Intel, Nvidia and AMD: How To Pick the Right CPU and GPU

Intel, Nvidia and AMD: How To Pick the Right CPU and GPU
The Intel, Nvidia and AMD logos. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Intel, AMD and Nvidia: the three big names you might think of when buying or building a computer, informing CPU and GPU tech.

These manufacturers have been in the game for a long time, and with news that Intel is entering the GPU market, it’s likely that Intel, AMD and Nvidia will continue to dominate the computer space for some time.

But what do these companies and their tech mean to you? Well, we’re here to demystify the tech that these companies offer.

Here are Intel, Nvidia and AMD computer components explained, perfect if you’re shopping a laptop, PC or if you’re planning to build a computer.

We’ve divided this breakdown between CPUs and GPUs, to make it easy to follow.

CPU

The CPU (or processor) provides the processing power for your computer. Faster, more expensive processors allow you to complete more tasks at once, often quicker too. This comes down to the number of cores available and the level of performance on offer.

The CPU market for consumers is, at the moment, locked between AMD and Intel for computers (phone processors are a different market).

AMD CPUs

AMD’s Ryzen series is powerful at cheaper prices than Intel. The argument is usually that AMD’s Ryzen processors make more sense on a cost-to-performance front, however there are sometimes exceptions.

If you’re interested in buying an AMD CPU, keep these things in mind:

  • The first number indicates core numbers. Ryzen 3 has four cores, Ryzen 5 has six cores, Ryzen 7 has eight cores and Ryzen 9 has 16 cores. “Threadripper” (for advanced, non-consumer applications) includes up to 64 cores. Cores regulate how many processes can be done at any given time.
  • Within each core category, the four following numbers indicate power. For example, Ryzen 5 5600X is more powerful than Ryzen 5 5500.
  • “X” means it’s a slightly faster model and “G” means that it has graphics rendering capability.
  • Some Ryzen listings will also indicate generation, which is important to know for ongoing support.
  • For PC builders: Ryzen processors typically come with a fan in the box, but you should probably check to be sure.

Intel GPUs

CPU market leader Intel does things a little differently to AMD. Intel’s processors are typically a bit more expensive, but consistently outperform their direct AMD rivals in benchmarking.

If you’re interested in buying an Intel CPU, keep these things in mind:

  • The brand prefix indicates intended use. “Core” processors are the more powerful, premium CPUs on offer, whereas “Pentium” and “Celeron” models are used in budget, economic products. We’ll be focusing on Core CPUs, as Pentium and Celeron don’t have additional modifiers. Intel Xeon is for more advanced, typically non-consumer applications. Cores regulate how many processes can be done at any given time.
  • The “brand modifier” is what follows for Core processors. These are i3 (two cores), i5 (four cores), i7 (between four, six or eight) and i9 (between eight and 16 cores), with more cores available for the higher number.
  • The “generation indicator” comes next, being the numbers after the “i3/5/7/i9” prefix excluding the last three digits. This includes 12th Gen, 11th Gen and so on. While a newer generation processor may not outperform a more powerful older generation processor, it’s still worth knowing for ongoing support.
  • SKU digits are next. These are the final three digits of the processor and indicate the amount of processing power available.
  • Additionally, there are product line suffixes. There are a lot of them, including G1, E, F, G, H and HK. Intel has an explainer on what each of these mean.
  • For PC builders: Intel processors that include the letters K, KF, KS, XE or X do not include coolers. You’ll need to buy one separately.

GPU

GPUs handle the graphics processing capability of your machine, meaning how pretty your games might be or how well you might be able to render high-quality graphics in design applications.

The GPU (graphics card) market is a bit different to the CPU market. While we’ll be talking about AMD and Nvidia below, keep in mind that Intel is technically the market leader for GPUs, due to integrated graphics in CPUs. Additionally, while AMD and Nvidia design the GPUs in this market, you’ll typically end up buying one from an aftermarket manufacturer (such as Gigabyte, ASUS or MSI). There’s no true “best” manufacturer, but you can make your choice based on aesthetics, price and reviews.

Nvidia GPUs

For gamers, Nvidia is typically the most celebrated graphics card maker, with its stock usually selling out well before rival AMD does.

Here’s what you should know about Nvidia GPUs:

  • Nvidia GPUs are currently up to the RTX 30 series (previously the 20 and 16 series), selling the RTX 3050, 3060, 3060Ti, 3070, 3070Ti, 3080, 3080Ti. 3090 and 3090Ti range of cards through aftermarket manufacturers. The higher the number, the greater performance.
  • The “Ti” suffix indicates higher performance, but also a higher cost.
  • The “VRAM” value (GB) in a card’s name means how much RAM the card has on board for video caching, translating to smoother gameplay or graphics rendering.
  • For PC builders: GPUs are usually very power-hungry, so make sure you get a power supply up to the task.

AMD GPUs

AMD, like in the CPU market, is a budget-to-performance pick, although its cards are typically quite well received by reviewers.

Here’s what you should know about AMD GPUs:

  • AMD is currently up to its RX 6000 series (previously the 5000, Vega and 500 series), selling the RX 6700 XT, RX 6800, RX 6800 XT and the RX 6900 XT. The higher the number, the greater performance.
  • The “XT” suffice stands for “Xtreme” and simply identifies a high-performance card.
  • The “VRAM” value (GB) in a card’s name means how much RAM the card has on board for video caching, translating to smoother gameplay or graphics rendering.
  • For PC builders: GPUs are usually very power-hungry, so make sure you get a power supply up to the task.

That’s about it

Hopefully, this has demystified some of the confusion around CPUs and GPUs. When I first got into PC building I was super confused by this, but 10 years on it comes quite easily.

If you’re interested in building a computer or have questions about specific parts, we’ve got an explainer for that.

I hope your parts and computer shopping go smoothly from here on out.