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Summary:

When it comes to computing platforms, the two most prevalent choices are Intel and AMD. What’s the difference between them? All things being equal, one is generally less expensive but offers more oomph while the other plods along slower but longer. Which is right for you?

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Walk into any computer retail store and what do you see besides aisles of desktops and laptops? With few exceptions, each of the devices are generally powered by the CPUs of two companies: AMD and Intel. Folks shopping for a computer might simply look at the specifications and price, but ignore the sticker that shows who made the CPU. I’m not sure how they could miss it, but trust me — people I know somehow have no idea who makes the silicon inside of their computer. But they should increase their brand awareness, because there is a difference between the approaches of these two CPU makers. And there’s no easier way to see that difference than to take what’s essentially the same device and compare the performance and attribute variances in the processors.

Laptop Magazine did just that with Toshiba’s 13.3″ T135 notebook, which can be had for $599 with an AMD processor, or $699 with one from Intel. And there’s the first difference — $100 saved or spent. Granted, there might be some other minor nuances between the two models, but the choice of CPU is the largest variance between the two otherwise, near-identical devices. In my own experience, I’ve generally witnessed a price premium for an Intel unit over one from AMD. And after comparing the specs of both tested models, the only other major differences are in the graphics solution and the speed of the memory — DDR2 support on the AMD and DDR3 for the Intel. It’s worth noting that in the two nearly identical laptops AMD’s CPU offers a 1.6 GHz clock speed in the Turion Neo X2 L625, while the Intel CULV Pentium SU4100 is 1.3 GHz.

Since Laptop had both models of the T135, they compared certain benchmarks. The numbers show the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two CPU platforms. For example, the AMD version booted in only 55 seconds, while the Intel machine took 20 seconds longer. I’m assuming that there’s little to no difference in the software builds, since this is the same machine coming from Toshiba. When transcoding video with Handbrake, Laptop found that the Intel device eked out a “win” over the AMD unit. But re-running the test with software that uses CPU multi-threading showed a clear winner in AMD.

The largest differences between the two devices  — and the two processing platforms — come in terms of graphical ability and battery life. Both platforms utilize integrated graphics that share video memory with the overall system memory. But AMD’s purchase of graphics company ATI provides a noticeable visual boost over Intel. In all of the graphical benchmarks, the AMD model bested that of Intel. Of course, more horsepower in any area potentially requires more power, and that’s where Intel offers an advantage for mobile users. The same battery test on the two models show the Intel device lasting for 7 hours and 23 minutes on a single charge. The same test caused the AMD unit to shut down after 5 hours and 6 minutes. That’s still a solid run time, but the Intel notebook lasts around 40% longer, which is no small difference.

So do those CPU stickers outside the device mean anything about what’s inside? Laptop’s testing make it pretty clear and confirm what my own experience has told me when buying a computer. All things being equal, an AMD machine is likely to be cheaper and will offer a better graphical experience. A similar Intel machine might cost more and not provide the same visual “oomph,” but will last longer on a single charge. The purchase decision comes down to your own personal preferences and needs. I value a longer run time and I place less emphasis on graphical capabilities because I tend to live in a web browser all day. Others that want to watch high-def movies or play high quality games would likely choose a different platform than I would. Laptop says it best in this case: “AMD gives you more oomph for less money, but Intel gives you more unplugged time.”

Given my own computing requirements, does that mean I wouldn’t consider an AMD-powered device? Not at all. It means that I need to evaluate what the solution provides for the money against a prioritized list of my requirements. If I find that my current Intel devices leave me lacking when watching video or if I decide to start up some gaming on the go, I’d weigh that need against the shorter run time. Perhaps a second battery in that case would offer the best of both worlds and I’m not averse to making that choice.

Without completely stoking up the Intel vs AMD fanboi flames, does Laptop’s testing offer the results you’ve come to expect from AMD and Intel systems? How do you decide who powers your device, or does the brand simply not matter?

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

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  1. considering that AMD has not seemed to find a way to control heat in their mobile processors. My money and my recommendations for anyone buying a machine will be Intel.

  2. INVENTORS – DO NOT TRUST INTEL
    I invented a CPU cooler – 3 times better than best – better than water. Intel have major CPU cooling problems – “Intel’s microprocessors were generating so much heat that they were melting” (iht.com) – try to talk to them – they send my communications to my competitor & will not talk to me.

    Winners of major ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ awardS!!!

    Huh!!!!

    When did RICO get repealed?”

    INVENTORS – DO NOT TRUST INTEL!!!

  3. Thanks, Kevin, for pointing out this article and summarizing Laptop’s findings so succintly. This is why I keep coming back to this site!

  4. Amd L625 is only 18Watt .

    Choosing between these 2 laptops, I would buy this AMD laptop. Ever if it was same or little higher price then Intel.

    Intel graphic sucks. Try to connect external 24″ monitor /TV or higher through its hdmi and you see how the fastest intel laptops chokes

    1. I’m certainly not arguing against your choice — if an AMD device would meet your needs, then it’s the right purchase for you. Personal preferences and requirements should be driving your choices.

      But without context, it’s not quite fair to bash one or the other. I actually used to use an Intel powered UMPC with my current 24″ monitor and it worked perfectly fine for me. I’ve done the same with Intel-powered netbooks. But I wasn’t gaming or watching high-def videos with those devices, i.e.: the context of usage. If I had been, I’m sure I would have been disappointed.

    2. What? I have plugged my EEE PC into a 42″ (@ 1440 x 900) through D-Sub and it ran SMOOTHER than through the 7″ monitor.

    1. Your video is ancient and no longer relevant. AMD has addressed this issue ~10 years ago.

      Next time, do your research.

  5. I ran into a similar predicament last year when choosing a notebook for my sister – the AMD powered HP dv4z came in around $100 less than the dv4t Intel C2D variants. Truth be told, at $600 the AMD CPU gave serious bang-for-the-buck performance and was a joy to use for everyday tasks.

    Today though, I would choose a HP dv4i Intel, simply because the i5 architecture with power-throttling, integrated IGP and hybrid graphics beats AMD. Add a 12-cell battery and you can get 8-10 hours runtime unplugged. Sure, I’m partial to the HP dv4 model for it’s flexibility, but the i5 clearly beats AMD in battery time and performance. Does the i5 cost more? Yes. But I’d say you’re getting what you pay for.

    1. Intel’s latest IGP is still slower than the soon to be replaced ATI HD4200 IGP.

  6. lars christiansen Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Hello,
    I’m a regular visitor on your site, and mostly I enjoy the quality of the content that I read.
    There is however one subject that I hate, on your site, and mostly all other sites.

    Battery lifetime.
    It seems that you and other websites live in a world where physics differs from those that ordinary ordinary people experience.

    I bet that you’re the only person that gets 7+ hours use out of the toshiba. Most other people will get only about half and will have to be happy about it.
    This is the way it has been with all my portables. Acer, Toshiba, Lenovo.
    There is an official battery lifetime, but when ordinary people need to write text, build presentations, do a bit of web we only really get half the time.
    One of the reasons might be that the “optimized for battery” option makes the portable unusable.

    So I’ll just recommend that as a thumb rule people half the battery lifetime announced by the companies that build the laptops, or the figures that testing websites announce.

    Best regards

    1. Hmm… I see your point, but battery life will vary wildly based on the activities you use a device for. It could well be true that my battery life experience is far more than you see with the same device. But don’t we use those devices in different ways? For example: I generally have very judicious power settings on, screen brightness as low as tolerable and the Wi-Fi radio so I can run a browser. I rarely run other apps.

      The only way our battery life would be equal is you used the same settings and essentially used only a browser. I doubt most folks do, so I see your point. But it’s simply not possible to account for every usage scenario — we all work in different ways. When I test a device battery, I use it the way I normally do and I usually state such. I’m open to suggestions, so what’s a better way?

      And in terms of this particular post and the variance between the same two Toshiba devices with different processors, the main variance is the processors. So using the same testing methodology with the two devices ought to offer a reasonable level of comparison, no?

    2. I wrote an in-depth article about this last year (see my blog). Manufacturers quote battery times based on synthetic benchmarks. While these don’t reflect “real world” figures, they’re not designed to cheat the customer, rather to provide an apples-to-apples comparison of runtimes for models across the board. After all, when you’re comparing a HP to a Toshiba or Fujitsu, you want to know which one lasts longer, based on a common benchmark.

      As Kevin said, a LOT depends on how you use your device. When I tested the HP dv4t with the 12-cell battery I got 5 solid hours surfing the web, 4 hours 20 minutes for A/V playback and 2 hours 26 minutes gaming. That battery is rated for 8 hours. Keep in mind also, the dv4t I had was using a higher-wattage C2D, dedicated GPU and 7200rpm drive. That same model sold today with a Core i5, SSD drive and on-die GPU would get 10 hours of runtime on the same battery. So how you configure your notebook hardware affects battery time just as much as how you use it.

  7. Another thing to remember is that battery life can change considerably over the first 12 months. A laptop may get 8 hrs in the beginning, but usually it has lost 20% of that in the first year. Most laptop batteries last only 2.5 to 3 yrs because we don’t charge/discharge them in the best way. But that’s because of the way they are used and I can’t see us changing THAT! Anyway, great article and it’s nice to see that we have more choices now than in the past.

  8. I am wondering if AMD system will use less power if we run graphic intensity applications. Maybe someone can setup a test.

    I have one Lenovo T60 with Intel CPU. It is just too hot compared with other T60 (don’t know the reason). I installed ubuntu and only browsing internet. I used CPU monitor to check the CPU frequency. Both CPU run at half of the frequency is I disabled all the plugins. However, if I enabled some plugins and visit the websites with lots of ads, the CPU runs at full speed and the laptop got hot!

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