AMD vs Intel

Ah AMD or Intel? If you’re building a computer, you’ve probably debated this idea. You’ve probably even run some numbers, done some reaserch to see what benchmarks look like, and probably only come out of it even more confused than you did going in. Which should you buy?

Well on price point, AMD will save you money. This isn’t without its tradeoffs though, as Intel beats AMD in most every benchmark that matters except one: heat. Intels knowingly run hotter than AMD chips, and this is because of a known change that Intel made to their processors with the Ivy Bridge line, but I’m not going to get into that. Just know that if you buy Intel, you’re not only paying more for your processor, you’re going to need much better cooling capacity for it.

But overall, which should you go for?

Well I’ll just give you an idea of what I do, along with my desktop’s specifications. First, I do games. I run mostly FPS games like Bioshock Infinite, but I do other games as well like Diablo III, Max Payne 3, and Unreal Tournament. Basically I have a range of games that have a range of requirements. I’m also a professional software engineer, and I write code on my desktop machine.

That said, I run AMD:

  • CPU: AMD FX-8350 (at stock speeds right now)
  • Mainboard: Gigabyte 990FXA-UD3
  • Cooling: Corsair H60
  • Graphics card: PNY GTX-770
  • Graphics card cooling: Kraken G10 and ThermalTake Water 2.0 Performer for cooling, using Corsair SP120 fan instead of stock fans
  • Memory: 8 GB
  • Hard drive: Western Digital Black 1 TB

I’ve actually been running AMD chips for over 15 years predominantly. I’ve had Intel only once that I can recall. Here’s what chips I’ve run in the past:

  • Intel 486DX-2 66MHz
  • AMD K6-2 333 MHz initially, then upgraded to 500 MHz
  • AMD Athlon 800 MHz (Slot A)
  • AMD Athlon XP (can’t recall specifically which)
  • AMD X2 4200+

So I’ve typically gone with AMD, and I’ve never had issues.

Initially I went with AMD because the Intel 486DX-2 was an AT mainboard in an AT case, so upgrading from that and keeping my case meant going with an AT mainboard, specifically a baby-AT mainboard. This was 1999, mind you, and the baby AT mainboard I purchased (it was an EFA P5MVP3-AT) had both AT and ATX compatibility, and you could buy ATX cases that supported baby-AT mainboard with ATX connectors. For all the IT guys who’ve been around the block, hands up if you’ve ever fried an AT power supply because you connected it wrong! Initially when I ran that mainboard, I think I actually had a Cyrix processor and then traded up to the K6-2 after a short while.

It wouldn’t be until after I’d received my Associate’s degree and was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree that I’d upgrade to an ATX case while sticking with the baby-AT board. But having the ATX case allowed me better upgrade options, and I took on an AMD Athlon (Slot A) processor/mainboard combination my college roommate was selling off after he upgraded to something better. I ran that for a year before upgrading to the Athlon XP. And I ran that for almost 3 years before upgrading to the X2 in mid-2007. And I upgraded from the AMD X2 only this past December, when I went with an AMD FX-8350, meaning I had the X2 for about 6 1/2 years.

And I’ve never regretted sticking with AMD because I could not justify the higher price tag of the Intel chips and mainboards. Even with the laptops I’ve owned, I’ve gone with AMD. And I would argue that for most PC users, AMD is the way to go. You’ll get pretty good performance, and an Intel chip won’t provide noticeable differences in most anything a typical user could throw at it.

Now for things that are more CPU intensive, then you may want to lean toward Intel. But the only way you could justify it is if your livelihood rested on you having the Intel processor. For example, if you do professional photography, videography, cinematography or film development, or you’re a marketing consultant or contractor making advertising campaigns. Basically if you’re doing things that are very high end, where every little bit of performance makes the difference between meeting a deadline or not.

For gaming, go with AMD. The only place where Intel beats AMD with regard to gaming is benchmarks. But the performance difference is not something you’ll actually see. Any FPS that is above the refresh rate of your monitor it won’t display. And as long as the FPS is in the 40s or better, sustainably, you won’t really notice anything better than that. Your eyes can’t tell the difference between 50 FPS and 80 FPS unless you’ve got a crappy monitor. Remember that television is 29.97 frames per second for NTSC, 25 frames per second for PAL, and most film is at 23.97 or 24 frames per second. Virtually all videos you watch on YouTube will be 30 frames per second at best.

So if you are a gamer, go with AMD and take the money you’d save and either go with more memory, a better mainboard, a better graphics card, or better cooling. You could even take it and go with a better case if you’ve otherwise budgeted on everything else. The money you save going with AMD can be poured into your system elsewhere where it will count, and for many games, your GPU matters more.

If you’re a developer, unless you absolutely must have Intel, go with AMD and take the money you otherwise would’ve spent and go with better storage options, whether internal or external. If you’re going to be running virtual machines or doing any kind of virtualization – such as for Android or Windows Phone development – then memory is where you should concentrate, as you’ll want the fastest and largest amount of memory you can afford, so pour your money there.

Only if you find yourself in need of triple or quad-channel memory should you go with Intel or one of the server AMD options, but that’s going to cost you one hell of a premium. You’ll need an Intel i7 3820, 39xx or 49xx processor and a mainboard with 6 or 8 DIMM slots. The i7 3820 retails for around $300, while the 3930K is about $600 depending on retailer. And the mainboards are going to run several hundred dollars as well. Unless you’re running multiple VMs simultaneously on your desktop, you’re not going to need that and an AMD FX processor with dual-channel RAM will suit you just fine – just make sure you have plenty of RAM for when you’re running VMs depending on what operating systems you’ll be running.

Now after all of this, some might call me an AMD fanboy. Except I’ve gone with AMD all this time merely because of value. AMD is the better value overall in my opinion, and it will be for most people as well. And the money saved by going with AMD can be poured into other areas that’ll get better bang for the buck: more or better memory, a better mainboard, better storage options or more storage, better cooling, and so on.

In short, unless your livelihood rests on your computer’s raw performance, save your money and go with AMD.