The AMD Ryzen and the Intel Core CPUs offer similar performance, the former being better at multi-tasking while the latter are faster when it comes to single-core tasks. However, Ryzen CPUs are more future-proof at the moment since the AM4 socket and the motherboard chipsets are designed to be forward-compatible, plus they tend to offer better overall value for your money.
Choosing ideal 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, though they haven’t always been at even odds, especially over the course of the past decade. But it’s 2020 now, so which company has better gaming CPUs now – AMD or Intel?
The answer may actually surprise you!
Table of ContentsHide
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 which relied on raw power in order 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 were released. 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. Many felt that AMD was being kept afloat solely thanks to their earlier acquisition of ATI.
Sure enough, the FX series were soon left powering entry-level and, occasionally, some mid-range gaming rigs, while the AMD A-Series APUs were only found in the very basic computers not intended for gaming. The only glimmer of hope was the ephemeral “Zen” architecture that had been in the making for years during AMD’s downward spiral. And finally, in March 2017, it happened…
Enter AMD Ryzen
First to be released were high-end Ryzen 7 CPUs designed specifically to compete with Intel’s i7 models. The rest of the Ryzen series was gradually released over the course of the year, including the Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 models, as well as the most powerful of them all – the Ryzen Threadripper. The Ryzen series kept doing what AMD did best – providing users with reliable and affordable solutions, unlocked CPUs with solid overclocking performance and jaw-dropping core counts at remarkably low prices.
This did not change with the second generation Zen+ CPUs, nor with the latest third generation Zen2 models that launched on July 2019. Subsequent generations offered incremental performance improvements and some extra features, although not much had changed apart from that. However, the Zen2 generation will be introducing some beefier performance-oriented models such as the Ryzen 7 3700X, Ryzen 7 3800X, and Ryzen 9 3900X, so they should prove to be good competition for Intel at higher price points.
Overall, Ryzen had the predicted effect. It leveled the playing field and forced Intel to adapt. And sure enough, the 8th generation of Intel CPUs built on the Coffee Lake architecture saw an increase in core count, something that was necessary if they wanted to keep up with AMD, and in 2020, more and more people are leaving the Intel camp for AMD, mainly because they feel that Ryzen CPUs offer better value for their money.
So, how do Intel Core and AMD Ryzen CPUs compare?
AMD Ryzen vs Intel Core
Before, AMD’s more robust architecture had allowed their CPUs to achieve higher base clock speeds and to have greater overclocking potential than most of Intel’s lineup. The situation is a little different today, as the two are more or less evenly matched in this regard.
However, clock speeds presented on paper are a very poor way to estimate a 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, as they are mostly in the 3-4 GHz range.
As we have already mentioned, AMD processors are known for their overclocking capabilities. This mostly holds true for Ryzen CPUs, too, for the most part – they are all unlocked and can be overclocked, provided that the motherboard chipset actually supports overclocking.
In contrast, not all Intel CPUs are unlocked. Only the models that have 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.
Ultimately, overclocking potential varies from model to model, although Intel’s CPUs tend to have the upper hand in this regard. An unlocked Intel Core CPU can be pushed substantially farther than a Ryzen model and more performance can be squeezed out of the CPU this way. However, only enthusiasts will be able to benefit from this, as Intel motherboards that support overclocking tend to be on the pricey side, not to mention the extra costs of setting up adequate cooling that will be required if you want to push the CPU close to the 5 GHz mark.
All in all, any AMD CPU can be overclocked, most AMD chipsets support it, and Ryzen CPUs usually ship with solid stock coolers, so virtually anyone can overclock a Ryzen CPU at little to no additional cost. However, the benefits are nowhere near as noticeable as with Intel, so that’s one of the reasons why Intel remains so popular among enthusiasts and professionals.
The high number of physical cores in Ryzen CPUs was one of their main selling points, as they outdid every model Intel was offering. Prior to the introduction of Ryzen, Intel mostly relied on hyperthreading i.e. the technology which allowed a single physical core to function as two logical cores and handle two tasks simultaneously. Logical cores are more commonly referred to as “threads”.
In terms of physical core and thread count, Ryzen CPUs are superior to most of Intel’s lineup.
The core/thread counts of Ryzen CPUs range from 4/4 with the cheapest Ryzen 3 CPUs and APUs, the Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 CPUs boast 6/12 and 8/16 cores/threads respectively, all the while the high-end Threadripper models can go as high as 32/64. Naturally, such a high number of threads reflects very well on multitasking, as Ryzen CPUs almost always outperform Intel CPUs in this regard.
Meanwhile, the latest Intel i3 CPUs come with 4 cores, the i5 models with 6, and the i7 models come with 8 cores. Hyperthreading is currently reserved only for the high-end Intel Core i9, which has 8 cores and 16 threads.
That said, it’s obvious that Ryzen beats Intel in this department, too, at least for the time being. However, while they may fare better when it comes to multitasking, that’s not all there is to a gaming CPU, which brings us to the overall performance that one can expect from AMD and Intel.
When it comes to performance, we have already mentioned that Ryzen has an upper hand in terms of multitasking. However, while they may lag behind in this regard, Intel Core CPUs do offer 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 as many as 16 threads, the situation has changed.
Naturally, many developers will optimize their games so as to take full advantage of these high core/thread counts. Furthermore, CPU-heavy games such as strategy games or games with vast open worlds will definitely benefit from a higher core count, but even so, the difference in in-game performance between, say, an Intel Core i5-9600K and a Ryzen 5 2600X will be marginal in most games. After all, it is always the GPU that does most of the heavy lifting!
When it comes to compatibility, there are two key aspects of the motherboard to consider: 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 lack. As mentioned above, not all chipsets support overclocking, and in addition to that, they differ based on supported maximum clock speeds, multi-GPU setups, the number of ports and connectors, and additional technologies such as Intel Optane or AMD StoreMI.
Now, Ryzen CPUs use the latest AM4 sockets and chipsets designed specifically for them. Furthermore, the socket itself was designed to be universal and forward-compatible, so all of the newer AMD CPUs use it – barring, of course, the Threadripper models which use a special TR4 socket because of their size. You can see a list of all AM4 chipsets here.
Meanwhile, 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.
And now, the answer to the main question.
As far as we’re concerned, AMD Ryzen is the better option for gaming at the moment, and the situation is unlikely to change any time soon. So, why Ryzen?
Sure, they aren’t better at everything but while high-end Intel CPUs are a mostly a better choice for enthusiasts and professionals due to their overclocking capabilities and superb single-core performance, Ryzen offers so much more for less money if we’re talking about gaming.
Not only are they cheaper while offering comparable overall performance, but upgrading a Ryzen CPU is also easier, the motherboards are cheaper, and they ship with good stock coolers. All of this adds up to make Ryzen a more cost-effective solution, something that many gamers are bound to appreciate.
That is not to say that Intel is not a viable choice, but there’s just no denying that the ride has been bumpy with Intel ever since Ryzen came about. Year after year, Intel Core CPUs come across as overpriced, and the compatibility issues are just icing on the cake. Ultimately, as mentioned above, they are very much 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 gaming is concerned, the value of an i3 or an i5 CPU is more dubious than ever.