Which Processor is Better: Intel or AMD? - Explained

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Bob C. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

Which processor is better: Intel or AMD? The reason I ask is that my laptop is roughly 6 years old and it's time for me to purchase a new one. That said, I can't seem to find the definitive answer as to which processor I should get for my next laptop. AMD seems to have cheaper processors, whereas Intel processors are usually always much more expensive. Can you shed light on which processor is better? "

My Response:

Update 20180620: I have updated this article to include new information considering AMD's Ryzen line of processors, which has had a massive impact on the war of "Intel vs AMD", all things considered.

With that said: I've been asked this question probably no less than a thousand times and the answer is quite simply: it depends on what you want to do with your laptop or PC, including any restrictions you may have.

For example: when it comes to purchasing a laptop, you may have a budget that you need to stick to, or you may also be looking for a particular form factor (such as an ultra thin laptop or 'regular' size laptop). All of this needs to be considered when comparing processors, because the size of the laptop and the price also depend on the type of CPU being used (with respect to processing power, heat produced, wattage required, and cooling).

With that said: my answer to the question of "Which processor is better - Intel or AMD?" is by no means definitive, but it will certainly give you an excellent idea when it comes to figuring out which processor is better for you - but as I said, it depends on how you intend to use the system. I will try and answer the question objectively with the most important points to consider.

Now, let's delve into parts of the question a little more closely.

Processors: GHz, TDP, and Heat Dissipation

In terms of a laptop or netbook, you will most likely want a processor with the highest GHz (gigahertz), with many cores (or threads) as possible, with the lowest TDP (Thermal Design Point) as possible. All of this has to do with heat dissipation, and I'll explain that a bit further down.

To start: Gigahertz (GHz) is the clock rate at which the processor operates. GHz gives you a rough idea as to "how fast" the processor runs, but by itself is not a very good indication as to the processor's performance.

Thermal Design Point (TDP) is a word used to describe how much power is consumed by the processor, which is also directly related to how much heat is going to be generated by the processor. The lower the TDP, the less heat produced, which in turn makes your laptop, netbook, and PC last longer. TDP is less of an issue on PCs (compared to a laptop), because PCs are significantly larger than laptops and can dissipate heat much more quickly.

With that in mind, let's move to the next point.

Hyper Threading vs Multi-Cores

In the older days of computing, processors came with single cores. You can think of a core as similar to the brain of the computer; a single core meant that the computer could only calculate one thing at a time, which also meant that it would take longer for things to complete.

In 2002, Intel introduced Hyper Threading on their high-end CPUs, which allowed the processor to start more than one task at a time. This made the processor more efficient and faster. Hyper Threading essentially starts another task while the thread before it is waiting for something to complete. Effectively it makes the processor "more busy," rather than sit idle. It should be noted that Hyper Threading is unique to Intel and is not offered by AMD.

In 2005, both Intel and AMD introduced their first multi-core processors. A multi-core processor is effectively 2 or more processors on one chip. In terms of computing, a multi-core processor is more powerful than one with Hyper Threading, because each core is an independent logical processor, whereas Hyper Threading is directly tied to the core. Technically speaking, IBM was the first company to produce a multi-core processor with its "Power 4", which was released in 2001.

AMD has always offered lower priced CPUs that offer "more bang for the buck," when compared to Intel processors, though these processors (prior to 2017) did not offer hyper threading. But that all changed with the Ryzen CPU.

AMD's Introduction to the Ryzen Line of Processors

In 2017, AMD finally introduced CPUs with hyper threading, beginning with their Ryzen line of processors.

The Ryzen 1700 line (1700, 1700x, 1800, 1800x) feature 65 watt TDP, 8 cores, and 16 threads. The "X" models have a higher turbo frequency range. Other lower end Ryzen models such as the 1600 and 1500 were introduced with fewer cores (6 core, 12 thread and 4 core, 8 thread respectively). Around the same time, AMD also introduced behemoth 16 core, 32 thread processors, codenamed "Threadripper" (click the link to learn more). This CPU operates at 180 watts TDP - now that is some serious power, but also some serious TDP (heat) as well!

If that wasn't enough, AMD introduced a 32 core, 64 thread version (model # 2990WX) the following year. This CPU has a 250 watt TDP - holy-hot-CPU, batman!

In all seriousness, and speaking from experience: I own two Ryzen 1700 systems with a base core frequency of 3 GHz with turbo clock of 3.7 GHz. The processors use "step frequencies" in which they use lower power if idle - for example, 800 MHz (Intel processors do the same). I have both my Ryzen 1700 CPUs overclocked to 3.8 GHz 100% of the time (watercooled with a Corsair H60), so I am getting an extra 800 MHz x 8 CPUs, which equates to 6.4 GHz "more power" for free, which is essentially equivalent to a Ryzen 1800X processor without paying the extra price.

Related: CPU Hyper-threading Reverse Engineered to Spy on Processes

What's Better: Higher Frequency or More Cores?

Let's consider some processor examples.

A dual core with 2 threads per core will appear as if there are 4 logical CPUs in Windows Task Manager. That means you can perform (roughly) 4 tasks at once. Similarly, a newer-generation quad core processor with hyper threading will have 8 logical cores. Each processor core runs independent of one another; the hyper threading takes advantage of an idle core by 'forking' another process on it, giving you more "throughput".

A quad core processor with NO hyper threading has 4 cores and can perform 4 tasks at once. Each core is independent of one another. Generally speaking, a quad core processor with the same frequency (GHz) will outperform a dual core processor with 2 cores.

A dual core CPU operating at 3.4 GHz will most likely out perform a quad core CPU operating at 1.7 GHz because the dual core clock rate is faster, which means it can get more done in less time (even though there are fewer cores).

If you had to choose between more cores or more threads: more cores are better, but also usually require more wattage to power.

If you want to know exactly which processor model you have, you can download a program called CPUz.

Which Processor is Better: Intel or AMD?

So, which processor is "better?" This question tends to attract subjective answers, as most folks answering the question (online forums, for example) don't take into consideration what I've already outlined above - especially now that Ryzen processors have hyper threading and multi-cores. If you want the absolute "best of the best," in terms of pure performance, then you will simply need to look at raw CPU scores, described in the next section.

For all intents and purposes, and based on processor history (plus what I've outlined above), the answer to the question is as follows:

Generally speaking: prior to AMD's introduction of the Ryzen line of processors (from 2005 to 2017), Intel had an upper hand on AMD because it released processors to consumers faster than AMD which had lower TDP (more efficient chips), faster chipsets for the processor on the motherboard (which can perform Input and Output operations much more quickly), more cache on the processor (which can perform repetitive tasks more quickly), and are usually better at overclocking (which is also related to the TDP). All of this goodness is also reflected in Intel's price point in comparison to AMD which was usually double the price all things considered.

However, that is no longer the case.

Flash forward to 2017 (and beyond), AMD's new line of processors are almost neck-in-neck with Intel's offerings, but priced substantially lower. Which processor you choose depends on how much money you want to spend, the speed, how many cores, the TDP (heat produced), and what the CPU's primary purpose is for (example: scientific research number crunching, or simple web surfing).

CPU Benchmarks: Comparing Raw CPU Scores

In terms of raw numbers, you can compare processors (relatively speaking) using CPU benchmarks, while keeping in mind your budget, form factor, and how you plan to use your device - whether it's a laptop, netbook, or PC.

One of my favorite sites for this task is cpubenchmark.net. It gives you the raw score of each processor, so you can see which one performs "better" according to the specifications that fit your criteria.

Simply visit the page and then do a search for the model of your processor you're looking at and it will give you the GHz, TDP, cores, threads, and a raw benchmark score. You can also use their CPU list to search and compare processors.

I hope that answers your question.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question -- or even a computer problem that needs fixing -- please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of Infopackets.com. With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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Comments

RogerFaucherTechnology_3048's picture

One other important consideration has to do with the maximum number of processors/cores/threads a key program can/will utilize. If a high percentage of activity on a particular computer is related to a specific application that can ONLY run in two threads, then running that program on a computer capable of executing 12 threads, for instance, could cause that program to run more slowly than on a computer capable of 4 threads. The program could use up to 50% of the processing power of a "4-thread" system but might get only as little as 17% of the processing power of a "12-thread" system. Running Resource Monitor on a system while using the application in question can help define the application's capabilities/requirements or contact the vendor for the application.

Theuns.VanSchalkwijk_4758's picture

now i womder how hyper tranport fits into the above thread?

dave_9226's picture

Dennis,

Can you update this article to indicate if there is any difference between the Intel and AMD processors with respect to to how badly they are crippled by the current Spectre and Meltdown Speculative execution patches? I know that even my 12 Core Intel screamer system is now a pussycat since applying all the latest patches.

I understand that it will take the development of an entirely new generation of CPU chips to prevent this sort of exploit. I wonder if any are in the pipeline. Otherwise, I suspect that most muiticore CPUs will be severely hobbled by the current patches.

Thanks,

David D. Speck MD

Dennis Faas's picture

It depends on the type of applications you're using. Generally speaking newer generation AMD processors (Ryzen) are less affected than Intel processors. You can expect anywhere from 2-14% drop in performance in a typical environment but it also depends on what type of applications you're running. You can expect up to 30% drop in performance if you're running databases with hundreds of queries per second, for example (as with a heavily trafficked website). This may improve over time as patches are refined. More detail here. That said, all of this really has little to do with the CPU performance specifications of this article.