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:

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, you may have a budget that you need to stick to, or you may be looking for a particular form factor (such as an ultra thin laptop, compared to a 'regular' sized laptop). All of this needs to be considered when comparing processors.

That said: my answer to this question is by no means definitive, but it will certainly give you a rough idea when it comes to figuring out which processor is "better." 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.

Flash forward to today, and Intel offers multi-core processors with Hyper Threading on both high and low end CPUs, while AMD still only offers processors with multiple cores (and no Hyper Threading). Generally speaking, if you had to choose between more cores or more threads, more cores are better, but also usually require more wattage to power.

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

Dual Core vs Quad Core: Examples

Now, let's consider some examples of processors.

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.

A quad core processor 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).

Note: 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. 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: Intel usually has an upper hand on AMD because it produces and releases processors to consumers faster than AMD which have: 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).

That said, all of this goodness is also reflected in Intel's price point in comparison to AMD. If you wait a bit, AMD tends to release processors that perform just as fast as Intel a little later in the year, but they tend to be a little more power hungry.

The key point here is that the word "better" usually implies "better for the time being." This is especially true with respect to efficiency, as processors and technology are always improving. For example: processor efficiency is especially important in smaller devices such as laptops, netbooks, and tablets, because a processor with low TDP will consume less power, thus extend battery life.

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.

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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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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?