​Which CPU is best: Intel or AMD Ryzen?

Which processor is better in 2019? Intel's Core i7 vs AMD’s Ryzen? Which is the best gaming processor and which CPU should you buy right now?
AMD's Ryzen is an impressive entry into the processor market. But is it the CPU to buy?

AMD's Ryzen is an impressive entry into the processor market. But is it the CPU to buy?

In recent years, AMD has been unafraid to push back against a dominant Intel by talking up not just the value-per-dollar but also the high-end performance that end users can find in their next-generation Ryzen processors.

[Related: Ryzen 5 vs Intel Core i5 CPU review]

The first wave of AMD Ryzen CPUs offered 8 cores and 16 threads and superiority when it came to the price-tag. The second pushed things even further, with the Ryzen-powered Threadripper 2 rocking a staggering 32 cores and 64 threads. With the third iteration of Ryzen well on the way, we figured now would be a great time to take stock and run the numbers.

Which CPU is best: Intel of AMD Ryzen?

You’ll see many multi-page reviews on the internet with all kinds of benchmarks, complex overclocking scenarios and interminable technology-based theorizing regarding which is best but we’re taking a slightly different approach.We're taking things one at a time, and breaking them into discrete sections. If you want a big spreadsheet that shows the difference in clock speed between Intel and AMD Ryzen CPUs, we've got that. If you want a breakdown of the price-difference between AMD Ryzen and Intel CPUs, we've got that. If you want a benchmark-to-benchmark comparison, we've got that.

And if you’re the kind of person who just wants to buy the best CPU in terms of performance, features and value, we’ve got you covered too. The following

buyers guide is all about getting to the difference in a nutshell between these two CPU options.

AMD Ryzen — in a nutshell

The first wave of AMD’s mainstream Ryzen chips was split across three families: Ryzen 7, Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3. The higher the numeral, the higher the spec of the processor. Simple enough, right?

This initial three-tiered approach also made it pretty easy to compare AMD’s Ryzen chips against the competition. The Ryzen 3 was an entry-level alternative to the Intel i3, the Ryzen 5 was a mainstream counterpart to the Intel i5, and the Ryzen 7 was pitched in opposition to the performance offered by an Intel i7.

We didn't miss pins on the bottom of a processor until we started bending pins on the socket of a motherboard. The latter is much worse.
We didn't miss pins on the bottom of a processor until we started bending pins on the socket of a motherboard. The latter is much worse.

Then, in 2018, AMD introduced their second wave of Ryzen CPUs. Relying on a new 12nm manufacturing process and Zen+ architecture, this second series of Ryzen CPUs was broken out into four families. The Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 all returned. This reincarnated Ryzen family offered higher boosted clock speeds, reduced power consumption

However, this time around, AMD also topped out the range with a set of ultra-high-end CPUs called Threadrippers.

Where the mainline Ryzen range offers an impressive 8 cores and 16 threads, the Threadripper series starts at 12 cores and 24 threads and goes all the way up to 32 cores and 64 threads. It’s wild.

The extra processor cores offered by Ryzen compared to Intel’s Kaby and Coffee Lake CPUs means that certain tasks will run MUCH faster. If you do a lot of 3D rendering/video encoding or any of your favourite games run better on multiple cores (few do, but some popular titles like Battlefield 1 and Civ are included in the short-but-growing list) then the extra money is well worth paying.

The extra cores can also help with video game streaming on services like Twitch.

With Computex on the horizon, AMD are sure to be readying the next wave of Ryzen hardware. But, right now, every AMD Ryzen CPU you can build a desktop PC around falls into one of the following four families:

Intel Core - In a nutshell

Generally speaking, Core i7s are better than Core i5s, which are in turn better than Core i3s. Core i7 does not have seven cores nor does Core i3 have three cores. The numbers are more of an arbitrary way to distinguish between their relative processing powers than a specific designation based on core count or clock speed or anything technical like that.

Then you’ve got the new Core i9. Introduced in 2017, the Core i9 series is a super-high end range of processors that boasts incredibly high thread and core-counts. The top-end Core i9-7980X (Amazon) touts 18-cores (clocked at 2.6Ghz) and can handle 32 threads at once while the cheapest option - the i9-7900X boasts 10 cores (capable of serving 20 threads) and a base clock speed of 3.3GHz.

[Related: Which Intel Core CPU is the best? How do I decide between a Core i3, i5, i7 or i9?]

Unfortunately, as fearsome (and appealing) as those numbers might sound, most modern software isn’t really ready to make use of these capabilities - especially in the gaming space. They’re also really expensive.

So while i7s and i9s do offer higher performance than i3s or i5s, whether or not that they’ll be better for you really does ultimately depend on what you’re using your PC for and how much money you want to spend.

Next Page: How does AMD's Ryzen CPU compare to Intel's Core CPU for performance?

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How does AMD’s Ryzen CPU compare to Intel’s Core CPU for performance?

Here's how each AMD Ryzen CPU compares to Intel's Core CPU on paper.

Intel Core i3 (8th Gen) vs Ryzen 3

Desktop

Intel Core i3 (8th Gen) vs AMD Ryzen (2nd Gen) desktop CPUs
Intel Core i3 (8th Gen) vs AMD Ryzen (2nd Gen) desktop CPUs

Mobile

Intel Core i3 (8th gen) vs AMD Ryzen Mobile CPUs
Intel Core i3 (8th gen) vs AMD Ryzen Mobile CPUs

Our conclusions

When it came to desktop CPUs, we’re inclined to give Ryzen 3 the edge against Intel’s Core i3 CPUs. The Ryzen 2300X was able to match Intel’s top-line i3 8350K tit for tat while also being both more power efficient and capable of supporting faster memory modules.

Then, on the mobile front, AMD’s Ryzen CPUs emerged as significantly more power efficient than their intel counterparts - which is particularly important in a mobile CPU context. Ryzen also had a slight edge when it came to the GPU side of things. Otherwise, the two were pretty evenly matched.

Intel Core i5 (8th Gen) vs Ryzen 5

Desktop  

Intel Core i5 (8th Gen) vs AMD Ryzen (2nd Gen) desktop CPUs
Intel Core i5 (8th Gen) vs AMD Ryzen (2nd Gen) desktop CPUs

Mobile

Intel Core i5 (8th gen) vs AMD Ryzen Mobile CPUs
Intel Core i5 (8th gen) vs AMD Ryzen Mobile CPUs

Our conclusions

The Ryzen 5 Desktop CPUs aren’t quite as power efficient as their mobile counterparts and they lack the integrated graphics found in Intel’s Core i5 chips. However, they do offer higher thread counts, larger cache sizes and - in some cases - faster clock speeds.

Unfortunately, one key area where they fell short was memory expansion. Ryzen 5 CPUs supported faster memory modules but they only support up to 64GB where Intel’s i5 chips are able to go up to 128GB.

On the mobile front, again, Ryzen excelled when it came to power efficiency and graphics rendering. However, it clearly lagged behind Intel when it came to both base and boosted clock speeds and cache size.

Intel Core i7 (8th Gen) vs Ryzen 7

Desktop  

Intel Core i7 (8th Gen) vs AMD Ryzen (2nd Gen) desktop CPUs
Intel Core i7 (8th Gen) vs AMD Ryzen (2nd Gen) desktop CPUs

Mobile

Intel Core i7 (8th gen) vs AMD Ryzen Mobile CPUs
Intel Core i7 (8th gen) vs AMD Ryzen Mobile CPUs

Our conclusions

When it comes to desktop CPUs, we found that the scales tipped in favor of Intel here. Ryzen’s CPUs are more power-hungry and don’t reach the same higher clock speeds that Intel’s i7 chips offer. They are also capped at 64GB of RAM. That said, they do offer some advantages when it comes to cache size.

Things were a little closer when it came to Ryzen Mobile. Again, it can’t be stressed enough how important the reduced power consumption here is. In comparison, the more powerful Vega graphics tech is just icing on the cake.

That said, it should be noted that many of Intel’s i7 mobile chips managed to beat out AMD's Ryzen 7 CPUs when it came to core and thread count - which is important if you’re reliant on an application that can make use of those extra cores.

Intel Core i9 (9th Gen) vs Ryzen Threadripper

Desktop  

Intel Core i9 (9th Gen) vs AMD Ryzen Threadripper (2nd Gen) desktop CPUs
Intel Core i9 (9th Gen) vs AMD Ryzen Threadripper (2nd Gen) desktop CPUs

Conclusions

If you’re the kind of high performance power user that AMD and Intel are looking to woo with the Threadripper and Core i9 respectively, your preference is ultimately going to come down to whether you think the higher clock speeds available with Intel are worth the higher the thread count, cache size and memory support you’ll get AMD.

Of course, it should also be noted that even the cheapest Threadripper consumes twice as much power as its i9 counterpart.

Although Intel do offer some laptop-friendly versions of their i9 CPUs, AMD has yet to unveil any sort of mobile equivalent to their Threadripper CPUs.

Which CPU price is best: Intel or AMD?

As always, it should be noted that component pricing can sometimes be quite elastic. The below comparisons have been put together using PCPartsPicker.com.

Intel Core i3 (8th Gen) vs Ryzen 3

Depending on where you’re buying them from, Intel’s current crop of i3 CPUs currently range from approximately $199 on the low-end to $299 for the i3-8350K. In comparison, AMD’s Ryzen 3 2200G can be had for about half that (we’ve seen it as low as AU$138). And when you compare the two, it’s easy to see the value.

Even if it does fall short on clock speed and cache size, Ryzen offers significantly better on-board graphics plus reduced power consumption.You can find it on Amazon here.

Intel Core i5 (8th Gen) vs Ryzen 5

Depending on where you’re buying them from, Intel’s current crop of i5 CPUs currently range from around $299 for the i5-8400 to $399 for the i5-8600. In contrast, you can grab a Ryzen 5 2600X for $299 or Ryzen 5 2400G for $218 respectively.

Again, the Ryzen counterparts to Intel’s i5 chips are almost half the price - so, even if they do fall short on certain fronts, there’s a lot of value here. You can find it on Amazon here.

Intel Core i7 (8th Gen) vs Ryzen 7

Depending on where you’re buying them from, AMD’s Ryzen 7 CPUs float between $350 and $450. As usual, Intel’s CPUs tend to be slightly more expensive. We’ve seen the I7-8700 go as low as $488. We’ve seen the 8700K go as high as $598.

Still, as noted in our theoretical comparison above, the ability to reach 5Ghz clock speeds and go beyond 64GB of RAM might be worth the premium - depending on your individual needs.You can find it on Amazon here.

Intel Core i9 (9th Gen) vs Ryzen Threadripper

This is the one front where AMD doesn’t have the edge on price. Depending on where you buy from, you’ll probably be able to Intel’s high-end i9 CPUS for as low as $750 and as high as $815.

In contrast, AMD's mighty Threadripper CPUs start at around $939 and we’ve seen them go as high as $2495. They offer a level of performance that Intel’s i9 hardware can’t match, to be sure. But no matter how you swing it, that’s higher pricing is a pretty bitter pill to swallow. You can find it on Amazon here.

Next Page: How do AMD Ryzen and Intel compare in practice?

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How do AMD Ryzen and Intel compare in practice?

Performance: How we test

For the Intel tests we used our regular Test Rig components and an Intel Core i7 7700K CPU.

The AMD AM4 Test Rig used the same Samsung 960 Pro NvME hard drive, Nvidia 1070 graphics card but opted for a Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370-Gaming 5 motherboard (BIOS rev: 5b) and Corsair Vengeance 3000MHz LPX DDR4 RAM.

[Related: Everything you need to know about NVMe]

We ran the tests at default BIOS settings with only the memory timings being adjusted to run at the advertised speeds.

AMD told us that these still need to be done manually but we found on our Gigabyte motherboard that we could still set the timings and voltage automatically using Intel’s proprietary XMP settings. It only took a couple of clicks and we were good to go.

Related: How to set up new RAM using XMP

Overclocking

We then ran the same tests with a system’s automatic overclocking features. We don’t tweak settings as high as an enthusiastic overclocker might, since (relatively) few people will be bothered to do the same. However, where it made sense (like if our motherboard settings or an app made it easy to stably boost performance), we were happy to do so.

For example, Intel’s processors played nicely with the Gigabyte Z170X Designare motherboard’s built-in (and automatic) overclocking settings to allow us to easily increase the clock speed on our CPU. This feature isn’t available on Gigabyte's AX370 mobo but same sort of overclocking can be achieved by launching the RyzenMaster Windows app and sliding the sliders to select the speed you want.

We only had access to a modest Noctua NH-U12S SE-AM4 air cooler which meant we couldn’t push the Ryzen 1800X CPU too hard. Ryzen’s built in heat management means it manages its own speed at high temperatures. This has the side effect of running faster when cooler. We found the 3.6GHz CPU crashed at 4.1GHz but would run stably at 4GHz.

The exception here was in the Cinebench 3D rendering test which pushes all cores to 100% usage. It quickly crashed at 4GHz and only worked sporadically at 3.8GHz. We strongly suspect that a better cooler will improve this performance but, unfortunately, we didn’t have access to one at the time of writing.

Why AMD Ryzen requires Windows Power Settings to be set to High Performance?

We usually leave our test rig at default settings with Balanced Performance but AMD insists that it requires Windows to be set to High Performance in order to get the best from Ryzen because of the platform’s innovative heat-influenced performance features which can be detrimentally affected by Windows core parking and power management.

We found that switching from Balanced to High Performance yielded immediate results. Doing so raised Ryzen’s PC Mark score from 4171 to 4317 (this compares a Core i7 7700K's Balanced Performance score of 4411).

Which processor was faster: Intel or AMD?

Generally speaking, Intel’s 7th Generation Kaby and Coffee Lake processors are faster than AMD’s Ryzen processors but there are exceptions. In general usage Intel wins but if and when an application or game that takes full advantage of all the available cores is used, Ryzen can be significantly faster.

Our AMD Ryzen test rig arrived with some unusual tweaks (AMD is adamant it shouldn’t have but it did) and when we reset the (rev. 3f) BIOS (and set up the RAM with XMP timings) it scored 3,944 in PC Mark.

Gigabyte provided us with the latest rev. 5b version and the score increased to 4,010. That’s still behind the Kaby Lake 7700K’s 4,448 and also behind Intel’s older 6th generation 4GHz Skylake Core i7 6600K score of 4,040.

When overclocked the Ryzen score only increased to 4,147 but the Intel 6700K pushed on to 4,355 and the 7700K pushed on to 4,477.

The AMD Ryzen 1800X CPU scored behind Intel's 7th and 6th generation Core i7 CPUs in PC Mark at stock and when overclocked.
The AMD Ryzen 1800X CPU scored behind Intel's 7th and 6th generation Core i7 CPUs in PC Mark at stock and when overclocked.

So in the general usage PC Mark test, Intel wins – which will be enough for most people.

We also ran the Creative 3.0 PC Mark test which focuses more on photo manipulation and video editing. In this case Intel scored 5,853 while Ryzen scored 5,861. That’s a slight win for Ryzen which, as we see below, will translate to potentially-dramatic time saving if you do extensive media encoding.

3D Mark Ryzen results

In 3D Mark the 1800X Ryzen processor scored consistently higher than Intel’s 7700K. However, this score is made up of three parts: two graphics tests and a CPU test.

Both graphics tests were actually very similar: 37fps and 32.5fps which isn’t surprising due to both systems relying on the same Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics card. Still, 3D Mark appears to make good use of the extra cores on offer with Ryzen and it scored 26fps versus Intel's 18.5fps.

The superior 3D Mark score from the AMD Ryzen 1800X (bottom) compared to the Intel Core i7 7700K (top) was likely due to CPU performance relating to the number of cores.
The superior 3D Mark score from the AMD Ryzen 1800X (bottom) compared to the Intel Core i7 7700K (top) was likely due to CPU performance relating to the number of cores.

While these are all airy fairy numbers it does tell us that when used as a general gaming system both platforms are comparable in performance. It also reflects the fact - regardless of what really goes into creating these scores - that if a game (or game benchmark) is optimised to use more than four cores, it will perform better with AMD Ryzen.

For that reason, it’s worth checking how your favourite game supports more-than-four cores. As far as we understand, the following games do: Battlefield 1, Battlefield V, Civilization 6, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Rise of the Tomb Raider, DOOM, Lords of the Fallen, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus and Forza Horison 3.

Cinebench R15

Cinebench renders a 3D scene and is useful in that it maximises all cores and threads when it runs. It’s in tasks like this (and movie encoding) where you’d expect an eight-core processor like Ryzen should destroy a four-core processor like the Kaby Lake 7700K - and it did.

At stock speed it scored 1,604 compared to the 7700K’s 995. When overclocked to 3.8GHz the Ryzen managed 1637. This is almost double what Intel’s 7700K was able to offer.

This test which really shows how AMD’s platform excels. Usually, you’d use an Intel Core i7 6900K (which scored 1,560) to perform extensive rendering and encoding tasks but those cost $1500.

That AMD Ryzen can beat that performance when it costs less than half the price is truly outstanding.

Next Page: Which CPU should you buy right now?

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Which CPU should you buy right now?

Most buyers will be better off buying an Intel 7th Generation (or above) processor like the Core i7 7700K (Amazon) as it costs $200 less than Ryzen’s best 1800X (Amazon) processor and, as far as most general-usage tasks go, it performs better. It also doesn’t require having your PC set up for Maximum Performance - which is not healthy for power bills.

AMD deserves a great deal of credit for coming back from nowhere to match Intel and produce some interesting technology but its claims of matching Intel for dramatically less money are somewhat misguided. If we’re talking general day-to-day usage, Intel’s platform is both faster and cheaper.

However, the math here changes dramatically if you regularly need your PC to perform the following tasks:

  • 3D Rendering or video encoding

  • Playing a game where performance is boosted by multiple cores

  • Enthusiast-grade overclocking

  • Streaming your games online without using a separate computer

In these instances, Ryzen will be worth paying the premium for as it won’t just enhance your enjoyment but save you a lot of time - and potentially money as well. You can find the full Ryzen range on Amazon here.

[Related: Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370-Gaming 5 AMD Ryzen motherboard review]

[Related: RyzenMaster and HPET can make your Ryzen computer run slower]

This article was originally published on 3rd March 2017 by Nick Ross. It was updated 9th May 2019 by Fergus Halliday.