When it comes to buying the best CPU for your PC build, you have to pick one of the two — AMD or Intel. Intel was consistently the way to go for most use cases and budgets until a few years ago. In recent years, AMD has surprised us by quickly gaining steam with its Ryzen processors and becoming the recommended CPU brand for nearly all use cases. Regardless, AMD vs Intel is still not a battle that has a clear winner.
Intel is far from being totally out of the game. While lagging behind the curve, Intel is still putting out some solid CPU offerings that could make for a decent purchase. With silicon shortages hitting the market, CPUs are in short supply, which means that the AMD vs Intel race gets quite close at times. Let’s take a deeper look at how AMD and Intel are different and which one is a better choice for CPU buyers.
AMD vs Intel — Where they stand
AMD and Intel have a long intertwined history in the semiconductor market. Intel is a Goliath in the space, leading the charge with its CPUs since the IBM era. AMD hopped on the scene fairly early as a licensed manufacturer for Intel and others. It later started making its own chips, offering cheaper alternatives to Intel. AMD’s first big moment came when it introduced the first x86_64 chip in 2003, beating Intel. This 64-bit move pushed AMD forward. It became an Intel alternative with a better price-to-performance in the 2000s.
AMD and Intel have a cross-licensing agreement under which Intel lets AMD make x86 CPUs, and AMD lets Intel use its x86_64 instruction set. AMD has historically been the underdog in this race. It lagged behind Intel by failing to implement a proper equivalent to Hyperthreading, among other architectural improvements. This is why Intel’s lower-end offerings could often beat AMD CPUs with much higher core counts. All of this was until AMD introduced its Zen architecture in 2017, with the first-gen Ryzen CPUs.
While AMD has brought in a ton of architectural improvements with every new generation of Ryzen, Intel has had issues shrinking its fabrication process. After multiple generations on 10nm and 14nm processes, Intel is running out of tricks to bring sizeable performance gains with every new generation. AMD currently uses a 7nm process. This is because Intel has its own manufacturing foundries, while AMD uses third-party foundries, like those owned by TSMC.
On the other hand, Intel has years of experience and thus offers great performance despite the much larger fabrication process. It also has a broader range of CPU offerings at nearly every price point and better availability across all offerings in times of silicon shortages.
What does AMD offer?
AMD has a rather lean lineup of CPUs. With the new Zen architecture, its offerings have gotten much more streamlined. There are options available across a range of prices for consumers, although not as many as Intel offers.
If you’re looking at the higher end of AMD CPUs, there are a few options depending on your purpose. If you’re looking for the best CPU for gaming, it doesn’t get much better than the Ryzen 9 5950X. Alternatively, we have the Ryzen 9 5900X and the Ryzen 7 5800X if you don’t want to go all out. If you want high-performance CPUs with integrated GPUs, AMD has just launched the Ryzen 7 5700G and Ryzen 7 5700GE. Older generation Ryzen flagships from the 3000 series and the OEM-only 4000G series are also great chips to own.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for absolutely the most performance you can get from an AMD CPU, you should take a look at the AMD Ryzen Threadripper series of processors. The current flagship in the range is the Ryzen Threadripper 3990X — an absolute beast with 64 cores and 128 threads. The Threadripper series is due for an update though, and we expect the even beefier fourth generation to drop this year.
Mid-range and budget CPU entries
While it may offer some serious performance at the high end, where AMD really shines is with its stellar value-for-money in the mid-range. In the Ryzen lineup, you have several options like the latest-gen Ryzen 5 5600X and older chips ranging from the Ryzen 7 3800X for the upper end to the Ryzen 3 3100 for budget builds.
There are sufficient options with integrated GPUs in the mid-range and budget segments as well. The Ryzen 5 5600G and the Ryzen 3 5300G from the freshly launched 5000 series APU range are great options for the price, as are the 4000 series OEM-only APUs. AMD fills out the low-end with its Athlon Gold and Silver chips.
This is one area where AMD has a sizeable advantage over Intel, even though it’s not leading the segment. Since it acquired ATI, AMD has had a solid presence in the graphics card space. While it loses out to NVIDIA, the latest Radeon RX6000 series of GPUs are a testament to AMD’s architectural improvement prowess. These GPUs get very close to similarly priced NVIDIA offerings in terms of performance. While ray tracing still remains a weakness, AMD GPUs offer stellar value for money.
EPYC Server solutions and other products
AMD doesn’t stretch too far beyond its consumer range, but they have enough enterprise solutions to make a dent in the space. The most notable ones are the AMD EPYC range of server CPUs and AMD Instinct MI series accelerators. Additionally, AMD also markets some of its consumer-grade-level enterprise solutions under the Pro moniker, with most of them being consumer processor equivalents that go into OEM systems. We expect a lot more diversification now that AMD has acquired Xilinx — a big name in the FPGA and networking business. The AMD vs Intel race is about to get even closer!
What does Intel offer?
Intel is a veteran in the CPU, and as such, it has a much more diverse range of offerings. There’s an Intel chip at pretty much every price range and often more than just one. While it has always been and continues to be not the best value-for-money choice, it has some interesting CPUs to offer.
When it comes to the higher end of Intel CPUs, we have three series depending upon exactly how high-end you want to go. At the very top are the Intel Core X-series CPUs, which are the fully unlocked versions of the Core i9 flagship chips from Intel. Currently, at the top of the lineup is the Intel Core i9-10900X.
The X-series has not gotten the 11th generation treatment yet. However, the Core i9 and i7 ranges have new 11th gen CPUs. The current i9 flagship is the Core i9-11900K, which is on a 14nm process. In the i7 range, you have the fresh-off-the-press Core i7-11700K. The 11th gen i9 and i7 lineups have several variants each to pick from, so there’s plenty of options.
Mid-range and budget CPU entries
Intel’s mid-range and budget options have a wider range of offerings as well, starting with Core i5 and i3. With the 11th gen treatment, there are several new additions to Intel’s already strong midrange. The i5-11600K and the i3-1115G4 are leading the lineup. Many CPU SKUs in these ranges, combined with better availability than AMD’s offerings, make for some serious considerations for balanced rigs.
On the lower end, we have the Pentium series. Pentium Gold and Silver, both of which have gotten the 11th generation updates. Supplementing these are the Celeron G series chips, which make for super-tight budget builds. Intel’s multiple low-budget SKUs mean that there are many options to choose from, unlike AMD’s handful.
Now, this is an interesting chapter for Intel. After years of making notoriously bad integrated graphics solutions, Intel has now stepped into the GPU arena. Intel’s Iris Xe graphics is a rather underwhelming entry in the GPU space, with very little to make it a serious competitor. It’s only going into OEM systems for now. If Intel manages to fix ongoing issues with its CPU-making, there is some chance we may see Intel GPUs gain some mainstream appeal as an extension.
Xeon server CPUs, embedded processors, storage, networking, and more
If we haven’t noted it enough, Intel is a much, much bigger company than AMD. Its offerings go far beyond the general consumer CPU market. To begin with, are the historically industry-favorite server CPUs marketed under the Xeon brand. Intel also has Atom, a range formerly made for low-power systems, which now serves on the lower end of its server and networking solutions. Then there is the AI-focused Movidius range, the embedded solutions, and the NUCs, not to forget — its storage and networking solutions.
AMD vs Intel — How it will go from here and which one you should buy
AMD vs Intel is a fight that is nowhere close to finishing. As we have seen in the past, AMD has a pattern of flipflopping, where after a stint of industry successes, it loses its way for a few years. On the other hand, Intel has pretty much always held the fort and only recently shown weaknesses that have aligned with AMD’s current rise in the market.
Intel has had troubles with its fabrication processes for a few years now, and those troubles seem far from over. Currently, the 11th generation chipsets have seen a backport from the 10nm process that Intel had finally managed to hit. This limits Intel to somewhere between 10nm and 14nm, while AMD will continue going with the most efficient process they can find.
AMD’s acquisition of Xilinx will also give it opportunities to go beyond its regular offering of consumer CPUs. While it will take a long time for it to get to Intel’s size, it doesn’t seem like the colossal impossibility it looked like a few years ago.
As far as your current purchase decisions go, if you can get your hands on it — go for an AMD chip. AMD offers superior value for money across all of its offerings. Intel’s latest 11th generation upgrades seem like a lukewarm attempt at best. Intel is now a choice for those on a specific budget that AMD cannot fulfill well or those who need to pick a CPU without hunting for stocks.