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 battle between Ryzen 2nd Generation and Cannon Lake is about to begin, it’s time to dive into the perennial deathmatch: AMD vs Intel.

Basically the brain of your computer, the best processors are behind everything you PC does. This is why you need to find the right processor that will actually cater to your own specific needs. Don’t pay for features you don’t need, and don’t buy a processor that won’t do what you need it to do.

If you’ve been following the fevered war between AMD and Intel as closely as we have over the years, you probably already know that AMD and Intel are focused on different parts of the processor market. Intel focuses on higher clock speeds and efficiency while keeping core counts low. However, AMD flips it around by focusing on having as many CPU cores as possible for maximum multi-threading performance.

It shouldn’t surprise you then, that AMD has 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, it looks like AMD is going to have yet another landmark year in 2018 – especially if AMD keeps putting out CPUs as good as the Ryzen 5 2600X and the Ryzen 7 2700X.

Even in the shadow of the devastating Meltdown and Spectre exploits in Intel’s CPUs – which have been fixed – Intel is still enjoying huge growth in every category outside of desktop processors – which just goes to show how much of an impact AMD Ryzen CPUs have had on the market.

Fortunately, Intel has released a ton of new processors, including the long awaited Coffee Lake processors for laptops, along with a line of low-power T-series desktop CPUs. That’s not all, we’re expecting to see the much anticipated Cannon Lake processors show up in 2019 – plus Intel just accidentally confirmed its forthcoming Z390 chipset.

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.

However, it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities to say that AMD and Intel can coexist while catering to wholly different audiences, with some room for direct competition in the middle. If you’re not quite sure where your loyalties lie just yet, continue to the next slide for a constantly updated look at the AMD vs Intel battle.

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 16 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 1800X is priced at $299 (about £215, AU$380) MSRP.

With that in mind, CPU pricing fluctuates constantly. Wait a few months, and you'll soon discover that the Ryzen 5 1600X you were eyeing has dropped well below market value. However, we wouldn’t blame you if you can’t wait and bought one right now. 

It used to be that if you wanted the best performance, you’d go for Intel, but it’s not so simple anymore.

The Santa Clara chipmaker usually ranks consistently higher in CPU benchmarks, but its Intel’s processors also draw less heat as well, blessing them with lower TDP ratings – and power consumption – across the board.

Much of this is owed to Intel's implementation of hyper-threading, which has been incorporated in its CPUs since 2002. Hyper-threading keeps existing cores active rather than letting any of them remain unproductive. 

Although AMD’s simultaneous multi-threading (SMT) featured in Ryzen is generally similar to hyper-threading, Intel remains on top when it comes to sheer clock speeds. AMD, on the other hand, has been keen on adding more cores to its chips and only recently began boosting stock frequencies.

Unfortunately, software has to be written with this multi-core advantage in mind, which explains why Intel maintains a steady lead in real-world applications.

Luckily, despite AMD’s reputation for overheating processors, the newer Ryzen chips have lower TDP (thermal design point) ratings than the AMD FX CPUs and APUs of the past. As long as you have a decent cooler, you shouldn’t have to fret about your Ryzen-laden PC ever catching fire. However, thanks to the recently-announced Intel T-series desktop CPUs, AMD is in for a bit of competition when it comes to TDP ratings.

This looks to remain the case on the mobile (laptops) front as well, wherein AMD has only recently brought forth its contributions. The flagship Ryzen 7 2700U (quad-core, 2.2GHz – 3.8GHz) will be most compared to the Intel Core i7-8550U (quad-core, 1.8GHz – 4.0GHz) and seems promising based on those numbers alone.

And, now that we’ve had a chance to check out the Ryzen 7 2700X in action, AMD has become far more compelling when it comes to raw performance, and has all but dethroned Intel when it comes to real-world results.

With AMD’s RX Vega GL and GH graphics helping power Intel’s Kaby Lake G-powered laptops and newest generation of NUCs, the AMD vs Intel rivalry is coming to a standstill. At this point in time, we’re seeing the two companies collaborate as we’ve never seen them do before. What’s more, they’re both benefiting from the partnership. 

It’s unclear how long the partnership will last, however. Because AMD recently launched its Ryzen 3 2200G and Ryzen 5 2400G APUs, you can now get ‘discrete-class’ graphics from an AMD chip alone, an effort that will inevitably translate to an increased volume of Ryzen-based laptops as well. Meanwhile, Intel has poached two high-profile heads of AMD’s Radeon Graphics team, so it seems inevitable that the company will jump into the discrete graphics world.

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 $149 (£133, AU$195) Intel Core i3-7350K.

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 freshly released AMD Ryzen 3 2200G and Ryzen 5 2400G. Even the recently-announced Intel 8th-Generation T-series CPUs should be popping up for pre-order across the internet any minute now. Now we just have to wait for AMD’s Ryzen 2nd-generation CPUs to freshen up the market once more.

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