party graphics chips with dedicated graphics memory. Even so, it’s too early to tell whether this is a better solution than the purebred AMD notebooks slated for the end of this year.

Intel might be aiming to shake things up though as it has announced that it’s planning on releasing a GPU aimed at gamers by 2020. And, if we could see Intel putting some of that effort into improving integrated graphics.

Still, 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 for desktops will likely fare just as well as any forthcoming portable graphics solution.

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 – not to mention that AMD Ryzen processors offer more PCIe lanes, which can translate to better graphical performance by slotting in more GPUs.

In the HEDT space, things are heated right now,. As we wait for Intel’s answer to the 32-core, 64-thread AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX, Team Red is wiping the floor with the Intel Core i9-7980XE, and at a lower price no less. Intel did show off a 28-core HEDT processor back at Computex 2018, but we’ll just have to wait and see how that’ll perform in the real world.

While there is no clear winner in the graphics department, survey says AMD is the better option for integrated graphics, while hardcore gamers who don’t mind shelling out the extra cash for a GPU will find that Intel is better for gaming alone – although with Ryzen 2nd Generation AMD is closing that gap. Meanwhile, AMD is superior for carrying out numerous tasks at once.

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 graphically intense games on an integrated GPU if your processor has one. In this area, AMD is the clear winner, thanks to the release of the Ryzen 5 2400G that packs powerful discrete Vega graphics that outperforms Intel’s onboard graphic technology by leaps and bounds. 

Yet, as we mentioned before, Intel has officially started shipping its high-end H-series mobile CPU chips with AMD graphics on board. In turn, this means that hardier laptops powered by Intel can now be thinner and their accompanying silicon footprints will be over 50% smaller, according to Intel client computing group vice president Christopher Walker.

All of this is accomplished using Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge (EMIB) technology, along with a newly contrived framework that enables power sharing between Intel’s first-party processors and third-party graphics chips with dedicated graphics memory. Even so, it’s too early to tell whether this is a better solution than the purebred AMD notebooks slated for the end of this year.

Still, 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 for desktops will likely fare just as well as any forthcoming portable graphics solution.

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, while hardcore gamers who don’t mind shelling out the extra cash for a GPU will find that Intel is better for gaming alone. Meanwhile, 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 $129 (about £110, AU$172) 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 $180 (£160, AU$240) Intel Core i3-8350K.

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’s desktop 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 availability, four months after the release date of Intel’s 8th-generation processors, both Intel Coffee Lake and AMD Ryzen processors are widely purchasable from major retailers. Whereas there’s a shortage on graphics cards due to the cryptocurrency surge, most CPUs can be found at or below their sticker price.

That includes everything from the Intel Core i7-8700K to the much more budget friendly AMD Ryzen 3 2200G and Ryzen 5 2400G. Even the recently-announced mid-range AMD Ryzen 5 2500X and Ryzen 3 2300X should be available to purchase soon. 

Future speculation 

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that AMD had a great year in 2017 with its Ryzen processors – especially the high-end Threadripper processors. And, now that the Ryzen 2nd Generation CPUs have been released, AMD is claiming more and more of Intel’s market share, up to 50% at the time of writing.  And, if AMD keeps putting out processors as good as the Ryzen 5 2600X and the Ryzen 7 2700X, we think this trend will only continue.

We’re expecting the AMD Ryzen Threadripper Generation 2 CPUs to arrive this fall. The rumored Threadripper 2990X, for instance will supposedly rock 32 cores and 64 threads, and will cost about $1,700 (£1,300, AU$2,300) according to recent speculation. We’ve also seen some leaks suggesting that the Ryzen Threadripper 2970X is on the way as well, featuring 24 cores and 48 threads, and a base clock of 3.5GHz. 

If these leaks are true, Intel is going to be put under even more pressure to deliver new HEDT processors – which makes us even more excited for the Basin Falls (Refresh) and Skylake-X processors Intel is rumored to be releasing.

Intel isn’t going to stand by and let AMD have all the fun with Ryzen though. Not only is Intel planning on launching its 9th-generation processors with Coffee Lake-S Refresh, but we’ve seen a wealth of leaked roadmaps that suggest Intel is refreshing every part of its lineup in late 2018/early 2019. That’s not to mention Cannon Lake, which might finally come out next year.

Even in the shadow of the devastating Meltdown and Spectre exploits in Intel processors – which have been fixed (although a new strain has been found by Google and Microsoft) – Intel is still experiencing huge growth in every sector outside of desktop processors – which only goes to show how much of an impact AMD Ryzen has had on the market.

AMD also now has its own exploits to deal with, as Israeli security firm CTS labs has released a white paper to the press detailing vulnerabilities in AMD’s current CPUs. However, AMD has followed this up by promising that it will fix these issues as soon as possible. 

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