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AMD Processors vs Intel Processors: The Showdown

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 12/23/2010

AMD vs Intel. This is a tech battle that has been going on for a decade and a half, and it's a battle that is constantly shifting and changing. There are loyalists on both sides, but this article provides an unbiased view of which is best.

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    AMD Processors vs Intel Processors: Netbooks and Ultraportables

    AMD Processors vs Intel Processors in Laptops Let's begin the battle of AMD processors vs Intel processors with the smallest contenders - netbooks and ultraportables, otherwise defined as systems with a display size between 10 and 13.3 inches.

    This category has experienced serious competition. Intel once had a clear lead thanks to the combination of Intel and CULV Core 2 Duo processors. Lately, however, AMD has been catching up. The new Nile platform is extremely good, and the nearly-released AMD Fusion options should, according to early benchmarks, be even better.

    At this point, the options in this field are split depending on what you want. I think AMD offers the best balance of battery life, processor performance and graphics performance, which is best illustrated by the Toshiba T235. Both Intel and AMD versions of this laptop are offered, and while the Intel version provides better battery life, the AMD version is significantly quicker in media benchmarks (and still manages 6 hours away from a power socket). This is a trade-off that is beneficial for most buyers.

    With that said, Intel rules when it comes to high-end ultraportable processors. AMD doesn't even offer a low-voltage processor suitable for laptops above $600, which is why products like the Apple MacBook, Sony Vaio Z and Toshiba Protege are all Intel-only.

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    AMD Processors vs Intel Processors: Laptops

    As with ultraportables, both AMD and Intel offer processors suitable for mainstream laptops with display sizes between 14 and 18 inches. In this AMD processor vs Intel processor battle, however, Intel clearly wins at every turn.

    The problem is that AMD doesn't have a suitable high-end, or even mid-range, laptop processor architecture. The AMD Turion and Athlon processors found in mainstream laptops are just modifications on the desktop processor architecture that AMD has been using for years. They're scaled in performance in order to fit within the power limits of a laptop, but remain unable to provide decent battery life.

    Intel's Core i3, i5 and i7 processors are better in every way. The Core i3 and i5 processors provide far better battery life (in certain laptops) and are significantly quicker than what AMD has to offer. In the SiSoft Sandra processor arithmetic benchmark, for example, I've found that Core i3 powered laptops are almost twice as quick as similarly clocked AMD Turion II laptops. The mobile Core i7, battery hog though it may be, is in a class of its own.

    That's not to say you should never buy an AMD product. There are some very inexpensive AMD laptops available, and the performance is adequate. AMD processors are also often paired with discrete Radeon mobile graphics, which is great for gaming. Just remember that an Intel laptop will be noticeably quicker in certain tasks, such as encoding video or editing photos.

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    AMD Processors vs Intel Processors: Desktops

    Intel Processors vs AMD Processors The battle between AMD processors and Intel processors in desktop computers comes down to one factor: price.

    There is no question that, for the time being, Intel offers quicker processors. AMD won't have desktop processors utilizing its new architecture available until mid-2011, and it's doubtful that AMD will catch up to Intel even then. Intel offers a number of high-end quad core processors in the $200 and $500 price range that dominate the fastest quads from AMD. In addition to this, Intel offers high-end six-core processors that blow away everything else on the market, although they're priced around $1000.

    AMD, on the other hand, offers the least expensive quad-core processors on the market and also offers a wide range of Black Edition quad-cores between $140 and $190. These processors have clock speeds over 3 GHz and are also shipped with unlocked processor multipliers, which makes them simple to overclock.

    The question, then, is budget. If you can spend at least $200 for a processor (the typical price of the Intel Core i5 750, Intel's least expensive modern quad-core) you should likely go with Intel. Budget buyers, on the other hand, will find AMD a better choice.

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    Conclusion

    Intel clearly wins in most performance battles. On the other hand, AMD offers some compelling products from a budget perspective. The choice between these two companies often comes down to price. There is no denying the amazing performance available from some Intel products, but AMD can be the better option if you're looking for a bargain.