With the launch of Ryzen 5000 CPUs (5950X, 5900X, 5800X, and 5600X), AMD surpassed even Intel’s most premium offerings in 2020. Intel soon responded with 11th Generation CPUs early this year, but not to much effect.
AMD’s CPUs seemed to flat out beat their direct competition in every workstation task imaginable, except viewport performance. But once again Intel claimed the lead in active workstation tasks and smoothness within a viewport with 11th Generation processors this year.
So, let’s look into what’s changed with Intel’s 12th Generation Alder Lake CPUs. Has Intel extended its lead? Is it worth an upgrade for either workstation or gaming use?
We’ll go over a few benchmarks, and then our thoughts on the hotly debated question –
Intel or AMD Ryzen Processors in Late 2021?
Intel vs. Ryzen: Recommendations for 2021 (December 2021)
Although availability for GPUs continues to be a nightmare in late 2021, CPUs are mostly in stock in most regions now. That said, AMD still hasn’t launched any processor in the sub-$200 segment for well over a year now and Intel is the ONLY competitive option if you’re shopping at that price point.
For those who just want a quick recommendation, I got you. Here you go:
|Category/Task||No-Compromise Performance||CG Director |
|Video Editing / Encoding||Intel Core i9 12900K||Intel Core i5 12600K||Intel Core i5 11400F|
|Viewport Performance||Intel Core i9 12700K||Intel Core i5 11600K||AMD Ryzen 5 3600|
|(CPU) Rendering||AMD Threadripper 3970X||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X||Intel Core i5 10400F|
|General Productivity||Intel Core i7 12700K||Intel Core i5 11400F||Intel Core i3 10100|
Please avoid paying too much over the MSRP for CPUs now. They should be available at or very close to MSRP at most retailers.
With Intel’s launch of 12th Generation processors, it extends its performance lead over Ryzen and 11th Generation Intel CPUs. The margin is slim, but it’s there. That said, Alder Lake’s P-core and E-core architecture adds yet another factor to an already complex CPU-picking scenario.
But if you’re building a workstation that you’ll primarily use to do active viewport work, the Core i5 12600K from Intel’s Alder Lake lineup offers incredible value. It offers an excellent performance uplift compared to the Ryzen 5 5600x (which sits in the same price bracket). What’s more, now that the Intel platform also supports PCI-E 5.0, it’s better suited to handle upcoming GPUs (a boon for those who don’t upgrade CPUs very often).
A Quick History Recap: AMD vs. Intel
If you’re curious about how we came to these conclusions, head on to the next section! We’ll first talk about some Intel vs. AMD history.
AMD and Intel have been at loggerheads for nearly half a century now; the rivalry certainly isn’t new, and it isn’t going anywhere any time soon either.
While Intel maintained a tight grip on the CPU market for the past decade or so, AMD lagged behind it until the release of Ryzen in 2017.
The vast performance disparity and better efficiency of Intel processors over their AMD counterparts made them an obvious choice for any use case before Ryzen launched.
Whether you were building a gaming PC, workstation PC, or even an office PC, the best choice was undoubtedly Intel.
Intel IPC advantage and AMD Bulldozer
The performance disparity stemmed from the radically different architecture approaches that these companies adopted in CPUs released around 2010-2011.
Intel opted to focus on IPC improvements; AMD focused on parallelism. One approach equipped processors with fewer but extremely powerful cores, and the other equipped CPUs with more, albeit far weaker, cores.
What is IPC?
IPC (Instructions Per Cycle/Clock) is the number of instructions that a processor executes in a single clock cycle. What does this mean?
Well, here’s an easy way to understand this.
We’ve had processors touching 3 GHz for over a decade now. However, if we directly compare the performance difference between a modern processor at the same clock as an older processor, we find that the modern processor is much faster.
In a single clock cycle, the newer processors can execute more instructions (more work) than the number of instructions executed by an older processor in that same single cycle.
Since it improves efficiency by a considerable margin, an IPC uplift is considered the best kind of improvement we can get when it comes to CPUs.
Bulldozer: Plagued by Low IPC
AMD’s Bulldozer CPU lineup (FX series) launched in 2011 and was a ground-up re-design. The problem? It was a fiasco.
The newly-launched products were, in some cases, even slower than the older AMD Phenom parts that they were set to replace!
Although Bulldozer (FX 4000 series) launched a few months later, it just couldn’t compete with Intel’s amazing Sandy Bridge processors.
Intel seized this opportunity and captured the market.
The next few years saw a similar story unfold, with both companies continuing to make incremental improvements to their processors.
The result – Intel was crowned king of both single-threaded as well as multi-threaded workloads.
Intel’s lead was bound to come to an end sooner or later. The engineering brilliance it showcased in 2011 helped Intel maintain a substantial lead over AMD for close to a decade.
A remarkable feat.
1st Generation AMD Ryzen vs. 7th Generation Intel
When AMD first announced Ryzen, people were skeptical. Even I was, to be completely honest.
After all, we’d been promised the moon by AMD before and got, well, Bulldozer instead – an 8-core dumpster fire that couldn’t go toe-to-toe with a 4-core CPU from Intel even in heavily multi-threaded workloads.
Throw in operating temperatures that spawned a whole generation of ‘heater’ memes, and well, you get the picture.
However, Ryzen’s release took even the most vocal AMD fans by surprise. It offered a whopping 52% improvement in IPC than the Bulldozer core – positioning it pretty dang close to the 7th Generation Intel processors.
Of course, this uplift was more a testament to how far behind Bulldozer was more than anything else.
But still, AMD finally caught up.
Here’s a benchmark for Premiere Pro’s Warp Stabilize – a popular effect used to reduce shake/jitter in video footage.
The Zen microarchitecture used core complexes connected by the Infinity Fabric, making it easier and cheaper to offer more cores without increasing latency too much or giving up performance.
Hence, AMD’s 8-core, 16-thread offering was priced around the same as a 4-core, 8-thread part from Intel.
Unlike Bulldozer, Ryzen offered excellent clock speeds as well as stellar IPC. When this was combined with higher core counts, AMD Ryzen took the multi-threaded workload crown with ease.
AMD’s 8-core powerhouse was pitted against a 4-core offering from Intel because of AMD’s aggressive pricing. The results were hardly surprising at that point.
However, Intel had refined its architecture and clock speeds for years and still maintained a lead in both clock speed and IPC – ensuring that it remained the best choice for single-threaded workloads.
Moreover, being a market leader for close to a decade does come with certain advantages. Applications were optimized to run on Intel processors, and some benchmarks confirmed this disparity.
For Gaming and Viewport performance and even a few production workloads, Intel remained the better choice due to snappier single-core performance.
AMD Ryzen vs Intel in 2021
AMD’s effort to improve IPC finally allowed Ryzen processors to overtake Intel Core CPUs when it comes to snappiness within a viewport. In our review of Ryzen 5000 parts, we noticed a substantial improvement in fluidity – surpassing Intel easily. However, Intel swooped right back in and took back the crown with its 11th Generation CPUs in 2021. But it looks like they weren’t done. With the 12th Generation Alder Lake CPUs, Intel has widened that lead even more!
That said, when it comes to balancing core counts, single-core performance, and power draw, AMD does have the edge (when using stock; more details in the power consumption section below).
Benchmarks: Intel vs AMD Ryzen
We build PCs for a myriad of workstation and general productivity tasks. So, I’ve compiled a range of benchmarks that should help you make an informed choice.
I’ll cover video editing, media encoding, viewport performance, rendering, and much more in the charts below – followed by CPU recommendations for those tasks.
AMD Ryzen vs. Intel Core CPUs: Viewport Performance
Due to a lack of review samples, Intel didn’t send us an Alder Lake CPU to test out Viewport performance this time around. However, we posted a thread on /r/Intel to ask for help, and they came through!
Users tested with our Viewport benchmark using Intel’s Core i9 12900K and Core i7 12700K, getting scores that ranged from 1660 to 1720.
Please note that the score of 1660~ was on an Intel Core i9 12900K with MCE (Multi-core Enhancement) enabled. Since viewport tasks are generally very single-threaded, and enabling MCE sacrifices just a bit of single-core performance, it affects viewport performance. As a rough estimate (accounting for what users reported), the viewport score for Alder Lake Core i9 and Core i7 (without MCE, which is what we recommend for workstation use) should sit somewhere between 1690-1720.
Let’s see how these numbers compare to older Intel and AMD CPUs, shall we?
That’s a significant uptick. No doubt about it. Red’s falling way behind Intel in this particular workstation task. The best viewport score that AMD offers is just 1382 vs. Intel’s 1700~ in late 2021.
Please do keep in mind that this doesn’t suddenly make the 10th Generation Intel or Ryzen 5000/3000 parts terrible. There’s no reason to rush out and grab an upgrade right now if you don’t see any stutters in the scenes you usually work with. However, the better platform extensibility, PCIe 5.0 support, additional M.2 slots, and so on do make the 12th Generation Intel offerings a very compelling upgrade for anyone on 9th Gen Intel CPUs. For those on early Ryzen CPUs (1000/2000/3000) with a 400-series+ motherboard, a swap out upgrade to Ryzen 5000 is still the best value option to gain performance without investing too much.
That said, the lack of ANY budget Ryzen 5000 part is disappointing; there’s still no reasonable AMD offering for shoppers in the ~$250 price segment. The 11600K, and now 12600K both outperform the Ryzen 5 3600 by a significant margin while being priced only marginally (~$40) higher.
You can find the full list of Viewport benchmarks here.
AMD Ryzen vs. Intel Core: Cinebench R23
When it comes to multi-threaded performance, Intel couldn’t match the number of cores that AMD offered. As you’ll see, cores do matter for workloads that involve physics simulations and fluid dynamics.
If you don’t need access to HEDT features like quad-channel memory, more PCI-E lanes, and so on, I still recommend going after a Ryzen 9 5950X.
With the launch of its 12th Generation CPUs, Intel has managed to claw its way back into the leaderboards of multi-threaded workloads again. However, this comes at the cost of substantially-higher power draw (compared to Ryzen), which is the only reason why an Intel for multi-threaded work still isn’t our recommendation.
You can find the full table here.
AMD Ryzen vs. Intel for Video Editing and Encoding
Intel’s single and multi-thread gains do carry over to video editing in a big way. If you want the very best Adobe Premiere Pro workstation, bar none, you just have to include a Core i9 12900K along with DDR5 memory.
With the Ryzen 9 5950X now only managing to marginally outpace an Intel Core i5 12600K, the choice for even mid-range workstations remains Intel.
On DaVinci Resolve, Intel’s Core i9 12900K does win but the margin isn’t as drastic as it is on Premiere Pro. Since the choice of memory plays a significant role here, make sure you’re going with DDR5 when building an Intel system. If that’s a pricey proposition, I’d recommend an Intel Core i7 12700K with DDR4 memory as a nice higher-end workstation that doesn’t compromise on too much.
While AMD’s Ryzen 5000 processors could easily destroy even the best from Intel’s 11th Generation lineup in video encoding, things have changed with Alder Lake. Here’s a video encoding benchmark (1080p30 H264 to 720p YT) from Anandtech that shows exactly how far Intel has stretched its lead with 12th Generation CPUs when paired with DDR5 memory.
It’s hard to recommend AMD for workstation systems that want to handle video editing workloads because Intel counterparts (at lower price points) are just so much better. Yes, the Z690 platform is costlier, but I presume this will be easily fixed if/when the mainstream B660 platform releases sometime next year.
AMD Ryzen vs. Intel for Adobe Photoshop and After Effects
AMD’s lead in the Adobe suite is done after over a year of domination. The Ryzen 9 5950X is now only able to go up against an Intel Core i7 12700K, while a Core i9 12900K with DDR5 beats the Ryzen lineup convincingly.
It’s hard to recommend AMD for workstation systems that want to handle the Adobe suite because Intel counterparts (at lower price points) are just so much better. Take the Core i5 12600K, for example. It can edge out the pricier Ryzen 7 5800X quite convincingly.
Yes, the Z690 platform is costlier, but I presume this will easily be fixed if/when the mainstream B660 platform releases sometime next year.
AMD Ryzen vs. Intel for Microsoft Office (Excel and Word)
AMD’s lead in Microsoft Office tasks is no more with Intel’s 12th Generation CPUs. If you’re building a workstation that needs to handle relatively complex Office tasks in Word and Excel, you’d be better off with an ‘Alder Lake’ Inside™. Here, using the Core i9 12900K gave only a negligible boost to performance, so the best options would be an Intel Core i7 12700K / Core i5 12600K.
Thanks to the fact that AMD has almost no competitive products in the sub-$200 price range in late 2021, the best value option is easily an Intel Core i5 11400F, while a Core i5 10100 at a mere $89 remains the best budget option.
AMD Ryzen vs Intel for CPU & GPU Rendering
For CPU-focused renders using V-Ray, AMD’s Threadripper 3000-series processors still do reign supreme. Intel’s 12th Generation Processors aren’t great options if you want to do core-heavy work like CPU rendering that leverages multiple cores effectively.
Although CPU-only rendering tests are meaningless for some render engines like Blender’s Cycles, which can render in GPU+CPU hybrid mode, you can still get a bit of an idea about what performance you can expect from your processor. It’s best to invest in at least a mid-range graphics card for the best experience.
Although Intel’s architectural changes do help catch up with AMD on the core-heavy workloads, the power draw is just too high. On the flip side, the lack of any competitive budget Ryzen offering leaves the sub-$200 price segment wide open. The only choice here would be an Intel Core i5 11400F.
AMD offers the best when it comes to CPU rendering performance. I see absolutely no reason to go with any Intel offering for any kind of CPU render-focused workstation like a render node. It’s not just that AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X is better than Intel’s best in performance, the power draw when using Intel 12th Gen for all-core workloads is pretty nasty.
If you’re itching for a Threadripper build right now, you can choose to wait. The Threadripper 5000 parts are bound to be amazing (if/when they release). However, availability might still be an issue and you might be left waiting for months, so do keep that in mind.
We’ve also done some testing for X-particles to find the best CPU for that particular workload. You can go over the benchmarks here. Long story short, if your primary workload will deal with any kind of fluid simulation, close your eyes and get the highest core count possible, or basically, get an AMD Ryzen 5000 part.
Didn’t find a benchmark you need? Leave me a comment below, and I’ll see what I can do!
AMD Ryzen vs. Intel: Price and Platforms
When building a workstation, it’s essential to factor in price, platform support, and upgradability.
Upgradability of Ryzen vs. Intel: Is Ryzen More ‘Future Proof’?
Late 2021 Update: The platform longevity factor no longer applies as AMD only promised AM4 support through 2020. They are now free to abandon the socket and go to a new platform for their next release.
On the other hand, Intel’s Z690 platform should support 12th Generation Intel processors. All indications are, Intel is pushing for an IPC uplift to take back the gaming crown while sacrificing 2 cores at the top end of their product stack.
Pricing on the Intel side is much higher, especially if you want to go for top-tier performance with DDR5 memory. Now that Intel unlocked memory overclocking on their B-series chipsets as well, the release of B660 should somewhat alleviate this pricing disparity. The Z690 motherboards launching this year and early next year come equipped with new-gen technologies and standards so if you’re looking for a ‘future-proof’ upgrade in late 2021 or early 2022, Intel’s a good choice.
That said, I’m a strong proponent of buying precisely what you need to use today. Not tomorrow. So, pick based on your preferences, features, and of course, looks.
AMD Ryzen vs. Intel: Addressing Power Consumption
If you take a look at power consumption numbers on popular websites and YT channels, you’ll probably see graphs that look somewhat like this one –
A Ryzen 9 5950X is consuming merely ~180W, while a stock 12900K wants 300W!?
Well, the problem is that we’re so used to assuming that a stock CPU is tuned well by the manufacturer that (understandably) almost no one bothered with any further investigation.
User Geldmann3 over on the 3DCenter Forum found something interesting.
Here’s a table that encapsulates a few interesting data points from there:
|Power Limit (Core i9 12900K)||CPU-Z (Multi-threaded)||Performance Percentage||CPU Temperature (°C)|
|Ryzen 9 5950X @ ~200W||11856||~101%||- (Data not comparable)|
If Intel had released the Core i9 12900K at, say, the 200W power levels, it would lose a mere 5% of multi-core performance while not affecting single-core performance at all. What’s more, the temps would only touch 88°C.
News flash – that’s still a great CPU when priced right, Intel!
However, in a strange attempt to reclaim the top spot from a Ryzen 9 5950X in benchmarks like Cinebench, they’ve managed to shift the narrative to: “Intel runs hot and loud!”
So, what does this mean for workstation users? Well, it’s complicated.
We generally recommend anything based on its stock, out-of-the-box performance. But Intel has released a product that’s compelling enough for a section of workstation users that we can’t just ignore it.
So, here’s our recommendation.
- If you see the Core i9 12900K recommended in any of the workloads above, go for it. It’ll do well for you without guzzling a ton of power.
- If you drive workloads where the Core i9 12900K is recommended, in addition to core-heavy tasks like CPU rendering, grab one only if you’re:
- okay with the higher power draw that invariably accompanies a stock 12900K in those CPU rendering tasks or fluid simulation tasks
- up for tinkering in the BIOS to set power limits at reasonable levels and tune your processor.
What Should You Buy in 2021? Intel or AMD Ryzen
“Unless you’re working with Adobe Premiere Pro, Ryzen is the clear winner for a workstation PC in 2019. Even with Adobe Premiere Pro, I expect Ryzen to close the gap with the Ryzen 9 3950X – due for release next month (September 2019). Of course, Intel might still be better for some niche use-cases.
Please do consult benchmark charts pertinent to your workloads before reaching a decision. AMD is in the lead for most workstation tasks and has caught up in areas where it was lagging earlier. What’s more, if you build a PC on the AM4 platform, you could upgrade to the 16-core Ryzen processor releasing soon and also, to the Zen 3 CPUs that’ll release sometime next year (2020), without changing your motherboard!”
– This is what I said around two years ago.
At the start of 2021, I went with –
“there are no ‘buts.’ AMD’s Ryzen 5000 processors completely obliterate Intel offerings in the high-performance segment, making Intel very hard to recommend.
However, at the very lower end of the product stack and viewport performance, Intel is very competitive indeed. The Intel Core i5 11600K, Intel Core i5 10400F, and Intel Core i3 10100 are amazing options for those on a relatively tighter budget. Although the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 remains a good choice, it’s now priced much higher than before- making the cheaper Core i5 10400F look like a way better deal.”
In late 2021, things look a bit different with Intel’s 12th Gen lineup on shelves.
A stock Intel Core i9 12900K doesn’t deserve a second look if you’re building a workstation that’s going to handle core-heavy work like CPU rendering. It’s just not worth trying to manage that much heat and power draw.
However, as you’ve seen from the numbers above, even the Core i9 12900K is a compelling upgrade for quite a few workstation tasks, including video editing, motion graphics, and animation.