A few years ago, the answer to the question, “Should you buy an Intel or AMD laptop?” was simple. Intel was the only game in town, with AMD laptops being few and far between due to a lack of competitive chips. With the advent of AMD’s Zen 2 architecture in May 2019, all of this changed, and AMD’s mobile CPUs were suddenly serious contenders.
AMD’s latest generation of processors is based on its Zen 3 architecture, and they’re serious competitors with Intel’s best Core CPUs. In fact, AMD laptops are faster than their Intel counterparts in several tasks, particularly those that are particularly processor-intensive such as video encoding.
So, the question “Should you buy an Intel or AMD laptop?” is suddenly highly relevant. Without digging too much into the boring technical details, we’ll try to give you the information you need to make an informed choice.
Let’s start with one option, specifically CPUs intended for thin and light laptops. That means comparing the AMD Ryzen 7 5800U to the popular Intel Core i7-1165G7.
The Ryzen 7 5800U is an 8-core/16-thread CPU running at a base clock of 1.9GHz with a maximum boost clock of up to 4.4GHz. It incorporates 4MB of L2 cache and 16MB of L3 cache. The default thermal design power (TDP) is 15 watts, with a configurable TDP of 10 to 25 watts. The Ryzen 7 5800U is based on AMD’s Zen 3 architecture and is manufactured using a 7nm process.
That’s a lot of technical data, and we won’t go into the details here of what each number means. Rather, let’s compare these numbers to the closest Intel competitor, the Core i7-1165G7. That’s a 4-core/8-thread CPU with a base clock of 1.2GHz and a maximum turbo frequency of 4.7GHz. It uses 12MB of Intel Smart Cache, and its TDP can be configured from 12 to 28 watts. The Core i7-1165G7 is based on Intel’s Tiger Lake architecture and is manufactured using a 10nm process.
In short, the Ryzen 7 5800U has double the core count of the Core i7-1165G7. It runs at close to the same speeds and has more cache to speed up instructions. It runs at a lower TDP of 15 watts versus the typical 28 watts configured for the Core i7-1165G7. While instructions per cycle (IPC) still favors Intel, Zen 3 increased IPC over Zen 2 by 19%, closing the gap with Intel.
In practice, a survey of benchmarks demonstrates that the Core i7-1165G7 is generally moderately faster at single-core operations. Thanks to its extra core counts, the Ryzen 7 5800U is much faster at multi-core operations. Which is best for your needs, then, depends on what kind of tasks you run.
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In simple productivity work like web browsing, Office applications, email, and the like, you won’t notice much difference between the two processors. If you’re a heavy multitasker, though, then an AMD laptop will better keep up with your workflow. If you’re running CPU-intensive tasks that can take advantage of multiple cores, though, such as encoding video and processing complex images, then the Ryzen 7 5800U will be significantly faster than the Core i7-1165G7.
Both chips include integrated graphics. The Core i7-1165G7 offers Intel’s Iris Xe, significantly faster than previous generations of Intel’s integrated graphics. At the same time, the Ryzen 7 5800U builds in Radeon graphics that are also faster than previous generations. Again, a survey of benchmarks demonstrates that Iris Xe is faster than Radeon graphics, but that’s not saying much. Neither is fast enough for anything but older gaming titles or modern games running at low resolutions and graphical detail. You won’t want to choose between the two based on gaming performance.
We’ve only covered one set of comparison chips here when both Intel and AMD have slower chips that demonstrate roughly the same differential in performance. We don’t want to bog down too much in technicalities, so suffice it to say that you’ll want to compare the Ryzen 3 5300U to Intel’s Core i3-1115G4 and the Ryzen 5 5600U to the Core i5-1135G7. There are other combinations to look at, but that’s enough to get you started.
We also haven’t talked about Intel’s H-series CPUs, which are 45-watt TDP processors that provide significantly faster performance. You’ll find them in larger, thicker, and heavier laptops, and they provide much more comparable performance to AMD’s Ryzen line. You’ll want to step up to the Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU to compete with Intel’s 11th-gen H-series chips, and you’ll find the performance decision much more difficult to make.
Perhaps the best performance combination is an AMD Ryzen processor and a discrete GPU. That combination will provide the best CPU performance to go with improved graphics performance, including significantly better performance in applications like Adobe’s creative suite that can use the GPU to speed up certain intensive processes.
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CPU performance is just one thing to consider when choosing between an Intel and AMD laptop. You’ll also want to consider any special features supported by each chip when making your decision.
Perhaps the biggest consideration is support for Intel’s Thunderbolt 4 connection. This port uses the USB-C physical connection and enables much higher speeds than USB-C alone (40Gbps versus 10Gbps), connects to external displays via HDMI and Displayport without needing any adapters, and can drive external graphics enclosures for much more powerful gaming. If you want the most flexibility in performance and connectivity, you’ll want Thunderbolt 4, an Intel specification and not supported with AMD chipsets.
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AMD’s current Ryzen CPUs are also generally more power-efficient than Intel chips. That means it’s possible to get better battery life from AMD laptops, although that’s complicated by many other factors. Between two identically configured laptops — same display, same battery capacity, etc. — but with equivalent AMD and Intel CPUs, the AMD laptop is likely to last longer on a charge.
Of course, AMD isn’t in nearly as many laptops as Intel, which means that you’ll find many more Intel options available to you. You’ll find more varied designs and configuration options if you stick to Intel. It’s entirely possible that the perfect thin and light laptop with an OLED display and an RTX 3060, for example, is only available with an Intel CPU. In that case, your decision is made for you. As more AMD laptops are released, though, your choices are expanded and the chance of finding the perfect AMD laptop increases.
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Some excellent AMD laptops are available that are faster than Intel’s equivalents and provide better battery life. If you don’t care about Thunderbolt 4 support and need the fastest multi-core performance you’ll find in a laptop today, then an AMD laptop should be on your shortlist.
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