Intel or AMD

Irwin Electronics Weekly Digest

Intel or AMD?

What should I look for in a new PC?

by David Irwin on September 04

In the 90’s Intel and AMD would leapfrog one another. Each new chip would surpass the competition’s best processor. That changed in 2007 when Intel released their first Dual Core processor. AMD tried hard to keep up, but for the most part, could never surpass Intel’s performance. Although AMD came close, they became known as a budget processor. The majority of the computers Irwin Electronics builds are based on AMD. You get performance close to that of an Intel chip for a lot less. There are certain rare cases where AMD does surpass Intel. The majority of tasks processed during day to day work are single threaded. This means the task will use only one core of your multi-core processor. In this scenario, Intel’s latest processors outperform anything AMD could deliver. However, in multithreaded tasks where multiple cores are engaged to process a task, AMD can give you a slight edge. One example is transcoding HD video. There is another catch to this scenario as well. Like Intel, AMD has multiple lines of processors. This scenario applies to AMD’s FX series processors. These more closely align with Intel’s Core i3, i5, and i7 series processors. We typically use the FX series processors in our desktop builds.

For years, Intel has included graphics processing in their CPUs. When buying AMD, however, a separate graphics card would be required. That’s a lot of money AMD was losing to ATI or Nvidia. To combat this, AMD purchased ATI. This enabled AMD to produce their A series processors. The good part is you get powerful ATI graphics processing on the chip. Although there is a major downside. AMD used a larger die process than Intel, This limits the maximum number of transistors in their chip. Most of the transistors were used for the graphics, leaving little for the primary central processing! An AMD A4 chip, for example, has plenty of graphics processing power, but it makes a very slow CPU which means a very slow computer. The chip was very popular in laptops because it was inexpensive. To this day we find a lot of customers using AMD A4 based laptops. They all have the same complaint, it’s slow, and ask us to speed it up. Tuning Windows helps a little, but not enough to make an appreciable difference. Things continue to improve with their A8 through A10 processors. They are still no match for Intel, but they’re cheap. If you’re on a tight budget, these may make a decent choice. Just beware, you’re buying a PC that will always underperform.

The landscape for AMD is changing. They do not want to be known as a budget processor company. AMD has been losing money and is on the brink of bankruptcy. Their new Ryzen series processors claim to beat Intel. Initial tests in the real world showed performance still lagging behind Intel. AMD claimed the problem was in the benchmarking tools used to test CPUs and offered a patch. The patch did indeed show improvement in the Ryzen but also shows improvement in Intel. AMD is making improvements in their Ryzen chipsets, firmware, and software. While things are looking promising for Ryzen, the cost is higher than that of Intel, and so far the performance is not much faster if any. We recently built a desktop specifically for Virtual Reality Gaming. For this build, we used Intel’s latest i7 CPU. The cost was not much more than a comparable FX series build, but the performance is amazing! Our custom built desktops always outperform anything off the shelf, but this one really surprised us.

So what’s the best computer to buy? Custom is always the best option. Intel’s i5 or i7 based are solid options. AMD Ryzen is promising if it’s in your budget. AMD A series are very inexpensive, but we do not recommend them. Older Intel Core2 Duo or AMD Athlon processors can still hold their own today, depending on your needs. They may be better budget options.

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