When choosing a computer CPU it usually comes down to two choices: AMD or Intel. The CPU wars between these two corporations have been going on for years, even resulting in antitrust charges filed against Intel several times. However no matter what company you prefer, you have to agree that competition is great for the consumers since it drives the prices down and promotes innovation.

Intel (Integrated Electronics Corporation) is the world’s largest CPU manufacturer. It was founded in 1968 and is based in Santa Clara, California (US). Intel is the creator of the x86 CPU architecture which is now used in the majority of PCs (and since 2006 Macs as well). AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) was founded in 1969 and is based in Sunnyvale, California (US). It is the second largest supplier of x86 architecture CPUs and, after a merger with ATI in 2006, the third largest manufacturer of GPUs (after Intel and nVidia). So, who offers the best performance – is it AMD or Intel?

If you’re after performance above else (and you’ve plenty of money) then Intel processors are the way to go. At least, in general – there are several different families available and you need to be careful which you choose.Intel Core 2 CPUs are still available, for instance, but they’ve been around for a long time, no longer represent a good deal and unless you’re working with an old motherboard, are probably best avoided.Instead you’ll be considering a Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7 processor, which will deliver budget, mid-range or high-end performance, respectively. Except, of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, because these CPUs now come in two main flavours.

The Intel Pentium 4 and D processor series were notorious for consuming a lot of power, and consequently running quite hot. The architecture Intel based the Core 2 Duo processors on is much better in this regard. While Pentium 4 architecture was at one time headed towards 150W TDP (Typical Design power), many of its current processors are now pushing 85W or less. One generation before, Intel Pentium D CPUs hovered around the 125W TDP range, late model Core 2 Duo processors (like the E6750 ) have a 65W TDP!.It’s true enough that the power values AMD and Intel specify are not entirely comparable with each other, but total system power measurements give a good basis for comparison

The mainstream Core i3, i5 and i7 processors are available in a Socket LGA1156 package (this defines how the CPU connects to the rest of your system, and so means you’ll need a Socket LGA1156 motherboard as well). This doesn’t represent the very latest in Intel technology, but it’s relatively reasonably priced, and there are plenty of compatible motherboards around at all price levels..The latest Core i3/ i5/ i7 processors, code-named Sandy Bridge and available in an LGA1155 package, are rather more interesting. Not only are they up to 40% faster than their predecessors, but they also come with an on-board graphics chip, so if you’re not looking for much in the way of video performance then you probably won’t have to buy a graphics card. And AMD plans to release new processors, code-named Bulldozer and Llano, starting this June and July. Many of the CPUs will include on-board graphics chips, some will have 8 cores, and it’s rumoured that performance will be 50% up on the Phenom II, which if true would mean they’ll deliver speeds very similar to Intel’s Sandy Bridge systems.

If price is key, then the AMD Athlon II X2 255 makes an excellent choice. It’s available for under £40 as we write, and has more than enough power to handle basic PC tasks. If you’ve a little more money and need extra performance from your CPU, then AMD’s best mid-range offering is perhaps the Phenom II X4 965, some 35% faster than the Athlon II X2 255, and yours from around £100.Intel’s LGA1156-based Core i3-560 is a similar performer and available for the same price, though. And the new LGA1155-based Core i3-2100 goes further still, delivering perhaps 10% more speed for under £100, so that would probably be our preferred choice here (depending on your motherboard requirements).

And if performance matters more than anything else, then right now there’s no substitute for the LGA1155-based Core i7-2600K (the K means the multiplier is unlocked, allowing the CPU to be overclocked). It’s perhaps twice the speed of the AMD Athlon II X2 255, yet is relatively affordable (in Intel terms at least) at around £240.