With the launch of Ryzen 5000 CPUs (5950X, 5900X, 5800X, and 5600X), AMD surpassed even Intel’s most premium offerings last year. But Intel has responded with 11th Generation CPUs, but not to much effect.
AMD’s CPUs seem to flat out beat their direct competition in every task imaginable except viewport performance. Once again Intel’s in the lead when it comes to active workstation tasks and smoothness within a viewport.
I felt it was prudent to look at both the products these companies offer today and assess which is the best choice for a PC build this year.
Let’s answer the hotly debated question – Intel or AMD Ryzen Processors in 2021?
Intel vs. Ryzen: Recommendations for 2021 (May 2021)
Although availability for GPUs is still terrible in May 2021, CPUs seem to be in stock in most regions now. However, AMD still hasn’t launched any processor in the sub-$200 segment for 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||AMD Threadripper 3970X||AMD Ryzen 9 5900X||Intel Core i5 10600K|
|Viewport Performance||Intel Core i9 11900K||Intel Core i5 11600K||AMD Ryzen 5 3600|
|(CPU) Rendering||AMD Threadripper 3970X||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X||Intel Core i5 10400F|
|General Productivity||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X||Intel Core i5 11600K||Intel Core i3 10100|
Please avoid paying too much over the MSRP for these products. Do check out detailed reviews of Intel’s 10th Generation Core Processors, AMD’s Ryzen 5000 Series CPUs, AMD’s Threadripper 3000 parts, and Intel’s HEDT lineup.
With Intel’s launch of 11th Generation processors, it has somehow managed to claw back the viewport performance lead it once held over Ryzen. The margin is slim, but it’s there. That said, the abysmal core count of even the highest-end part from Intel’s 11000 series means that we can’t in good conscience recommend it for a workload that involves any CPU-heavy work. Fluid dynamics and particles testing exposed the weakness of the Core i9 11900K with AMD’s processors offering much better performance.
But if you’re building a workstation that you’ll primarily use to do active viewport work, the Core i5 processors from Intel’s 11th Generation lineup offer incredible value. What’s more, now that the Intel platform also supports PCI-E 4.0, you’re not losing any major features except the ability to upgrade to a higher core count CPU in the future (if you ever need to).
A Quick History Recap: AMD vs. Intel
If you’re curious about how we came to these conclusions, read on! But first, some 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, 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 disaster 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 their 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. However, Intel swooped right back in and took back the crown with its 11th Generation CPUs this year.
Benchmarks: Intel vs AMD Ryzen
We build PCs for all sorts of purposes. So, I’ve compiled a range of benchmarks that should help most people 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
The top spots are again all blue with the 11th Generation CPUs from Intel snatching back the crown from AMD – great news for professionals who are always on the lookout for better viewport performance. From a usability standpoint, there isn’t too much difference between Ryzen 5000 and 11th Generation Intel, but it’s still noticeable in scenes with complex symmetry. The lack of cores is still a huge bummer. You will HAVE to choose between the best viewport performance and multi-core CPU performance once again. Sigh.
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. It won’t be worth it purely from a viewport performance standpoint.
That said, the shortage and demand for Ryzen processors remain high and if you’re having trouble finding anything below $200, going Intel is the best option for now. Also, the lack of ANY budget Ryzen 5000 part is disappointing and for shoppers in the ~$250 price segment, there’s no reasonable AMD option. The 11600K outperforms the Ryzen 3600 series by a significant margin while being priced only $30-40 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’s just no match for the number of cores that AMD offers. 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.
Even with an aggressive overclock, Intel is unable to keep up with AMD’s newest processors.
That said, we’re focused on stability over all else for professional workloads and don’t recommend overclocking in general.
You can find the full table here.
AMD Ryzen vs. Intel for Video Editing and Encoding
Unfortunately, Intel’s gains in the viewport department don’t carry forward to Premiere Pro performance. Even Intel’s highest-end part is convincingly trounced by AMD’s 5000 series offerings, with even its own 10th Generation 10-core 10900K edging it out.
The new AMD processors are clearly better than their Intel counterparts, with the 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X pretty much destroying Intel’s top-tier offerings with ease. However, Intel’s 11900K does manage to outperform both the Ryzen 7 5800X and the Core i9 10900K in encoding performance (1080p30 H264 to 720p YT).
Intel previously held the lead in several video encoding tasks. Now, except for QuickSync accelerated tasks, AMD Ryzen 5000 parts have a firm lead over Intel.
AMD Ryzen vs. Intel for Microsoft Office 2019 (Excel and Word)
AMD’s Ryzen 5000 CPUs continue to obliterate Intel in Office tasks. In both Word and Excel, the Ryzen parts are just much faster than Intel’s 11th Generation processors. That said, the new generation of Intel processors (11th Gen) does outperform its 10th Generation CPU lineup convincingly.
Thanks to insane stock issues, AMD doesn’t have too many competing products at the $100 price range. The 4-core, 8-thread Intel Core i3 10100 is still an excellent choice for a PC that needs to handle office tasks well. If you can stretch your budget, I would definitely recommend jumping up to an AMD Ryzen 5 3600 / Intel Core i5 11400F.
AMD Ryzen vs Intel for CPU & GPU Rendering
For CPU-focused renders using V-ray NEXT, AMD’s Threadripper 3000-series processors still do reign supreme. The 11th Generation Intel parts don’t offer too much in this kind of workload and if you’re building a workstation for CPU rendering purposes, I’d run far away from Intel CPUs for now. Higher power draw and lower performance at a similar price…not ideal.
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.
Unfortunately, the lack of cores on Intel’s 11th Generation CPUs again leaves it lagging behind AMD’s Ryzen 5000 parts. 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 10440F.
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.
If you’re itching for a Threadripper build right now, you can choose to wait. The Threadripper 5000 parts are bound to be amazing. However, availability might still be an issue, 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’?
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.
Although Intel’s Z490 platform will support the incoming 11th Generation Intel processors, the product itself doesn’t seem to be exciting for professional use. 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 both platforms is similar. If you’re going with an Intel processor, do grab a Z490 motherboard so you can overclock your DDR4 memory. For AMD Ryzen, a B550 or X570 motherboard will do the trick. Pick based on your preferences, features, and of course, looks.
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.
In 2021, 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.
So, what PC are you building? Leave a comment below if you need help with your build!