A history of Intel vs. AMD desktop performance, with CPU charts galore | GeekComparison

A tortoise and a hare are on a racetrack.
Enlarge / Spoiler: When it comes to performance over the years, Intel is the slow and steady turtle to AMD’s fast but intermittent hare.

The commentary wars between Intel and AMD fans have been hot over the last few release cycles, with a lot of digital ink spilled over which company has or has not significantly improved over the years. There’s also no shortage of opinions on the current raw performance of each company’s fastest processors. We thought it would be interesting to dive into archived performance benchmarks of the fastest desktop/enthusiast CPUs for each company to get a good overview of how each company has really fared over the years – and maybe even to see if there are any patterns to discover or to place some bets on the future.

Before we dive into the charts, let’s start with some tables so you can see what CPUs we’re using as milestones for each year. While we’re at it, there are a few anomalies in the data; we’ll go over those too and talk about the things that a simple map won’t show you.

Twenty years of fanatic computer use

Year Intel model AMD model Notes
2001 Pentium 4 2.0GHz (1c/1t) Athlon XP 1900+ (1c/1t)
2002 Pentium 4 2.8GHz (1c/2t) Athlon XP 2800+ (1c/1t) Intel introduces hyperthreading
2003 Pentium 4 Extreme 3.2GHz (1c/2t) Athlon XP 3200+ (1c/1t)
2004 Pentium 4 3.4GHz (1c/2t) Athlon 64 FX-55 (1c/1t)
2005 Pentium 4 3.8GHz (1c/2t) Athlon 64 X2 4800+ (2c/2t)
2006 Pentium Extreme 965 (2c/4t) Athlon 64 X2 5000+ (2c/2t) Intel takes the undisputed performance lead here – and holds onto it for a decade.
2007 Core 2 Extreme QX6800 (4c/4t) Phenom X4 9600 (4c/4t) Intel and AMD both launch the first true quad-core desktop CPUs
2008 Core 2 Extreme X9650 (4c/4t) Phenom X4 9950 (4c/4t)
2009 Core i7-960 (4c/8t) Phenom II X4 965 (4c/4t)
2010 Core i7-980X (6c/12t) Phenom II X6 1100T (6c/6t) Intel and AMD both introduce hex-core desktop CPUs
2011 Core i7-990X (6c/12t) FX-8150 (8c/8t)
2012 Core i7-3770K (4c/8t) FX-8350 (8c/8t) Intel abandons hex-core desktop CPUs, but few miss them due to big single-threaded gains
2013 Core i7-4770K (4c/8t) FX-9590 (8c/8t) AMD’s disappointing FX-9590 launches – and it’s Team Red’s last enthusiast CPU in four long years
2014 Core i7-4790K (4c/8t) FX-9590 (8c/8t) Intel’s 5th gen Core dies stillborn. AMD releases low-power APUs, but no successor to FX-9590
2015 Core i7-6700K (4c/8t) FX-9590 (8c/8t)
2016 Core i7-7700K (4c/8t) FX-9590 (8c/8t) Strictly speaking, 2016 was an Intel fragrance – Kaby Lake only launched in January 2017
2017 Core i7-8700K (6c/12t) Ryzen 7 1800X (8c/16t) Launch of AMD’s Zen architecture, return of the Intel hex-core desktop CPU
2018 Core i9-9900K (8c/16t) Ryzen 7 2700X (8c/16t)
2019 Core i9-9900KS (8c/16t) Ryzen 9 3950X (16c/32t) AMD’s Zen 2 architecture launches, Intel sniffs hard in the performance segment
2020 Core i9-10900K (10c/20t) Ryzen 9 5950X (16c/32t) AMD’s Zen 3 finally smashes Intel’s long-held single-threaded performance record

While both Intel and AMD clearly launch a wide variety of processors each year for different price ranges and target markets, we’ll limit ourselves to each year’s fastest desktop or “enthusiast” processor. That means no server processors, and no High-End Desktop Processors (HEDT) either, so we won’t be looking at Threadrippers or late-model XE-series Intel parts.

Even for someone like me who has been through this entire period as a system builder, compiling a list like this, let alone matching the test results, is a huge agony. It’s especially hard on the AMD side, where there’s no real equivalent to Intel’s Ark with a single list of processors sorted by generation, type, and launch date. If you think I picked the wrong “top processor” for a year, let me know in the comments.

We need to address a few chart anomalies right away – first of all, no, the absence of a new AMD performance CPU in 2014, 2015, and 2016 isn’t a mistake. The 2013 FX-9590—widely (and rightly so) panned for its then-monstrous 225W TDP and unimpressive performance—was Team Red’s fastest CPU for four years in a row. At that time, AMD launched several generations of low-power, low-cost desktop APUs, none of which outperformed the FX-9590.

Intel also had a few stumbles during 2013-2017, although not as severe or as long. The fifth-generation Core series was actually stillborn in 2014, although a refresh of the fourth-generation Core i7 series did deliver a significant performance boost. Another touch came two years later, technically speaking: Kaby Lake, with the Core i7-7700K, only launched in January 2017. the i7-8700K, appeared later that same year.

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