Intel Core vs. AMD Ryzen: Which offers the best bang for buck

Does AMD's new Ryzen 3000 alter the best bang for the bang landscape?

AMD 3rd Gen Ryzen chip
Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

If you’re asking yourself whether AMD’s Ryzen or Intel’s Core offers the best bang for the buck right now, we understand. AMD’s freshly unveiled 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X has nerds from Topeka to Kuala Lumpur wanting to know if the CPU landscape has again been redrawn with AMD’s new CPUs.

Unfortunately, although we know how many cores, what clock speed, and even what’s under the hood of AMD’s new Ryzen 3000 chips, we don’t have independent confirmation of how fast these chips are just yet. We expect that by the time they go on sale on July 7.

But in the spirit of the meaningless sports statistics you’re fed before every NBA Finals or Superbowl, we’ve gone to the spreadsheet to analyze which CPU and which company appears to have the best bang for the buck.

We looked at three metrics which we know generally drive CPU performance: core and thread count (or how many CPU cores you have), and good old megahertz. You might have been told years ago that megahertz doesn’t matter anymore, but they were lying, because it does. The other pillar to determine value is, of course, how much it costs.

amd ryzen 1 AMD

How much value does AMD’s new Ryzen 3000-series offer? This much.

AMD or Intel: Best multi-threaded value

To assess multi-threaded value, we took AMD’s existing lineup of Ryzen mainstream chips (plus a couple of Threadrippers for reference) and compared them to AMD’s new Ryzen chips, along with Intel’s current stable of CPUs.

For pricing we used the MSRP for the new Ryzen 3000 CPUs. We used street pricing on either Newegg.com or Amazon.com to set our prices for the Ryzen 2000, Threadripper, and Core and Xeon CPUs.

Amazingly, if you put a line horizontally across our Cost per Thread chart and told AMD CPUs to step to the value side and told the Intel CPUs to step to not-as-good-a-value side, you’d get the results below.

ryzen cost per thread IDG

AMD continues to dominate in the cost-per-thread contest.

No surprise: AMD’s multi-threaded value isn’t just good, it’s insanely good. The amount of value AMD offers on a buck per thread is so good, the company should have a few wacky waving inflatable tube men in front of AMD headquarters declaring, “ALL THREADS MUST GO!”

The best multi-core deals are AMD’s older Ryzen 2000-gen parts, with the 6-core Ryzen 5 2600 winning overall best deal for the cores. We’d argue, however, that the power-efficient Ryzen 7 2700 might be even better, because you get 8 cores and 16 threads of performance from the chip for just a little more dough.

AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600 is another contender. With its combination of power efficiency and greater computing efficiency, it offers better overall bang for buck compared to Ryzen 2000 chips.

As we move up higher in AMD’s new Ryzen 3000 lineup, we can see a large bump in price per core, with the 6-core Ryzen 5 3600X, 8-core Ryzen 7 3700X, and 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X all costing about $21 per thread. Interestingly, the new 16-core Ryzen 9 2950X costs only $23 per thread, which is slightly better than the chip with the worst multi-core value of the family: the 8-core Ryzen 9 3800X, at $25 per thread. The Ryzen 9 3800X’s value per thread is basically the same as that of a 32-core Threadripper 2990WX.

Unlike AMD, Intel doesn’t seem to care to lower its value per thread. The closest Intel CPU is an 8-core Core i9-9900 for $27 per thread. It’s a low-wattage 65-watt chip, though, so it gives up ground in clock speed performance.

Much of Intel’s lack of value comes from the fact that the company doesn’t offer Hyper-Threading on many of its mid-range 6-core chips. Without performance-boosting Hyper-Threading, the 6-core Core i7-9700K cost is pushed up to a painful price of $51 per thread. That’s more than Intel charges per thread for a $1,200 Core i9-9920X CPU. Ouch.

Obviously the big question is whether you need so many cores. If you edit video, do many, many CPU-intensive things at once, or render 3D, then yes, it’s worth it. If you don’t, however, the “value” you’re getting for these AMD CPUs might not be quite there. Of course, the smart thing to do instead of paying for a $500 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X would be to opt for a lower-cost Ryzen chip.

The basic upshot is that AMD continues run the entire field in multi-core value over Intel chips. And if you need that multi-core performance, that means AMD is going to offer you way more bang for the buck over Intel right now.

Does it mean it’s faster? No, we can’t determine that until we actually test AMD’s newest chips. Based on previous AMD Ryzen 2000 chips, however, and the sheer price and thread advantage, we’re pretty comfortable saying AMD wins this hands-down.

AMD vs. Intel: Best megahertz bang for the buck

As we said, paying for a big, hairy multi-core chip is pointless unless you actually use that chip to its fullest extent.

For most people who play games, run some browser windows, or engage in mainstream productivity tasks, a CPU’s clock speed may be more valuable in determining CPU value and performance. The sticky part with that equation is that each CPU’s clock will vary determined on load and cooling. Unlike our previous multi-threaded-per-buck chart, which we have fairly high confidence will come close to reality for heavily-threaded tasks, this is a lot looser.

Still, it’s interesting to see which of the CPUs gives you the best bang for the megahertz. To do that, we use each CPU’s stated Turbo Boost or Boost clock speed. We opted not to include AMD’s Precision Boost score, because that’s highly dependent on conditions, and instead stuck with the company’s stated top boost clock.

ryzen cost per clock IDG

Does AMD or Intel offer more value per clock? To find out, we calculated the street price vs. the boost clock of the CPUs to find out which chip gives you the best dollar per boast megahertz.

If you look closely at cents per megahertz, you finally see Intel’s chips at least come into contention. The winners again, however, are AMD, specifically the older Ryzen 6 2600 and 2600X parts.

We’d like to point out that if you look at the third-best value per clock, it highlights an overall weakness with trying to judge the chips on megahertz alone. The Ryzen 5 3600 is a low-wattage part, but it’s actually rated to hit the same 4.2GHz as the higher-wattage Ryzen 5 2600X. With just a $20 difference to get AMD’s leading-edge 7nm process vs. the Ryzen 5 2600X, we’d probably go with the newer Ryzen 5 3600 instead.

With this metric you also have to think really hard about how you use your computer. Intel’s CPUs still offer decent clock rates at OK prices, but you do give up Hyper-Threading. For tasks that need more threads, such as 3D rendering or video encoding, that’s real performance likely lost. Based purely on clock speeds, Intel still has a compelling argument for why you might want to buy one. But AMD has its own compelling message for why you might want to skip Intel this time.

AMD takes the prize for megahertz value as well, but remember that’s based on the older CPUs. Once you get to AMD’s brand-new Ryzen 3000 chips, the megahertz/buck race is closer than we expected. Frankly, we’d say it’s a tie if you’re looking only at Core vs. Ryzen 3000. 

The intangibles

This exercise is fun and gives us a general feel for where the chips might fall, but it does miss a lot of intangibles. When you consider bang for buck you have to count everything. AMD’s had the advantage of including decent coolers with popular features such as RGB. Intel’s stock fans typically aren’t included on any higher-end parts, and if you do buy one with a fan, the fan is about as vanilla as you can get.

ryzen 9 3900x cpu die Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The other part of the equation to consider is the cost of the motherboard that the CPU goes into. AMD has had a small cost advantage over Intel-based motherboards, but that seems to be going away with the new Ryzen 3000 chips due to the pricier x570 motherboards. Those motherboards also offer PCIe 4.0 support, which can’t be had on Intel CPUs.

For its part, Intel continues to have a very healthy lead in applications that do video encoding or decoding on the integrated graphics. Called QuickSync, Intel’s dedicated hardware inside its GPUs have finally become a feature to be reckoned with. But Intel’s newest “KF” CPUs have the IGP turned off, so yeah, there goes that advantage.

It’s best to wait for independent testing before making any buying decisions. Overall, however, it’s clear AMD still leads the way on multi-threaded value. The competition gets a lot closer when you look only at single-threaded value.

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