If you're looking to build a powerhouse PC, one of the first
things you need to do is pick your poison: AMD or Intel? Both
companies are making some absolutely fantastic CPUs and adjacent
platforms, so there's really no wrong decision here.
But to hell with that fence-sitting BS: It's still a decision
you have to make. So you might as well make the right one,
right? Intel's spanking-new 12th-gen Alder Lake CPU series is busting
benchmarks, but there are still plenty of reasons to stick with AMD's Ryzen 5000 architecture from last year —
or to wait it out and see what comes next. Let's break it down,
Assuming that you're basing your decision on a budget for a PC
build, and that you're phenomenally lucky and manage to find a CPU
at the base retail price, Intel and AMD's options boil down to a
few standard tiers:
||Peformance / Efficiency Cores
||Ryzen 9 5950X
|Core i9 12900K/KF
||Ryzen 9 5900X
|Core i7 12700K/KF
||Ryzen 7 5800X
|Core i5 12600K/KF
||Ryzen 5 5600X
Note that Intel's slightly less expensive CPUs, the F series,
lack integrated graphics and need a separate GPU. You'll also need
to pair Ryzen processors with a discrete graphics card. Since Intel is
certainly swinging for the fences, we'll include the
top-of-the-line, 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X in this comparison too. It
doesn't have a direct competitor in the Core i9 series, since the
12900KF tops out at 8 cores, but Intel manages to make it a pretty
even fight anyway. If you're willing to spend $800 on a CPU alone,
more power (supply) to you.
1: Alder Lake beats
Ryzen 5000 — mostly
We have an exhaustive review and benchmark of the
top-of-the-line Core i9 12900K (the slightly cheaper model with
overclocking disabled) and the more budget-friendly Core i5-12600K.
You can check out that review here if you want to dig
into the numbers.
Long story short: The 12th-gen Intel processors tend to beat out
their competition on the AMD side of the aisle with a decided
advantage. The i9-12900K even outperforms the much more expensive
Ryzen 9 5950X, despite its double performance core count, in at
least some tests. While there are some exceptions, Intel's showing
a solid advantage of approximately 10 percent in practical,
measured speed for complex CPU tasks over the equivalent AMD
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This advantage is extended in a few specific applications,
notably Adobe's Creative Cloud suite of content creation programs
and in demanding Microsoft Office scenarios. In Office in
particular, the cheapest Core i5 Alder Lake processor, with just
six primary cores, can beat the performance of the mighty
Longer bars indicate
What about gaming? That's not a hugely relevant question here,
since the bottleneck for PC gaming is still going to depend much
more heavily on your GPU (assuming you can find one). But for what it's
worth, testing in comparable setups showed the Intel processors
with a small framerate advantage in most games. All of these
processors rock for gaming, though.
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The advantage over both AMD and previous-gen Intel chips is
particularly dramatic when you compare processes that rely on
single threads. While the 5950X can still beat out Intel's best
when multiple processes are thrown at it, the Core i9 12900K wins
in just about every other scenario.
Alder Lake is more future-proof than current AMD hardware
Perhaps even more crucial than the performance gains of an
improved design is the fact that Alder Lake processors support the
brand new PCIe 5 expansion card and DDR5 memory standards. That means approximately
double the data bandwidth for future graphics cards, and boosted
speed and single-DIMM capacity for RAM.
The Ryzen 5000 series relies on the most powerful options that
were available when it was introduced: PCIe 4 and DDR4. These are
by no means bad options — in fact, they haven't yet made graphics
cards that can really max out the capacity for PCIe 4 — but it
means that you'll hit a ceiling on your upgrade options rather
quickly if you build a new machine with Ryzen 5000 in mind.
going to cost a lot for an Intel upgrade
Let's assume for the sake of this article that you can find new
hardware at roughly its retail price. You probably can't, due to
the ongoing semiconductor shortage. But we can also assume that
price changes driven by scarcity will scale at approximately the
same rate once the initial rush for Alder Lake hardware is
So you're building a new PC, and you want the newest CPU from
either Intel or AMD at its core. There's no getting around it: Even
with prices for the CPU roughly comparable at different tiers,
you'll pay more for the Intel setup. That's because you'll need to
buy the latest generation of motherboard, with support for its
brand new LGA 1700 CPU socket and new chipsets, along with DDR5
memory. And in Alder Lake's early days at least, only high-end
Z690-class motherboards will be available, with mainstream and
budget boards still to come. At least PCIe 5 expansion slots will
remain backwards-compatible with current PCIe 4 cards, so there's
no need to track down a new GPU any time soon.
Gordon Mah Ung
These new motherboards and memory DIMMs will be in both high demand and short supply,
especially as the new CPUs launch. Even base retail prices (before
scalpers artificially inflate the market) will be considerably
higher than you're used to for brand new technology. And with those
new socket and memory standards, you'll have to leave some of the
most expensive parts of your old PC behind.
On the other hand, if you've already invested in a gaming PC,
the Ryzen 5000 series could represent a cost-efficient upgrade.
Even the most bombastic Ryzen 9 5950X processor works with the
reliable AM4 CPU socket, so you can bring along an older
motherboard if you're already on a Ryzen system. And even if you
need a new board, your old DDR4 memory can come along for the ride.
So if you already have a desktop PC build that's fairly recent, and
you're looking for a budget-friendly upgrade instead of a complete
replacement, AMD is the easy choice here.
4: Alder Lake chips (and other parts) might be hard to find
There's no getting around this: New 12th-gen Intel processors
might be be hard to find at launch. Ditto for the new motherboards
and RAM modules that you'll have to pair with it.
Even in the best of times these complex components would have
limited production due to new fabrication processes. But with the
chip shortage extending for another year (at least), they could be
especially difficult to track down. Be prepared to spend long
nights hunting online, or busting out a lot of money on the
secondary market, to get your hands on them if you miss out on the
initial stock drop.
AMD's Ryzen 5000 processors aren't exactly easy to find, either.
But with a year of production behind them, not to mention plenty of
people hunting for newer options, they should be notably easier to
actually procure than the latest and greatest Intel chips. If
you're looking to save time, money, and frustration on a high-end
build, Ryzen is the way to go.
might want to wait for AMD's next-gen offering
Between a performance upgrade that's mild for most real-world
applications, and a huge amount of time and money needed to
actually get it up and running, the latest Intel hardware isn't
necessarily a slam dunk against AMD, even though Alder Lake crushes
Ryzen 5000 in performance. That being the case, PC builders who can
wait for an upgrade would be wise to do so.
Concrete details on AMD's next-gen hardware is scarce. But the company has confirmed that its current Zen
3 (Ryzen 5000) chip line will be upgraded in 2022 with a revolutionary new V-Cache technology, and the
next-gen Zen 4 architecture will debut in the same year. While the
Zen 3 upgrade will mean newer chip options for the Ryzen 5, 7, and
9 CPUs listed above, the Zen 4 series will presumably be made to
compete — and possibly surpass — the latest and greatest that Intel
has to offer.
AMD has confirmed that its next-gen CPUs will also use a brand
new socket, finally surpassing the venerable AM4, and support DDR5
memory. That will make them both more direct competitors to Alder
Lake and later chips using Intel's LGA 1700 motherboards, and
better-positioned for consumers who want to invest in hardware that
can be upgraded long-term.
It's impossible to predict which company will be more
competitive a year from now. But it's safe to say that, if you
already have a desktop PC that meets your current needs, you won't
be disappointed if you wait to find out. And if you're looking to
build a new PC from scratch right now, Intel once again
holds the performance crown with Alder Lake.