Buying a new CPU is a big decision. It can not only impact the performance of your PC for working, gaming, or just browsing the web, but it can lock you in to certain chipsets and motherboards, and even restrict your access to technologies that are unique to one platform. Intel and AMD are the two big names when it comes to desktop processors, but which should you pick? And which are the best CPUs for each manufacturer?
It largely depends on what you want to do and what your budget is. While the most expensive chips might do a great job of everything, they’re not always the one best suited for the job and they rarely offer the best bang for buck.
In this Intel or AMD CPU buyers guide, you’ll find the right CPU for your next PC, no matter what you have planned for it.
CPUs For Productivity workloads
For those looking to work with their PCs, the AMD vs. Intel battle is quite clearly defined: If your software and tasks can take advantage of more cores and threads, AMD’s processors are better, as they have more. Intel’s offerings aren’t slouches, especially at the higher end, but chip to chip, AMD offers more cores for the same kind of money. And once you get outside of the mainstream segment, Intel has no competition to offer.
The one caveat is that Thunderbolt 3 connectivity is far more readily available on Intel platforms, so if you need that particular connector, an Intel CPU may be best for you.
Affordable CPU Options
If you are keen to stick with Intel because your ecosystem demands it, or you want maximum gaming performance when you’re not working, Intel’s mid-range options have some intriguing potential. The Intel 10400 and 10400F (if you are using a dedicated graphics card too) is a sub-£200 CPU with six cores, 12 threads, and a clock speed that can reach 4.3GHz under the right circumstances. It’s a great little workhorse that offers solid competition for the comparably priced AMD Ryzen 3600, holding its own in most productivity tasks.
The only downside, is that due to Intel’s artificial locking of higher-speed memory to its more expensive Z490 motherboards, you can’t get the most performance out of your 10400F without buying a board that could cost as much as the CPU itself. That’s not a particularly cost effective way to build a budget-concious work machine.
Higher up the product stack, Intel’s 10600K can be noticeably faster. Its six cores and 12 threads can clock to 4.8GHz out of the box and even reach above 5GHz with overclocking – which Chillblast can happily do for you, if you opt for capable enough cooling. The only problem with that is that it’s far less competitive with AMD’s comparably priced alternative. Once you’re approaching £250 for a CPU, the performance offered by the competition is hard to ignore.
Where AMD was once the bang for buck king, it now finds itself competitive throughout the entire CPU performance spectrum, especially at the top end. The affordable Ryzen 5 3600 could be the best CPU of its entire generation, with an attractive price tag, excellent performance across its six cores and 12 threads, and the option to overclock it to the same kind of speeds you’d be spending upwards of £200 to achieve otherwise. You can also get the most from it on much more affordable motherboards based on the B450 chipset, which may well be upgradable to next-generation Zen 3 CPUs too, for added future proofing.
If your budget goes north of £250, however, you can really taste what AMD’s workhorses can do. At around £270, the Ryzen 7 3700X is the best mainstream multitasking chip of its generation. With eight cores, 16 threads, and the ability to boost all of them well over 4.0GHz when working its hardest, it can rival even Intel’s best CPUs in intense tasks like video editing and transcoding; sometimes challenging processors that are twice, or even three times the price.
If you don’t want to spend too much on a working PC but need maximum performance, the 3700X is the absolute king.
Serious CPU Performance for Greater Productivity
If your software can leverage more cores and threads and your workday can be streamlined, improved, and even more profitable, with a faster processor, then there are some absolute monster CPUs worth considering.
And they’re just mostly AMD’s.
Intel’s best multi-tasking chips for high-speed performance start with its mainstream, top-of-the-line Core i9 9900K and 10900K CPUs. They offer eight and ten cores, and 16 and 20 threads, respectively, with clock speeds that easily top 5.0GHz – especially in the latter. Overclocking can take them further, making these the absolute best option for tasks that need individual cores to run as fast as they can.
If you need more cores rather than higher clocks, though. Intel’s options aren’t so bankable. The 10920X, 10940X, and 10980XE CPUs offer 12, 14, and 18 cores a piece, with boost clocks as high as 4.6GHz. But they’re based on a far older architecture than newer Comet Lake designs and just aren’t as cost effective as what AMD has to offer.
£400 and up is where AMD really pulls ahead of Intel in the productivity sector. The Ryzen 9 3900X gives you 12 cores and 24 threads to play with, and for a few hundred pounds more, you can increase that to 16 cores and 32 threads with the Ryzen 3950X. Both maintain clock speeds above 4.5GHz while boosting and can maintain them for lengthy periods of time when cooled effectively.
If you’re doing heavy video editing, CAD work, or video transcoding, there are some cases where even 16 cores isn’t enough. That’s where AMD’s high-end Threadripper 3000 CPUs can make a real difference. They come in 24, 32, and even 64-core options, and support up to 128 threads thanks to simultaneous multithreading.
They do come at a premium, with the 64-core 3990X priced at around £3,750, but to get even close to their performance just two years ago, you’d have had to spend tens of thousands. Unlike previous generations of Threadripper chips, these ones maintain high clock speeds and strong single-threaded performance too, so you won’t find tasks that don’t support the full stack of cores to be impeded by opting for Threadripper over the alternatives.
Best Bang for Buck
When it comes to Intel or AMD CPUs for gaming, there’s more choice today than there’s been in a long time. Both team blue and team red offer fantastic gaming performance from the entry level to the bleeding edge high end. Though some CPUs offer better performance and crucially, better value for that power, you can’t really go wrong picking either camp when it comes to making the most of your new favourite game.
That said, if you want to make the most of your money, the CPU that offers the best raw gaming performance at a great price is the Intel Core i5-10600K. With six cores, 12 threads, and a stock boost clock that can reach 4.8GHz (4.5GHz all-core), it offers the kind of gaming performance that only AMD’s top CPUs can come close to, even with their higher price tags.
What makes the 10600K so special, though, is its overclocking potential. With some tweaks to memory and core clock speed, this CPU can get within a hair’s breadth of the top-of-the-line Intel Core i9-10900K CPU, a processor that costs hundreds of pounds more. While that chip can in turn be overclocked for even greater performance, you can make a substantial saving by opting for a 10600K and overclocking it.
Chillblast can even do that for you. Our expert in-house system builders have years of experience wringing the most performance they can from high-end PC hardware and can do it for you entirely free as part of your PC build order. It won’t invalidate your five year warranty either.
If you’re set on an AMD CPU, you would have to spend substantially more to get comparable performance to the 10600K, which would hardly offer much bang for buck. That doesn’t mean you need to expect poor performance, just slightly lower expectations in raw gaming ability.
The best value for money CPU of AMD’s current generation chips is the Ryzen 5 3600. It has 6 cores and 12 threads, just like the 10600K, and though it only boosts to 4.2GHz, it is as much as £100 cheaper than the 10600K. This leaves extra budget for a better graphics card; arguably a more important consideration for gaming – especially outside of 1080p.
Like the 10600K, the 3600 can also be overclocked. It has solid automated overclocking algorithms from AMD when running the latest UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) and Windows updates, and it can be manually pushed to near 3600X speeds, getting you the power of a processor that’s 25% more expensive, for free.
If you want a little greater gaming performance with better future proofing, the Ryzen 3700X is just shy of £300 and offers excellent gaming capabilities with its eight cores and 16 threads, boosting up to 4.4GHz in the right circumstances. As mentioned in the productivity section, this CPU is an absolute monster at general computing too, so if you work and play on the same system, the 3700X is a fantastic choice – easily decimating the Intel competition in mixed role usage.
Top tier Performance CPUs
The very top-end processors don’t offer the same value for money as some of their more affordable counterparts for both Intel or AMD, but if you have deep pockets and simply want the best of the best with the utmost gaming power money can buy, then there are some monstrous chips on offer. Just be sure to pair them with a capable graphics card, as game detail settings and frame rates are far more impacted by the GPU than they are the CPU, especially at higher resolutions.
There is nothing out there as capable of delivering blistering high frame rates as the Intel Core i9-10900K. With 10 cores, 20 threads, and an out of the box boost clock of 5.3GHz (4.9GHz all-core) it is an absolute monster that won’t hold back even the meatiest of graphics cards.
Overclocking is more limited at this high end of the CPU market, simply because Intel has already wrung so much performance out of this processor in particular, and the 14nm process its architecture is based on. With that in mind, 5.3GHz using the onboard velocity algorithm is about as high as you can expect this processor to go in terms of absolute frequency, but it is possible to raise the all-core frequency on most CPUs, even to 5.3GHz all-core in some cases.
Chillblast can handle that for you and it won’t effect your warranty. Just bear in mind that the kind of power required to reach such speeds means you’ll need a very capable and stable power supply, and even more capable cooling. A heavily overclocked 10900K can run very hot, so consider that as part of your god-tier gaming setup as well as great components.
If you don’t want to go quite so high-end, Intel’s last-generation Core i9-9900K is over £100 cheaper and is only a few steps behind the 10900K – especially when overclocked. While you’d be locking yourself into a motherboard platform that cannot be upgraded in the future (most of the 10900K’s 400-series boards will support 11th-generation Rocket Lake CPUs) it’s a good way to get near top-of-the-line performance without breaking the bank.
AMD can’t compete on absolute power against Intel’s new-generation Comet Lake CPUs, nor quite the top-chips from the ninth-generation, but it still has some serious contenders with excellent future proofing and amazing performance outside of games that make them a great tool for work and play.
At around £400, the Ryzen 9 3900X is the best AMD CPU for gaming performance of its generation. While the Ryzen 9 3950 XT and 3950X might offer the odd percent or two of extra performance, their substantially higher price tags do not warrant it.
The 3900X sports 12 cores and 24 threads, boosting up to 4.6GHz on a single core and offering solid gaming performance right out of the box. Overclocking high-end Ryzen 3000 CPUs directly doesn’t always yield improved performance in games, so there isn’t much more to be gained on frequency directly. That said, memory and infinity fabric overclocking can yield decent results and is something you should speak to your Chillblast system builder about if it interests you, as there is more performance that can be wrung out of top-tier Ryzen CPUs in some instances.
In either case, the 3900X offers the best gaming performance you can expect from an AMD CPU from this generation, even if it is typically a step or two behind the Intel competition. It’s a real workhorse outside of gaming, however, so if you work and play, the 3900X is a great CPU to consider for your next multi-role machine.
A viable alternative is also the Ryzen 7 3700X, which while falling far behind the 3900X in productivity workloads, is very close in terms of gaming performance and is significantly cheaper, letting you spend more money elsewhere.
So, AMD or Intel?
With AMD clearly taking the lead in productivity workloads and Intel stealing the top spot in gaming performance, the best CPU for your next PC, and the answer to the AMD or Intel question, depends on what you want to do with it. If you are making a predominantly working machine, AMD processors tend to offer the best value for money and the best top-tier performance, especially at the high-end. If you tend to split your time between work and play on the same machine, again, the AMD options offer better bang for buck, easily outstripping Intel’s best in productivity workloads and keeping pace with mid-tier alternatives in gaming.
In either case, how high you go in AMD’s product stack depends on how many cores your software workload can utilize. The 3600 offers the best all-round value, but the 3700X and 3900X are much better at productivity workloads and pull a little ahead in gaming. Just factor in their pricing premium.
If you are making a pure gaming machine, however – one that barely ever touches video transcoding, editing, or heavy file transfers – there’s no doubt that Intel holds the edge. Unless you’re pairing it with the absolute top-end graphics cards too, a mid-range CPU like the 10600K offers excellent performance, especially with overclocking.
Will you be joining team red or team blue for your next PC build? Let us know in the comments below!