About 10 years ago AMD and Intel were in head-to-head competition and made comparable products in the consumer CPU market. This was good for the pace of development and for lower prices. But since then, AMD had fallen more and more behind. To the point that their current products are so tragically obsolete. The only reason to ever use them is if you’re on an extremely tight budget and simply cannot afford Intel. They have an effective monopoly on middle- and high-end CPU markets.
It’s no secret that these two competing giants in the CPU business have a lot of history. With Intel’s somewhat illegal shenanigans over their direct competitors AMD. (Source 1. Forcing AMD out of the market & Source 2. Manipulating public benchmarks)
The Demise of a Giant
AMD has not had a major development in the pure desktop CPU area since 2011, when they released their Bulldozer technology. Even when it was introduced, it didn’t perform quite as well as Intel. This is more or less a lack of implementation from the software side of things. The Bulldozer architecture, in theory, should have smashed Intel’s processors of the time, but very few people implemented the processes required to use AMD’s architecture effectively, so it essentially became obsolete. AMD’s stubbornness to change kept them from making anything better for 7 years. They refined the Bulldozer tech into Piledriver in 2012 which resulted in the FX8xxx series of CPUs. So for over half a decade AMD has not been competitive with Intel in the desktop CPU space…The Intel Core i3/i5/i7 series have been top dog for quite a long time.
Being an AMD Fanboy
For an individual perspective, I got into building PCs when I was a teen. My first AMD processor was the K6-2 550Mhz processor which was a drop in replacement for an Intel Pentium MMX 200Mhz. I later built my first desktop computer from the ground up with no help using an AMD Thunderbird (Athlon 750) CPU. So we’re talking like fifteen years ago. You had to set jumpers on the motherboard and boot from a floppy drive to run or install DOS in order to install the CD-ROM driver you’d use to then install Windows!
From then on, almost every single gaming PC I built for myself had an AMD CPU in it. I am/was a certified AMD fanboy. That line of AMD processors went through Athlon 64, AMD Opteron 148, Athlon x2, then the FX series ending in the FX8350 in about 2016.
However, two years ago I had to face reality, and that was that AMD was now non-competitive with Intel – And really never had been when I bought the FX8350. I did something I’ve never done before, and bought an Intel i7 CPU for my next gaming computer, which I still run today.
AMD put a ton of work into the new Zen/Ryzen architecture, re-hiring a well known CPU engineer to do so, a guy who went on to work for Elon Musk and Tesla. The Ryzen is AMD’s “return to form”, and early reviews seemed to indicate that AMD Is Back! This is great news for AMD fanboys but most of all is EXCELLENT for the consumer – Intel will need to drop prices and introduce new products that are actually competitive advances again.
The Price of Greatness
With cost serving as a major factor in building, upgrading, or purchasing a PC, choosing the right CPU often comes down to finding the one that offers the best bang for your buck. In just price alone, AMD’s chips are generally cheaper than comparable Intel chips. Low-end, dual-core AMD Sempron, Athlon, or A-series dual-core processors start at about £30. In comparison, a low-end Intel chip will cost around £40. That said, you’ll find similar pricing as you climb the performance ladder, with Intel’s offerings almost always coming in a little higher than AMD’s chips.
For the better part of a decade, this was the typical pricing scenario endured by most PC enthusiasts until the arrival of AMD’s new Ryzen CPUs. Their debut in early 2017 shook up that long-standing formula, with the Ryzen 7 1800X sitting at the top of the consumer-focused end of AMD’s spectrum at that time. Today the second-generation 2700X is the king of that pile, with eight cores, 16 threads and a price tag around £290. Intel’s current top consumer chip, the 9900K, comes with eight cores and 16 threads of its own, but its price is far higher, at £480.
Meanwhile, Intel Core i9 and AMD Threadripper CPUs targeting enthusiasts and prosumers offer even more multithreaded performance and continue to expand the kind of core and thread counts that anyone can enjoy in a home-built system. Intel’s seventh-generation i9 CPUs offer between 10 and 18 cores and thanks to hyperthreading, up to 36 threads. Prices can be sky-high though, with the flagship 9980XE costing as much as £1,800.
AMD’s chips, on the other hand, offer larger core counts, lower price points, and more uniform specifications throughout the range. The first-generation Threadripper CPUs have been heavily discounted as of late, with some of the eight and 12 core options costing just a few hundred pounds. However, the new-generation Threadripper 2000-series CPUs offer between 12 and 32 cores and up to 64 threads with simultaneous multithreading. They are more expensive options too, ranging between £550 and £1,600.
Which CPU is best? Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen — the difference in a nutshell
For most people Intel is currently better than AMD. The general performance of a 3.6GHz AMD Ryzen 1800X CPU compared to a 7th Generation 4.2GHz Intel Kaby Lake Core i 7 7700K CPU is slightly weaker, and yet the AMD processor sits directly to compare to the Intel equivalent.
However, there some potentially-big exceptions. The extra processor cores offered by Ryzen compared to Kaby Lake (eight instead of four) mean that certain tasks will run MUCH faster than the Intel chip. If you do a lot of 3D rendering, video encoding or 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.
To put this into more perspective, an expensive, eight-core Intel Core i7 6900K CPU (£920) is similar in speed to an AMD Ryzen 1800X CPU (£230) but the AMD processor costs less than half as much! That’s revolutionary and disruptive… to some people.
AMD deserves a great deal of credit for coming back from nowhere to match Intel and produce some interesting technology but it’s about to change the market again. Here’s why…
Intel’s back-step, while AMD moves forward…
AMD has a brand new generation of Ryzen CPUs coming in 2019. Based on a next-gen Zen 2 architecture, the 3rd generation AMD Ryzen processors should offer dramatic performance improvements over its predecessor, the Ryzen 2000 series.
Zen 2 architecture is built on the 7nm process, Intel has been trying to move to 10nm and had some major set-backs, pushing back their development cycle by around 12 months. AMD not only leapfrogging Intel to the market with improved process, but a step ahead by introducing 7nm to the consumers.
Full Steam Ahead
At CES 2019, AMD gave a first-time public demonstration of a pre-production eight-core, 16-thread 3rd generation Ryzen desktop processor. Based on the AMD Zen 2 x86 core, and built on 7nm technology, AMD showcased how the processor performed against the Intel Core i9-9900K at stock frequencies. In a real-time rendering demonstration with Maxon Cinebech R15, the AMD desktop processor pulled 30 percent less power than Intel’s. In scoring, the new Ryzen desktop processor pulled out with 2,057 points with the Intel netting 2,040. It was also confirmed that the new desktop processor will support PCIe 4.0 connectivity and a new chipset design.
The cores on offer with these newer 3000 series chips are far greater than those in Ryzen 2000 CPUs — or even Intel’s latest ninth-generation chips. Clock speeds are comparable to that of Intel’s best chips and yet those frequencies are only possible on Intel’s CPUs on a couple of cores at a time without heavy overclocking. AMD’s turbo frequencies are typically applied to all cores, so the Ryzen 3000 series could be the first to offer an all-core 5GHz+ frequency out of the box.
Intel is unlikely to respond to AMD’s launches this year, due to their set-backs in the 10nm process, that said, even if it did manage to cobble some form of counter-release, it’s unlikely to compare next to the 7nm process anyway. For the first time in over a decade, AMD will be slightly ahead without any direct competition. The question will be, how much traction can AMD gain before Intel inevitably respond with a direct CPU competitor.