Intel versus AMD for me (in 2018)

June 2, 2018

I don't particularly like Intel for all sorts of reasons (eg), and as a result I want to like AMD (who I think have been very good for x86 in general when they've been competitive). I'm now in the unusual position (for me) of having essentially comparable machines built with a top end CPU from each; my work machine with a Ryzen 1800X, and my home machine with an i7-8700K. This has given me about the best Intel versus AMD comparison for what I want that I could ask for, and unfortunately it's not close.

For everything I care about, my Intel machine pretty much smokes my AMD machine. It has lower practical power consumption, it appears to run cooler (although CPU power usage is unpredictable and variable between CPUs), it's widely recognized as having faster single-CPU performance, and my Intel machine even builds Firefox from source significantly faster than my AMD machine does despite the AMD machine's more CPUs. There are undoubtedly highly parallel tasks that my AMD machine would perform better on than my Intel does, but they're irrelevant to me because I don't do them (at least so far).

(It's possible that RAM speed is one factor in the difference in Firefox build times, but this is a practical comparison. I can get faster non-ECC RAM for the Intel machine than we could get ECC RAM for the AMD machine, and Ryzens have complicated memory speed issues.)

The next issue, of course, is that my Intel machine is quite stable and my Ryzen machine (still) requires magic. My Ryzen does appear to now be stable with its magic, but I'm doing peculiar things to get there that likely have their own side effects and I'm never entirely sure that my Ryzen is completely trustworthy. One of my co-workers has a Ryzen Pro based machine (with the same motherboard and so on), and it hangs in the same way. Perhaps the new 2xxx Ryzens don't have this problem, but who knows, and as far as I'm concerned the mere fact that mysterious problems exist (and haven't been acknowledged by AMD) is a black mark against all Ryzens in practice. They're just not CPUs that I can trust at this point.

In summary, I'm very happy that I wound up choosing Intel for the machine that I spent my own money on. I'm still not particularly happy about my work AMD machine, and I'd be even less happy if I'd spent my own money on it. My office AMD machine works and it's okay, but the Intel one is clearly better, makes me happier, and I trust it significantly more.

(I'm also glad that I talked myself into going all the way up to an Intel i7 8700K, but that involves some extra hand waving that I'm not going to do in this entry.)

In terms of cost, I believe that my Intel machine was cheaper in practice for me. This is not an apples to apples comparison since my AMD machine's Radeon RX 550 is clearly a better GPU than the onboard Intel graphics, but again it's a practical one. With the Intel machine I could completely rely on the motherboard, while the AMD machine required an extra and not entirely cheap component for my usage case (which is one where I still won't use nVidia cards because of lacking open source support).

Written on 02 June 2018.
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Last modified: Sat Jun 2 00:17:09 2018
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