Like most enthusiasts, I enjoy building desktop computer systems – games just became the reason to have more hardware, the excuse to squeeze as much performance out of a platform as possible. Overclocking a processor and squeezing out ten extra FPS is addicting – especially when you go for broke and overclock everything, and it results in enough extra performance to turn the graphics settings from medium to high… I didn’t start out with a pile of money to support my hobby, so high resolutions and all the eye candy were options I didn’t have. Overclocking was a way to get a little extra performance, a way to access those higher settings and play games a little more fluidly. The challenge of taking a limited budget and making a computer perform like something more expensive was one of the most enjoyable ways to spend an evening in my early days of building PCs. Naturally, I gravitated towards an AMD platform in those days, since I had always heard they were the best – say it with me now – “bang for your buck.” Yeah, we’ve all heard it.
By the way, to whoever told us that – at least in the AMD FX/”module” architecture days – you’re wrong. (I feel like I need to make a disclaimer here – I don’t own any stock in any companies mentioned in this article, nor wish to start. I don’t profit from any conclusions made, other than to hopefully share some of my experiences with fellow enthusiasts.) Hopefully by the end of this article you’ll realize why, although this isn’t the question we’ll attempt to answer in this article.
Since those days, I’ve accumulated quite a few different platforms in my quest for performance. I’ve always appreciated that AMD didn’t lock enthusiasts out of overclocking quite so heavily as Intel did, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time tinkering with Phenom IIs and FX CPUs to unlock that hidden performance I felt was lurking just beneath the surface. Of course, in pursuit of performance, there was no way I could ignore Intel’s offerings – over the years, seeing the different platforms perform alongside each other was an experience I wish I could share with more enthusiasts. This article is partly in response to that notion, and in part a response to the countless “my AMD CPU games just as well as any Intel processor” threads on countless forums across the internet.
I’ve heard it many times – “My FX-8350/8320/6300 is just as good of a value as that Core i5.” “No better processor for under $200.” “It plays games the same, you can’t tell the difference.” “The FX-6300 is the best CPU at the best price.” You (and I) have probably uttered similar phrases. One only need glance at the top Newegg reviews for the CPUs in question to get a feeling for public opinion. The current top favorable review on Newegg for the FX-8350 boldly exclaims as a title “Best Bang For Your Buck….PERIOD!” While most of the top reviews are from the product’s launch, they echo sentiments expressed by happy enthusiasts throughout the product’s life-cycle.
Now let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with AMD CPUs. It has been my experience that they are perfectly adequate for appropriate tasks. My problem is with statements that serve to mislead under-informed buyers – like the current top FX-6300 Newegg review (comparing a stock i7-2700K to an overclocked FX-6300 might be interesting…but what enthusiast would truly make that comparison?? Overclocking is an option available to the i7 as well – what enthusiast would purposefully leave easily-accessible performance on the table with any CPU? The natural comparison would be overclock to overclock…). We make comparative errors like this all the time, but the old “Intel vs. AMD” argument tends to lead more towards political mudslinging (many forums ban this topic outright) than it does objective analysis.
It wasn’t enough for me to settle for statements echoed in reviews across the Internet and on retail sites. I wanted to KNOW. The refrain “best price for performance” in regards to AMD CPUs was oft repeated – but was it true? As a gamer and general PC enthusiast, what WAS my best option for the price? I grew weary of subjective comparisons meant to justify a purchase – so I went and bought ALL of the platforms. That’s right – every i5-K from Sandy to Haswell, a G3258, a Haswell i3 (4170), an i7-4790K, and compared them to an FX-4150, FX-6100, FX-6300, FX-8350 and for good measure an A10-7850K (which replaced an A10-5800K before it). I had to know if I was missing out on a better gaming experience. I had to know if one platform was actually, truly better* than the other (*for my purposes – the real answer to the question “which is better” is always “it depends on what you want to do with it”).
I learned a lot throughout. Playing the same games and performing the same tasks across a variety of computers was a lot of fun and very enlightening. Becoming familiar with each platform’s strengths and weaknesses was an interesting process. I did my best to get the most of out every platform. I wanted to see what they were all capable of. Through it all, I found my answer…
So now when I hear that common refrain “best bang for your buck,” it’s hard for me to hold back. When a coworker asked me about a potential graphics card upgrade, I couldn’t help but steer the conversation towards a bottleneck they may not have considered: their CPU.
So what are we going to cover in the next few pages?
Here’s the specific question I’m going to attempt to answer. Given an AMD FX-based gaming platform, which computer upgrade provides a better gaming experience: an additional GTX970 in SLI, or keeping a single GPU and switching platforms to Intel?
As a bonus, we’ll take a look at what those two GTX 970s could do on both platforms as well. Which one unlocks greater potential?
Oof, Intel vs. AMD. Comments about frame times. A run-in with the little asterisk and SLI. This could get ugly. I’d like to start by warning everyone that is currently satisfied with their computer system’s performance to just…turn away. No need to have hard evidence behind your suspicions. Honestly. That’s really all this is about anyway – if you’re getting the performance you want, the experience you want out of your current desktop computer, that’s all that really matters. If you are currently satisfied with your performance, you may not want to continue. For everyone else, searching for truth and gaming bliss as I did through generations of hardware? Here we go…