September 10

Ryzen vs. Intel

The processor world a simple world… at least in terms of competition. Everyone knows about one company — Intel. A few know about the second — AMD. No one knows if a third exists. So, if you’re building a PC for yourself, you have two choices. Period. But which one do you choose. Do you play safe with the known devil or do you try and understand the new player on the block?

Well, that’s exactly what this article is about. But, before we get into the technical details, here’s something you should know. AMD is no longer the new kid on the block. It’s been over a decade now, and AMD processors have proven to be reliable and deliver excellent performance.

With that in the background, let’s begin. Intel or AMD?

If you’ve ever researched a bit about AMD, you’ll know that they sell a lot of processors under the “RYZEN” banner.

What’s Ryzen?

Ryzen refers to a family of AMD processors. Think of them as the ‘i’ in Intel i3, i5, and i7 processors. A select group of AMD processors, built specifically to take on the above mentioned Intel processors, are sold by AMD under the Ryzen name.

How to compare Intel processors with Ryzen processors?

Like, which one’s competing with which? What’s the Core i3 equivalent in the Ryzen lineup? There are 3 primary families of Ryzen processors. Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, and Ryzen 7. These models compete with Intel Core i3, Intel Core i5, and Intel Core i7 respectively. There are exceptions. But most of the times, this is the hierarchical equivalency.

Why even consider Ryzen?

It’s a reasonable question. Why even bother with this whole Ryzen business?  Well, here’s the simple equation. The Ryzen 7 2700X competes with Intel Core i7 8700K. The AMD offering is $199 whereas Intel’s i7 costs $349. Then there’s the corporate story. I know this is a technical article, but the story is quite important. So, bear with me.

amd ryzen logo

The year is 2003. Intel is the undisputed king of the market and no one really has any positive views about AMD. Processors with two cores are the name of the game. Intel calls them Dual-Core.

AMD, out of nowhere, launches the AMD Athlon 64 CPUs. Intel had nothing close to a 64 bit CPU. In fact, at the time, Intel was firefighting. The Dual Core CPUs weren’t exactly winning people over and Intel was telling people that they had rushed these puppies to the market.

On the other hand, people couldn’t stop talking about AMD Athlon CPUs either but here, it was because these CPUs were that good. The general consensus was that these processors were literally years ahead of Intel.

However, things went quiet. AMD wasn’t able to repeat that success in the following years and Intel got complacent again. By 2008, Intel had decided that 4 cores was the upper limit on what they wanted to offer. AMD was nowhere in the picture.

In 2016, all that changed. Under the Ryzen banner, AMD announced the launch of Ryzen 7. It had 8 cores and 16 threads. What’s more, the performance was incredible. So good that Intel processors were nowhere near AMD when it came to multithreaded performance.

amd ryzen desktop processor

Remember thinking why Ryzen mattered?

Because things haven’t changed to this day. If multithreaded performance is what you’re after, don’t even bother thinking of Intel. AMD Ryzen is lightyears ahead and that’s why it matters. Now, if you’re into processors and are closely following the industry, you already know this. But most people don’t — which Intel appreciated a lot.

However, with the launch of the 2nd generation of Ryzen processors, more eyeballs are turning towards AMD. More and more people want to know if Ryzen processors are really that good. Ergo, this article. So, let’s address a few common questions.

Are Ryzen processors better than Intel processors?

If you were expecting a one-word answer, you’re going to be disappointed. Ryzen processors are sometimes better at certain things and are not so good at other things. To understand the advantages — and the failings — of a Ryzen processor, we need to understand the product better. Ryzen’s USP(Unique Selling Point) is that it offers more cores than Intel. It’s also cheaper, but higher core count is what matters.

Having more cores gives Ryzen a few immediate advantages — they are amazing when it comes to multithreaded applications. Multithreaded applications are those that need more cores for better performance. Video encoding, video editing, 3D animation rendering, advanced photo editing — these are things that Ryzen processors are very good at.

AMD ryzen 16-core 7nm gaming CPU

However, core count isn’t everything. The cores have to be powerful too, and it is here that Intel has an advantage. The power of a core is usually measured by assigning an IPC score. IPC stands for Instructions Per Cycle. In essence, it’s the number of instructions that a core can execute in a given timeframe. More, obviously, is better. You can find benchmark IPC tests blasted all over the internet. They all pretty much say the same.

While AMD offers more cores consistently, Intel cores have better IPC scores.

This basically means that one Intel core can execute more tasks in a timeframe than one AMD core. However, you might think that having more cores would negate any Intel advantage… and you’d be wrong. The reason is: Not all applications or software can use multiple cores. Let’s take a quality i5 processor, 8400 for example. It has 6 cores and 6 threads.

Apart from the very specific examples that I mentioned earlier (Video editing, encoding etc.), most programs that you might use daily don’t even use those 6 cores. These programs simply aren’t capable of using the technology that you have.

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G

Intel is to blame, partly. For decades, they were the only player in the market and software companies tuned their applications to work with low core numbers that Intel offered. Gaming is a prime example. Think of a game that you like and chances are it uses, at best, four cores. Most games fall under this. Every single “Classic Game” falls under this category. These games, at best, can use only four cores.

We go into detail on this topic in our other article discussing what does a CPU do for gaming. Once you know that applications have a limit on the number of cores that they can tap into, IPC scores become very important. You need those limited cores to be powerful if you want good performance — and with Intel, they are.  So, is there any point in buying processors with lots of cores (Ryzen)?

Oh yes, there is. Obviously, professionals who have the need for multiple cores love it. Video editors, people working in the animation industry, people who are forced to use Excel a lot (yup, AMD processors are awesome at MS Excel) — these people adopted Ryzen a long time back.

Overclocking fans are another set of people that love Ryzen processors. Long long ago, there were very few people who overclocked their processors. So, Intel made very few processors that could be overclocked. The number of people interested in overclocking grew but Intel’s products that supported this didn’t. Also, overclocking wasn’t simple with Intel processors. It was complicated and costly too.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X processor

So, when AMD released Ryzen processors, one of the things that they made sure to explicitly mention was that most, if not all, Ryzen processors were overclock compatible. Not only this, AMD had made sure to make overclocking easy as well.

Today, Ryzen has dedicated tools for overclocking and frankly, it’s very simple to overclock Ryzen processors. AMD actually encourages you to overclock. The result is that there are quite a few processors that can be easily overclocked to 5GHz or more.

However, there’s one aspect of computer use where Intel is still far ahead — Gaming.  A lot of that boils down to IPC scores and core strength that we talked about earlier. Most games are capable of using only two cores. Some use four, but very few games use more than that.

As a result, playing most games on an Intel processor is far more rewarding. You get better frame rates and fewer frame rate drops. As a thumb rule, you can expect a difference of 20% to 30% in frame rates between the two companies.

But… there’s a caveat, again. And the caveat is the future. Though most games use only four cores, the trend is changing. A few important games like Overwatch, Civilization, and Starwars Battlefront use anywhere between 6 to 12 cores.

intel 9th gen i5 i9 i7

The gaming industry in general, has promised that they are going to develop games that use more cores in the future and by the look of things, they’re serious. The result is that, with these games, AMD processors are just as good as Intel processors when it comes to gaming. A lot of your favorite classic games will still work better on Intel, though. So, knowing what we know now, let’s address the most fundamental question.

Ryzen or Intel?

The answer, again, depends on your use. We’ve concentrated a lot on what’s good about Ryzen, but let’s not forget that there’s nothing especially wrong with Intel. They are still, very much, the market leaders. Intel has a proven record of producing reliable, great performance processors. Their top-of-the-line processor is still the fastest processor on sale. So, there’s really nothing wrong with Intel.

However, if you use multi-threaded applications on a professional level, you’re way better off with a Ryzen processor. The gulf is quite wide on that front. Intel processors are nowhere near as powerful when it comes to multithreaded applications.

The best gaming CPUs, on the other hand, are Intel’s forte. Yes, games are getting better at using multiple cores and maybe one day, all games will be able to use eight or twelve cores. However, that day isn’t today. So, there you have it. Multithreaded performance? AMD. Gaming and overall performance? Intel is still the leader of the market.


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About the author

Akash Hoslok

Akash started messing around with computers when he was 7 years old. A few electrocuted fingers and a partially burnt room later, he started understanding how computers really work. Now, he mostly spends his time overclocking old processors and writing about new ones. He spent his prime gaming years trying to control the helicopter in Vice City. He then bravely gave up. Nowadays, he plays COD Black Ops quite a lot and claims that it's the best COD game ever.