Why you should seriously consider an AMD PC
3rd Oct 2012 | 11:30
Raw performance is becoming less critical
AMD's PC processors are better than you think. In fact, they're better than I thought, too.
Most people buying a new PC or PC processor should seriously consider one.
That's the conclusion I've drawn following a a few weeks up to my ears in AMD chips for TechRadar's sister title PC Format. And it's true - despite the fact AMD's new Piledriver architecture in the new A Series APUs is a bit disappointing.
Here's the thing. AMD's chips are still a lot slower than Intel's finest. Nothing much has changed in that regard. The benchmarks don't lie and all the chips I was testing were chips I've sampled before.
But as the years tick by and the computing industry matures, raw performance is gradually becoming less critical. It's now just one part of a broader package and in that context, AMD is much, much more competitive. And that's something I'd personally lost sight of.
A big part of this is the question of "good enough" performance. For some applications, more performance always makes a difference. How quickly you can crunch through a video encode job is pretty much directly proportional to CPU performance, for instance.
However, that doesn't actually equate to the computing experience. As a home PC user, do you sit and wait, watching that encode job? The obvious comparison here is with gaming. Below a certain frame rate, let's call it 30fps on average, gaming becomes unpleasant.
In that context, performance is critical. And yet above a certain frame rate, let's call it 60fps, adding more performance makes absolutely no difference to the gaming experience.
Enough is actually enough
There's a little more to it than that if you take into account things like future proofing for more demanding games that may appear. But the general point holds. There's a very real notion of good enough performance.
In fact, Intel itself tacitly acknowledges this. Put frankly, Intel has been sand bagging with its mainstream PC processors. We've been stuck on four cores for about five years and while architectural improvements have pushed up performance there's little doubt that Intel could easily be flogging six or even eight-core chips for mid range PCs today.
Anyway, my basic position here is that chips like AMD's FX 6200 and 8120 also provide "good enough" performance, even in games. So other factors come into the equation. Like value.
AMD's second-rung standing has the happy effect that you can buy both its CPUs and compatible motherboards for very little money. That 8120 is based on AMD's finest PC silicon but costs just £120. A decent enough AMD motherboard, meanwhile, can be had for about £50. Bargain.
Caring for customers
Then there's are the related matters of flexibility and doing right by your customers. Since AMD can't compete on pure performance, it tends to be a bit kinder to its customers.
That means maintaining socket compatibility for as long as possible. Or making all of its FX processors unlocked for easy overclocking. Or not switching off features in some chips as Intel does with, say, HyperThreading in some Core i5 models. Or not limiting software upgrades to certain products for marketing reasons, as Intel did recently with its RAID software upgrade.
Put all that into the mix, and the case for AMD only gets stronger. To be really clear, I'm not suddenly saying you shouldn't buy Intel. Instead, I'm arguing that the case for AMD is much broader than merely a back up plan if you're penniless.