The battle has raged for decades: Which CPU manufacturer makes the better chip? Where do you turn for a powerful processor? The answers to those questions have varied greatly over the years, especially based on who you ask. However, right now, there are clear winners and losers, depending on what you plan to do with your computer.
To be fair, you can use just about anything on a basic business or home desktop, and it’ll work well. Modern processors are powerful enough that they can easily handle most things that an average user will throw at them without breaking a sweat.
That aside, you can maximize your price to performance ratio by picking the right CPU and diverting the rest of your budget to upgrade other critical components, like RAM.
The Budget Option
When you’re looking to build a PC that will work for basic office use, web browsing, and most daily tasks, the Intel Pentium Gold 5500 is pretty hard to beat. It’s a simple dual-core CPU with a decently high clock speed and integrated graphics, something most AMD options lack.
The More Future-Proof Option
If you’d prefer your desktop to stay current for a while longer, you can choose to build around the Intel i3-8100. It’s a solid quad-core with an integrated GPU.
Media PCs are an odd thing. Some people prefer to build full-blown PCs, and others would rather utilize smaller solutions like the Raspberry Pi or an Android device.
For full PC media PCs, AMD is the clear winner and has been for a long time. Their A-Series APUs are ideal for media PCs. They have just enough processing power to handle even the highest resolution videos while including the most powerful integrated GPUs possible.
Workstations and Home Servers
Now, things get more complicated. Workstations can be a lot of different things. A developer’s workstation isn’t the same as a digital artist’s, and that isn’t quite like an animator’s. There is a common thread through all of them, though … threads. They all require heavily multi-threaded workloads, and that means a lot of CPU cores. Because of that, there’s a clear winner from price to performance – AMD.
AMD’s Ryzen CPUs are ideal for workstations because they offer massive productivity performance for a relatively low price tag. Intel does have some great workstation options, but Ryzen is king. These are all very versatile chips, too, so you can absolutely use them for more than just work.
That said, Ryzen also wins out in the home server world. Like workstations, most servers benefit greatly from tons of CPU cores. Intel’s Xeon CPUs are excellent, but they come at a high premium, and many of the more powerful ones are simply out of reach for most people. Ryzen serves as a reasonable alternative without the inflated price tag.
Many of you clicked on this article just for this section, right? Gaming isn’t the most taxing thing you can do with a CPU, not by a long shot, and GPUs usually make more of a difference. That said, single threaded performance is usually key to maximizing gaming frame rates. That usually means that Intel is in a better position, usually.
There are a bunch of different ways to build a budget gaming machine, but if you’re on a tight budget, you want the lowest cost platform as possible to focus on your graphics card. As a result, AMD’s the winner here. You can pick up an Athlon X4 950 at a very reasonable price, and it’s more than enough for most games. If you want a bit more power, the Ryzen 3 2200G is a good option at a similar price.
The mid range is a complete tossup. Both AMD and Intel have excellent offerings, and they’re about equal in both price and performance. In the mid-range segment, pick what you prefer. This is an area where being a fanboy/fangirl is perfectly alright. If you’re more “Team Intel,” the i5 8600k is an excellent choice. AMD fans will find what they need in the Ryzen 5 2600X.
First off, high-end gaming can get into levels of ridiculousness that border into the obscene and test the limits of diminishing returns. There is no circumstance where you need a $1000+ CPU for gaming, and this guide isn’t going to consider that nonsense. Instead, it will focus on the top end of the main desktop lines of CPUs. These are where most gaming enthusiasts will look, and it’s where the top end of practical gaming CPUs are.
Now, the differences in performance in this rage are marginal, but Intel pulls ahead due to single core performance. Games still don’t take full advantage of multi-threading, so the more powerful the first four cores of the CPU are, the better the game will run. The Intel i7 8700k is probably the best reasonably high-end gaming CPU.
Gaming with Work or Streaming
Most people don’t use their PCs exclusively for gaming. As a result, another consideration comes into play when selecting a gaming CPU. Do you want to stream your games and do some video editing? Maybe you plan on running a discord server. You might need a computer that can game, but you also want to use it as your professional workstation.
In any of those situations, AMD’s Ryzen CPUs pull ahead. The lower single-threaded performance does decrease your frame rates a bit, but the additional cores make a huge difference in those other tasks. The Ryzen 7 2700X is an excellent all-around processor.
The current picture in the CPU market is an interesting one, and it’s one without a clear winner. AMD and Intel both excel in different situations. Which one you pick should have everything to do with what job you need done and what your budget is and much less to do with the color of the box. Both companies have wonderful CPUs on the market right now.