Intel vs AMD — One Notebook Highlights the Differences

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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):

As Devices Converge, Chip Vendors Girding For a Fight

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