Intel vs AMD: Which Processor Is Right For You?

Intel vs AMD: At the end of 2020, AMD took the performance throne with the fourth generation of its Ryzen processors. This year the feud goes into the next round. What should you look out for when buying in 2021?

intel vs amd

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It is the question of faith that every buyer or self-builder of a PC has to ask: Intel or AMD? The processor (CPU) is one of the most important components of the computer. However, the competitors hide their chips behind incomprehensible identifiers that even experts lose track of. Time to get an overview of the processors and clarify which CPU you want in 2021. 

Intel vs AMD: The Basics

A processor consists of at least one computing core that calculates the tasks assigned to it by the operating system. How fast it does this is determined by its clock frequency, which is specified in gigahertz. Logical: Processors with many cores and high clock frequencies are more expensive. The chips are divided into high-end, upper-class, middle-class and entry-level CPUs. Both manufacturers cover every class. The following table shows examples of processors from AMD and Intel that are opposed to each other in the respective class. 

High endUpper classMiddle classBeginners
AMDRyzen 9 5900XRyzen 7 5800XRyzen 5 5600XRyzen 3 3300X
Cores / Threads12/248/166/124/8
RRP$880$450$376$260
IntelCore i9 10900KCore i7 10700KCore i5 10600KCore i3 10300
Cores / Threads10/208/166/124/8
RRP$480$320$220$330

Of course, not all processors from both manufacturers are listed in the table. Intel offers a variety of other CPUs that are similar in name but do not have a “K” but an “F”, “T”, or no letter. What’s up with the IDs?

As an example, we take the Core i5 for the explanation. It is the tenth generation of the mid-range processor. The markings apply to Core i3, i7 and i9 simultaneously.

Core i5 10400TT = energy efficiency optimized, not overclockable
Core i5 10400Not overclockable, frequency lower than 10500
Core i5 10400FNot overclockable, no integrated graphics unit
Core i5 10600TT = energy efficiency optimized, not overclockable
Core i5 10500Not overclockable, lower GHz than 10600
Core i5 10600Not overclockable
Core i5 10600KOverclockable, highest GHz
  • The 10 stands for the generation
  • The 400, 500 and 600 for the level of the clock frequency
  • T is optimized for efficiency
  • F has no integrated graphics unit
  • K is overclockable 

In contrast, the Ryzen processors from AMD. They are always overclockable and usually do not have an integrated graphics unit. Unless there is a “G” behind the name. AMD identifies the individual classes on the 3, 5, 7 and 9 – similar to Intel. Then it gets confusing: up to the third generation, the processors were clearly recognizable by the thousand according to the class classification.

The Ryzen 7 2700X belongs to the second and the Ryzen 7 3700X the third generation. The Ryzen 7 5800X but is the fourth generation. Why AMD skipped, the 4000 remains the manufacturer’s secret. If AMD releases older processors, you can recognize this by an “XT”. The Ryzen 7 3800XT, for example, is a new edition of the third generation and offers higher clock rates than its predecessor.

You can also read: Graphics card ranking: Best models from Nvidia and AMD

Intel vs AMD: The Differences

The biggest difference between Intel and AMD lies in the way the processors are manufactured. AMD has managed to build its computing cores using the 7 nanometer process. This means that the manufacturer’s cores are smaller and therefore work more efficiently. On the opposite side is Intel, which still manufactures 14 nanometers. The manufacturer is refining the technology of its chips and getting the most out of what is already known.

In comparison, Intel processors clock faster and consume more power. As a result, the Intel processors do not achieve any more performance than the fourth Ryzen generation. In addition to the clock rate, the most important thing for processors is how the architecture of the chip is structured. An indicator of how efficiently a processor is working is the “IPC” of a chip. IPC means “Instructions per Cycle”, i.e. how many instructions the CPU can process per computing cycle. And here, thanks to its architecture, AMD is ahead of Intel, even though the Ryzen processors have a lower clock rate.

PCIe 4.0

PCIe 4.0 is the new standard for communication between the processor and other components via the motherboard. Think of your mainboard as a road network. Compared to PCIe 3.0, PCIe 4.0 offers a higher data throughput, i.e. several lanes of the connecting streets. Intel processors are not yet able to cope with the new standard. The manufacturer is only implementing PCIe 4.0 with its eleventh generation of CPUs.

Third and fourth generation Ryzen processors are already sending data through the computer via PCIe 4.0. The prerequisite for this is a motherboard with a 570 chipset. Only a few games still benefit from the increased data throughput. “Counter Strike – Global Offensive” is a prominent title in which, thanks to PCIe 4.0, more images per second actually land on the monitor. 

Thunderbolt

If you frequently drag large files like 4K videos from an external hard drive to your PC, it pays to go with Thunderbolt. The technology uses the same interface as USB-C but offers higher data throughput. Apple users already know Thunderbolt from iMac and MacBook. Because Intel developed the technology, it only works on computers with Intel chips and a corresponding motherboard.

Smart Access Memory

AMD has also devised its own technology, which is especially interesting for players who rely entirely on the manufacturer. If you pair a 4th generation Ryzen CPU with a Radeon RX-6800 graphics card, “Smart Access Memory” allows the processor to access the graphics card’s memory. And that’s exactly what leads to improved performance in some games. 

The pedestal

One feature distinguishes the current chips from both manufacturers. The AM4 socket from AMD marks the output stage. Means: All future CPUs from AMD no longer fit on the motherboard. If you buy a motherboard and processor today, you will have to replace both components with the next CPU update. The FCLGA1200 socket for Intel processors of the tenth generation, on the other hand, can cope with processors of the coming eleventh. After that, however, it’s over.

Intel vs AMD: What You Need

Which CPU is right for you depends on what and how you use the computer and how much money you want to spend. If many programs are running on the PC at the same time, you need many cores. If only one program is working, the performance of a few individual cores is more important. Are you building a computer for games, video editing or simple office work?

CPU for the office

You don’t need a powerful processor for simple office computers. It is more important; the CPU comes with an integrated graphics unit so that you do not spend any money on a graphics processor. You also want to know that a fan is included in the scope of delivery. Be sure to buy boxed versions of the processors. Alternatively, dealers also offer tray versions. These are mostly returns that are sold without a cooler. Two cores are usually sufficient for an office CPU, but it doesn’t hurt to use a quad-core.

CPU for gaming

Most gamers are looking for a CPU with the best mix of price and performance. At the moment, the six-core reach. You are prepared for the future with eight cores. If you want to overclock the processor, you have to factor in the cost of strong cooling. You can do without an integrated graphics unit. A gaming computer without a powerful graphics chip makes no sense.

CPU for video and image processing

If you are looking for a processor for smooth image and video editing, you cannot avoid a powerful CPU with many cores. The same applies if you use many programs at the same time.

Intel vs AMD: price and performance

For many years, Intel dominated the processor market because its chips were more energy efficient and faster. After the Ryzen processors were released, AMD was competitive again and offered an excellent price-performance ratio. It took four generations for AMD CPUs to overtake Intel chips in terms of performance. Due to the high demand, the AMD chips are currently out of stock or overpriced. And that leads to an interesting situation.

Intel is responding to the competition by the chipmaker lowering its prices. And that’s exactly what makes its processors interesting. The following table shows CPUs from AMD and Intel based on their usage and price as of April 18, 2021. Please note that prices may change at a later date.

IntelCores / threadsOfferprice
Office with graphics unitCore i3 101004 / 8Amazon$160
Gaming six-coreCore i5 10600KF6 /12Amazon$200
Gaming eight-coreCore i7 10700KF8 / 16Amazon$295
High-end video editing and gamingCore i9 10900KF10 / 20Amazon$450
AMDCores / threadsofferprice
Office with graphics unitRyzen 3 3200G4 / 8Amazon$175
Gaming six-coreRyzen 5 5600X6 / 12Amazon$376
Gaming eight-coreRyzen 7 5800X8 / 16Amazon$450
High-end video editing and gamingRyzen 9 5900X12 / 24Amazon$880

The processors are similar on paper. However, in terms of performance, the Intel chips of the tenth generation lose against the Ryzen processors of the fourth generation. These, in turn, are much more expensive than their recommended retail price but usually come with a cooler, which is not the case with Intel processors. If you buy a motherboard for the processors, the price also matters. AM4 motherboards are slightly cheaper than the motherboards for Intel processors.

Because Ryzen processors are overpriced due to the high demand, the more exciting mix of price and performance goes to Intel. AMD fans might know the third generation of Ryzen processors has filled the niche. In terms of performance, however, it is behind the tenth generation of Intel Core processors. The Ryzen 7 3700X and the Intel Core i7 10700KF are comparable in price, both of which cost around 300 euros. The Intel processor offers more performance for the money if you don’t include the processor cooler and motherboard costs.

Intel vs AMD: That brings the future

Now, if you’re wondering whether it’s worth waiting for new Intel or AMD processors, the answer is sobering. At Intel, the eleventh generation of processors is in the starting blocks. It is still uncertain whether the manufacturer can stand up to its competitors with this. Intel fans shouldn’t expect too much. The manufacturer again producing the chips in the 14-nanometer process, and Intel is probably increasing the clock rate of the individual cores again. It seems as if the technology and Intel with its strategy are coming to an end. The upper class processor of the eleventh Intel generation will be “only” an eight-core. Intel has not yet revealed when they will launch processors in 2021.

AMD continues to refine its manufacturing process. At the end of 2022 / beginning of 2023, the manufacturer plans to launch its first processors using the 5-nanometer process. With them comes the AM5 socket and DDR5 memory. It is unknown when the manufacturer will deliver enough supplies to meet the high demand for its processors at a reasonable price.

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