AMD Ryzen and the Intel Core processors offer similar performance with the former being better at multi-tasking while the latter are faster when it comes to single-core tasks.
However, Ryzen CPUs tend to offer better value for your money.
Choosing the best hardware for your new gaming PC is never easy, but before settling on a particular model of any piece of hardware, you first need to opt for a brand.
In the desktop CPU world, the two main players on the market are AMD and Intel, and while the latter definitely had the undisputed lead throughout the 2010s, the situation changed drastically in the past few years.
In 2017, AMD released their first Ryzen CPUs, which were a long-overdue return to form for “Team Red.” It’s 2021 now, the third generation of Ryzen is going strong and has proven to be more than good competition for Intel’s 9th generation Core CPUs.
So, which is better for gaming in 2021? That’s precisely what we’ll answer in this guide.
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The Recent Years
Before addressing the main question, we should consider what the playing field looked like relatively recently.
For the most part, Intel was the premium choice, boasting more advanced technology and better overall performance, especially in the high-end. AMD, on the other hand, provided more affordable solutions that relied on raw power to be able to compete with what Intel had on offer.
Even though AMD had kept up, for the most part, things took a turn for the worse after 2013. Namely, AMD had released their FX series of CPUs, which not only came with high core counts (for the time) but also had great overclocking potential and high base clock speeds.
Needless to say, they were very viable options when they first came out. However, years went by, and AMD had nothing fresh to offer. The technology stagnated and was quickly leagues behind that of Intel, whose CPUs kept improving year after year.
Sure enough, the FX series was soon left powering entry-level and, occasionally, some mid-range gaming rigs. In contrast, the AMD A-Series APUs were only found in basic computers not intended for gaming. The only flicker of hope for AMD was the upcoming “Zen” architecture that had been in the making for years during AMD’s downward spiral.
Then, it finally happened in 2017, and now we’re here.
Enter AMD Ryzen
The third generation of Ryzen CPUs is based on the Zen 2 architecture, fabricated using a 7nm process, and it’s comprised of a number of versatile solutions at all price points.
Overall, Ryzen CPUs can be divided into five groups:
- Ryzen 3 – Intended for entry-level PCs, offering good processing power at remarkably low prices.
- Ryzen 5 – Mid-range CPUs that offer great value for the money and are great picks for many gaming builds.
- Ryzen 7 – Performance-oriented solutions that will be right at home in the majority of high-end gaming PCs.
- Ryzen 9 – Enthusiast-level performance at premium prices, but usually overkill for gaming.
- Threadripper – Top-of-the-line CPUs with a monstrous number of cores that offer unmatched performance, intended mostly for high-end workstations.
Since 2017, AMD has been successful at giving Intel a run for its money, offering more powerful solutions year after year at very good prices. As a result, many gamers left the Intel camp and moved to AMD.
But, specifically, how do the latest 3rd generation Ryzen CPUs compare to Intel’s 9th generation Core CPUs?
AMD Ryzen vs Intel Core
In the days of their FX CPUs, AMD’s more robust architecture had allowed their processors to achieve higher base clock speeds. The situation is a little different today, as the two are more or less evenly matched in this regard.
However, clock speeds displayed on paper are a very poor way to estimate any processor’s performance. As a matter of fact, they can actually be misleading, especially in this day and age, where you won’t find a gaming CPU with a base clock speed lower than 3 GHz.
The real question is – how do they fare when it comes to overclocking?
As we have already mentioned, AMD processors used to be known for their overclocking capabilities. Sure enough, all Ryzen CPUs are unlocked and can be overclocked, provided that the motherboard chipset actually supports overclocking.
In contrast, not all Intel CPUs are unlocked. Only the models marked with a “K” at the end of the model number can be overclocked safely. We emphasize the word safely because, while there are ways to overclock Intel CPUs which aren’t unlocked, doing so is generally not advisable due to risks of hardware damage.
Needless to say, overclocking performance will inevitably vary from model to model, though Intel CPUs actually have the upper hand in this department at the moment.
Namely, high-end Intel CPUs can be pushed further than their Ryzen counterparts, leading to better single-core performance. While it’s not a big issue for most builds, enthusiasts who want to squeeze as much performance as they possibly can out of their CPU will want to keep this in mind.
As mentioned before, the high core counts found in AMD’s FX CPUs is what helped them remain relevant even after the Piledriver architecture became severely outdated.
At launch, the high core and thread counts of Ryzen CPUs were also one of their main selling points, especially since they outdid nearly every model that Intel was offering at the time.
So, how do the core and thread counts compare in 2021?
Well, first, we should quickly touch upon the subject of multithreading and hyperthreading.
In essence, these two technologies belong to AMD and Intel, respectively, but fundamentally they are the same thing – a CPU with multithreading/hyperthreading features cores that can handle two tasks simultaneously, thus greatly enhancing their multitasking capabilities.
So, for example, if a CPU has four physical cores with multithreading, that means it has a total of eight logical cores i.e., threads.
Now, if we compare the 3rd generation Ryzen and the 9th generation Core CPUs, the one thing that immediately becomes apparent is that all the mainstream desktop Ryzen CPUs feature multithreading, while only the Intel Core i9 models come with hyperthreading.
So, to provide a brief overview:
- The Ryzen 3 CPUs come with 4 cores and 8 threads while i3 CPUs come with 4 cores and 4 threads.
- The Ryzen 5 CPUs come with 6 cores and 12 threads while i5 CPUs come with 6 cores and 6 threads.
- The Ryzen 7 CPUs come with 8 cores and 16 threads while i7 CPUs come with 8 cores and 8 threads.
- Finally, the Ryzen 9 CPUs come with 12 cores and 24 threads while the i9 CPUs come with 8 cores and 16 threads.
So, needless to say, AMD definitely has the upper hand when it comes to thread counts and multitasking, although Intel aims to close this gap with the upcoming 10th generation Core CPUs, all of which will feature hyperthreading.
When it comes to performance, we have already mentioned that Ryzen has the upper hand in terms of multitasking, while Intel Core CPUs can still offer slightly better single-core performance.
So, which is more important for gaming?
Well, that is not an easy question to answer. In the past, games usually didn’t make much use of multiple cores since multi-core CPUs weren’t all that common, but in 2020, now that we have mainstream CPUs with very high core and thread counts, it’s a different story.
Namely, many developers now optimize their games to take full advantage of these high thread counts, which often results in noticeably better performance in some games.
However, the exact performance benefits will inevitably vary from model to model and from game to game, so it’s impossible to make generalizations in this respect.
When it comes to the question of compatibility, there are two key factors to consider, and they both deal with the motherboard: the socket and the chipset.
The socket is just what the name implies: the slot where the CPU itself is placed and through which it interfaces with the motherboard. And if the CPU can fit the socket, then it will be compatible with the chipset, though cheaper chipsets will lack some features that the more expensive ones have.
As mentioned previously, not all chipsets support overclocking. In addition to that, they differ in a few other respects, such as multi-GPU support, the number of ports and connectors, and additional technologies such as Intel Optane or AMD StoreMI.
Now, all Ryzen CPUs (barring the Threadripper models) currently use the AM4 socket that was designed with compatibility in mind. As for chipset features, you can see a list of all AM4 chipsets here.
Meanwhile, the latest Intel CPUs use the LGA 1151 socket, which was introduced in 2015, although it had since received several revisions that made backward/forward compatibility problematic. You can see a list of all LGA 1151 chipsets here.
That said, it’s obvious that AMD has the upper hand in this regard as well, since you can easily swap out CPUs without having to worry about compatibility.
Intel’s upcoming 10th generation Comet Lake CPUs will use a new LGA 1200 socket, which will once again mean that those who want to upgrade will have to get a brand new motherboard, though it remains to be seen how Intel will handle this matter moving forward.
Meanwhile, the AM4 socket is due to be succeeded by the AM5 socket in 2021 with the launch of the 5th generation of Ryzen CPUs, so it’s still relevant in 2020.
And now, to answer the main question.
As far as we’re concerned, AMD Ryzen is the better option for gaming at the moment, but it remains to be seen whether the situation will change anytime soon.
So, why Ryzen?
Sure, they aren’t better at everything but while high-end Intel CPUs are mostly a better choice for enthusiasts and some professionals due to their overclocking abilities and superb single-core performance, Ryzen offers so much more for less money if we’re talking about gaming.
They not only offer more threads and comparable gaming performance, but are also slightly cheaper, too. On top of that, upgrading to a newer CPU is much easier since you don’t have to worry about compatibility issues, although as mentioned above, AMD will be replacing the AM4 socket with the AM5 in 2021.
As a cherry on top, AMD’s stock coolers are also a fair bit better than what Intel has to offer. All of this adds up to make Ryzen a better and more cost-effective solution, something that many gamers are bound to appreciate.
Now, that is not to say that Intel isn’t a viable choice – as mentioned before, Intel’s CPUs still have better single-core performance and they overclock better as well, which still keeps them relevant for high-end builds.
However, they don’t exactly offer good value for the average gamer right now, as they can easily come across as overpriced and the compatibility issues are just icing on the cake.
In conclusion, as mentioned above, Intel CPUs are worth the money if you’re building a high-end gaming or workstation PC and plan on overclocking the CPU to get as much performance out of it as you can, but as far as mainstream gaming is concerned, AMD is the definite way to go.
If you’re currently shopping for a new CPU, we suggest that you also check out our selection of the best gaming CPUs currently available, as you’re bound to find a good fit for your needs.