Intel used to be the undisputed king of the CPU, with AMD’s offerings (remember Athlon?) very much catering to budget-conscious people. But how things can change in, well, 20 or so years! On a technological front, AMD has come surging back in a big way, and its Ryzen chips and their various tricks seem a whole lot more fashionable at the moment.
Sure, on a sales front, Intel is and will remain miles ahead (though its more than 80 percent market share is very slowly being chipped away), but AMD’s Ryzen chipsets keep proving incredible value for money, forcing Intel to cut the prices of its own chips to stay competitive.
Now that both AMD and Intel have launched their latest-gen CPUs, it’s a good time to pit AMD vs. Intel to see which is the better CPU in 2021.
Note: we won’t be going into too much detail on the meaning of key CPU concepts, like threads, cores and caches. So if you want CPU advice a little more detailed than “the bigger the number, the better,” head over to our What to look for in a CPU guide.
On a Budget
As of 2021, the high-end “budget” offerings on both the AMD and Intel sides are the Intel Core i3-10300 “Comet Lake” and Ryzen 5 3600, which both squeeze in at a little under $200.
On paper, Intel CPUs seem to offer better single-core performance, but this is far outweighed by the fact that AMD CPU’s usually offer more cores (usually two more at a similar price point), which means Intel’s modest single-core advantage is wiped out by AMD’s multi-core setup and the fact that AMD chips offer better overclocking capabilities (even on a budget).
So AMD seems to have an advantage, but with one major caveat.
If you just want to use your PC for work purposes and don’t want to spend extra money on a dedicated GPU, then Intel has you covered with its integrated Intel Graphics chips. You won’t be doing high-end gaming on iGPUs like the Intel Graphics UHD 620, but it at least removes the need to buy a dedicated GPU like you’ll need to do with all modern Ryzen desktop processors (unless they have a “G” suffix).
The New Generation
The mid-high-end chipsets released each year are a great barometer of where both companies are in terms of the technologies fueling their latest chipsets.
AMD’s latest Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 chips may have bumped up the prices relative to previous generations, but those price hikes feel well justified with the kind of performance you get.
The Ryzen 5000 series dominates the benchmarks across the board compared to the previous generation, offering incredible performance and price per core. In terms of power (TDP), you get far more efficiency when multitasking from AMD than you do from Intel.
It’s also worth pointing out that AMD’s toolset, like Precision Boost Overdrive and Curve Optimizer (which you’ll find in your motherboard BIOS, assuming it’s been updated for the latest generation) lets you really fine-tune the Ryzen 5000-series’ CPU efficiency, helping you get the most out of each individual core (so long as you have the time to do the tweaking).
The early reviews coming in for the Intel Rocket Lake CPUs, however (such as this highly detailed multi-page piece by Anandtech), suggest that Intel is still very much in the game but can’t quite stand up to the value proposition of AMD at this point.
It’s worth noting that while AMD looks to offer superior value for money these days (assuming you own a discrete GPU), Intel’s offerings really aren’t far behind, and if you’re on a tight budget, then you can find a good low-end Intel CPU without having to worry about a graphics card. The momentum would be firmly with AMD then, but massive stock shortages of its latest chips have hampered that a bit, giving Intel’s new Rocket Lake line the chance to claw something back.
The latest AMD CPUs are great, but they’re known to run a little hot. Check out our guide on how to cool down a high CPU temperature. To put your CPU through its paces, head over to our guide on how to benchmark your CPU with Cinebench.