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AMD vs Intel 2021: Who Makes the Best CPUs?

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If you’re looking for the best gaming CPU or the best CPU for workstations, there are only two choices to pick from – AMD and Intel. That fact has spawned an almost religious following for both camps, and the resulting flamewars, that make it tricky to get unbiased advice about the best choice for your next processor. But in many cases, the answer is actually very clear. In fact, for most users, it’s a blowout win in AMD’s favor, as you can see in our CPU Benchmarks Hierarchy. That’s an amazing reversal of fortunes for the chipmaker after it teetered on the edge of bankruptcy a mere four years ago, making its turnaround all the more impressive as it continues to upset the entrenched Intel after it enjoyed a decade of dominance.

This article covers the never-ending argument of AMD vs Intel desktop CPUs (we’re not covering laptop or server chips) based on what you plan to do with your PC, pricing, performance, driver support, power consumption, and security, giving us a clear view of the state of the competition. We’ll also discuss the lithographies and architectures that influence the moving goalposts. Overall, there’s a clear winner, but which CPU brand you should buy depends mostly on what kind of features, price, and performance are important to you.

You can see how all of these processors stack up in our CPU Benchmarks Hierarchy, but the landscape has certainly changed in the wake of AMD’s Ryzen 5000 launch. AMD’s newest processors, the Ryzen 9 5950X and Ryzen 9 5900X, not to mention the Ryzen 5 5600X, upset the entire mainstream desktop lineup. You can head to our expansive in-depth coverage of the Ryzen 5000 series, including pricing, benchmarks, and availability, for more info. At their debut, the Ryzen 5000 series were the highest-performing chips on the market and beat Intel in every metric that matters, including gaming, application performance, power consumption, and thermals.

Intel fired back with its Rocket Lake processors, and they certainly put pressure on the Ryzen 5000 lineup. Rocket Lake brings a 19% IPC improvement and high clock speeds that stretch up to 5.3 GHz with the flagship Core i9-11900K, but the chips still come etched on the aging 14nm process. That means the new chips top out at eight cores as opposed to the ten cores found with Intel’s previous-gen chips. Surprisingly, the Willow Cove architecture’s explosive IPC gains helped Intel shrink the performance gap with AMD, and in some cases wrest away key wins in important price brackets.

Intel also has its Alder Lake chips coming to market later this year, which will completely redefine x86 desktop PC chips with a new hybrid architecture. Not to be upstaged, AMD has its new CPUs with 3D V-Cache headed to production later this year. Those chips will bring up to 15% more gaming performance courtesy of up to an almost-unthinkable 192MB of L3 cache bolted onto a souped-up Zen 3 processor. That means the goalposts could move towards the tail end of the year, but this is the tale of the tape for the current state of the market. 

AMD vs Intel CPU Pricing and Value

Pricing is the most important consideration for almost everyone, and AMD has generally been hard to beat in the value department. The company’s Ryzen 5000 series processors mark an across-the-board $50 price hike, but the faster chips earn their higher price tags. The company offers a plethora of advantages, like full overclockability on most models, not to mention complimentary software that includes the innovative Precision Boost Overdrive auto-overclocking feature.

You also benefit from the broad compatibility of motherboards with the AM4 CPU socket that supports both forward and backward compatibility, ensuring that not only do you get the most bang for your processor buck, but also your motherboard investment (there are caveats with the 5000 series). AMD also allows overclocking on all but its A-Series motherboards (see our article on how to overclock AMD Ryzen), which is another boon for users. And, in this battle of AMD vs Intel CPUs, we haven’t even discussed the actual silicon yet. 

Processor Pricing by Family AMD Intel
Threadripper – Cascade Lake-X $900- $3,750 $800 – $1,000 ($2,999)
AMD Ryzen 9 – Intel Core i9 $434 – $799 $422 – $549
AMD Ryzen 7 – Intel Core i7 $294 -$449 $298 – $409
AMD Ryzen 5 – Intel Core i5 $149 – $299 $157 – $272
AMD Ryzen 3 – Intel Core i3 $95 – $120 $97 – $154

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