​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?

Credit: IDG

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.

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. The Ryzen-powered Threadripper 2 rolls with a staggering 32 cores and 64 threads.

In late 2019, AMD debuted the third-generation of Ryzen-based Desktop CPUs. Introducing the high-end Ryzen 9 processor into the mix, AMD's latest line of processors are primed to compete against Intel's latest Core i3, i5, i7 and i9 offering. For a more focused look at how the Ryzen 9 changes things for AMD, check out this review.

Let's take stock and run the numbers to see how the two silicon heavyweights compare.

Which CPU is best: Intel or 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 and helping you understand whether AMD or Intel is going to give you more bang for your buck.

AMD Ryzen — in a nutshell

Credit: IDG

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.

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

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

amd-lisa-su-holding-ryzen-resized-100748136-orig.jpgCredit: Gordon Mah Ung/IDG
amd-lisa-su-holding-ryzen-resized-100748136-orig.jpg

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.

Finally, in late 2019, AMD updated their Ryzen portfolio. However, they didn't just upgrade the Ryzen 3, 5 and 7. They also introduced a new option to the range: the Ryzen 9. If you've been noticing more fanfare around AMD in the last six months or so, this the Ryzen 9 series is probably the reason why.

In his review, Gordon Mah Ung called the chipset 'historic' for AMD and said that "With the 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X, AMD is essentially running down the field, spiking the ball, and doing what the NFL would probably fine for excessive end-zone celebrations these days."

If you're looking for a short and easy way to navigate AMD's Ryzen family: here's the most important thing you need to understand. Right now, every current AMD Ryzen CPU you can build a desktop PC around falls into one of the following five families:
  • Ryzen 3 (Starts at $175 on Amazon)

  • Ryzen 5 (Starts at $240 on Amazon)

  • Ryzen Threadripper (Starts at $3270 on Amazon)

Intel Core - In a nutshell

Credit: Intel

Generally speaking, Intel Core i7 CPUs perform better than Intel Core i5 CPUs, which are in turn better than Core i3 CPUs. A 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.

When talking about Intel's latest consumer-grade lineup, there's also the Intel Core i9 to consider.

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 quite expensive compared to the rest of the lineup. In many respects, they're more analogous to AMD's Ryzen Threadripper CPUs than they are Ryzen 9 CPUs.

intel-core-i9-packaging-4-100775844-orig.jpgCredit: Adam Patrick Murray/IDG
intel-core-i9-packaging-4-100775844-orig.jpg

As put by Gordan Mah Ung, "If you’re buying a 16-core CPU solely to play games, you might want to consider an 8-core chip, or even a 6-core chip instead, because few games can use all of the cores. That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway. The problem is modern gaming isn’t about playing a game, winning, and going to sleep warm and happy. It’s about streaming it live, or recording it while adding LOL memes, sound effects, and all kinds of “gaming”-related tasks that didn't exist a few years ago."

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.

If you're looking to build your next desktop PC around Intel's latest (10th Generation) Core processors, here's what to expect:

  • Intel Core i3 (Starts at $217 on Amazon)
  • Intel Core i5 (Starts at $365 on Amazon)
  • Intel Core i7 (Starts at $586 on Amazon)
  • Intel Core i9 (Starts at $895 on Amazon)

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

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