updated August 1, 2019

When I last built a desktop computer in 2012, I chose an Intel Core i5-3450S processor. Since AMD's release of its 3rd generation Ryzen processors on July 7, 2019, I would choose an AMD.

The numbers make too much sense.

For example, let us compare AMD's mainstream desktop user-focused Ryzen 5 3600 to one of Intel's top consumer desktop processors, the Core i9-9900k.

In single-thread performance, CPUBenchmark.net rates the new AMD Ryzen 5 3600 at 2,823. In comparison, the Intel Core i9-9900k earns a slightly higher score (2,897). That means these processors should perform similarly at everyday tasks such as web browsing and word processing.

In multi-thread performance, the Core i9-9900k scores a 1% edge (20,215 versus 20,031) over the Ryzen 5 3600. Therefore these two processors should also perform similarly at multi-threaded tasks such as graphics, data science, and gaming.

But the processors' prices are anything but alike. At about $240, the Ryzen 5 3600 sells for about half of the Core i9-9900k. The Ryzen 5 3600 will also save you on electricity because it uses 30W less in power (65W versus 95W).

This difference exists because the Ryzen 5 3600 is based upon a technological leap: 7nm Zen 2 microarchitecture that is half the size of the Core i9-9900k's. Third generation Ryzen processors are small and therefore fast and energy efficient.

In another value-adding design choice, the Ryzen 5 3600 is compatible with dozens of existing AMD desktop motherboards. If you already own an AMD-powered desktop computer, check your specifications - upgrading may be as simple as a processor swap. If you are building a new rig, you will have dozens of motherboards to choose from.

All that said, here are three caveats:

  1. If you are considering buying a new computer, first think about what you want to do with it and then seek the comparisons that are most relevant for you. If you skip this step and just buy the best processor on CPUBenchmark.net or any other website, you may end up with hardware that costs more or does less than you need. I find CPUBenchmark.net's benchmarking results to be a good general starting point because they compare a huge number of processors, but they might not be the best yardstick for you because they are based upon theoretical computer applications instead of real-world usage. A different site or benchmark - for example, BAPCo's SysMark 2018 that measures general productivity - might match your needs more closely.
  2. Computers are more than processors. They also include other components like motherboards and memory, and unfortunately if you want or need a specific component you will sometimes be locked into one company's processors. For example if you want Optane memory, a system accelerator that gives you faster bootups and quicker access to your most-used files, you will need a supporting processor from Intel. This is basically the hardware equivalent of needing an Apple device to use iPhotos. While this practice limits our options as users, the best we can do is decide what we need and try to make an intelligent choice.
  3. The above analysis relates only to AMD's 3rd generation processors for desktop computers. For laptop and 2-in-1 computers, for now Intel retains its edge.

AMD and Intel have been competing for a long time, and it is exciting to see AMD offer a new line of competitive desktop processors. It will be awesome to see what comes next, in particular AMD's 3rd generation Ryzen Threadripper and Intel's new 10th generation processors for laptops and 2-in-1's, both expected for 2019 or 2020.

Header photo by Brian Kostiuk - @BriKost / Unsplash