AMD vs Intel 2021: Who Makes the Best CPUs?



(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

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. 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, have upset the entire mainstream desktop lineup. We’ve added in the new models and some commentary based on what we know about Zen 3 so far, but you can head to our expansive in-depth coverage of the Ryzen 5000 series, including pricing, benchmarks, and availability, for more info. Suffice it to say, the Ryzen 5000 series are the highest-performing chips on the market and beat Intel in every metric that matters, including gaming, application performance, power consumption, and thermals. 

That could change soon, though. Intel revealed its Rocket Lake processors at CES 2021, claiming they retake the gaming performance crown and will come to market this quarter. Intel touts Rocket Lake’s 19% IPC improvement and high clock speeds that stretch up to 5.3 GHz, potentially upsetting our CPU Benchmark rankings. We’ll be sure to update once the chips hit our labs. 

Unfortunately, sweeping shortages have kept the Ryzen 5000 chips out of the hands of enthusiasts, and they’ve remained nearly impossible to buy. Of course, you could get lucky and score a Ryzen 5000 chip during the rare moments of availability, but if you must purchase a chip today, many of the other chips outlined in the article below will likely be your only option until AMD can begin to satisfy the demand for its chips.     


AMD vs Intel CPU Pricing and Value

Pricing is the most important consideration for almost everyone, and AMD is generally hard to beat in the value department, though we certainly can’t say that for its XT series processors. 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.



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