After fits and starts in a years-long effort to make its laptop CPUs more competitive with Intel’s, AMD on Monday offered the first detailed look at its most ambitious step yet: the Ryzen 4000 series.
Unveiled at CES in January, Ryzen 4000 chips are the first laptop-specific ones from AMD to be based on the company’s latest 7-nanometer production process. AMD claims the new chips, codenamed “Renoir,” will offer better computing and graphics performance than both previous-generation Ryzen laptop chips as well as many Intel Core CPUs.
These advances are thanks mostly to the power efficiencies of the Zen 2 architecture, AMD says. A Renoir chip will offer approximately twice the performance for each watt of power it consumes compared with previous generations, according to Jason Banta, AMD’s general manager for OEM solutions.
Power efficiency has been a weak spot in previous AMD processors, especially those in ultraportable laptops. That’s partly why Intel chips have long dominated the market, relegating AMD to fill niches with one-off designs like the Microsoft Surface Edition Ryzen CPU, available only in the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 3.
Ryzen 4000 chips also have integrated Radeon graphics processors, so they can be used in ultrathin laptops that aren’t designed for gaming and therefore don’t require bulky, expensive, power-hungry discrete GPUs. Some laptop models with Ryen 4000 CPUs have already been announced, including two special-edition gaming models from Asus and Dell that were unveiled at CES. Ultimately, AMD is expecting more than 100 models to launch this year, including more than a dozen by the end of the month.
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, a Compact Power Gamer With AMD ‘Renoir’
To broaden the appetite for Renoir chips beyond their higher performance capabilities, AMD says it is also stepping up its quality control and partnership efforts with major laptop vendors.
“Once the [laptop] is designed, we’re also looking to make sure it’s perfect as it goes out the door,” Banta said at a press briefing last month. The company now has validation laboratories set up at its facilities in Austin, Texas, and Shanghai, where workers will resolve issues with hardware driver and operating system updates before they’re pushed automatically to consumers’ laptops.
H Series vs. U Series
The most powerful Ryzen 4000 chips will show up in large, bulky gaming laptops and workstations. Among these models, identified by an “H” in their model names, is the flagship Ryzen 9 4900HS, an additional chip that AMD announced on Monday. It’s an eight-core, 16-thread behemoth with a 3GHz base clock speed and a 4.3GHz boost clock speed. Its closest competitor is the Intel Core i9-9880HK, also an eight-core chip, which is available in the Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch.
Other previously announced H-series chips include the eight-core Ryzen 7 4800H and the six-core Ryzen 5 4600H. Aside from core count and the Ryzen 5 4600H’s slightly lower base clock speed, the main difference between these two chips are their Radeon graphics silicon: the Ryzen 7 4800H has seven graphics cores with a frequency of 1.6GHz, and the Ryzen 5 4600H has six graphics cores with a frequency of 1.5GHz.
AMD Ryzen 4000 Laptop Processors
While H-series chips are intended to operate at 45 watts (their thermal design power rating, or TDP) some laptops will have versions with a 35-watt TDP. They’ll be designated with an “HS” in the model name. The first such laptop is the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, pictured above.
While these H-series chips are the most powerful of the bunch, they’re overkill for the ultraportable laptops that make up the bulk of the market and are crucial to Renoir’s success. So the majority of the new Ryzen 4000 chips will be part of the U series, which consume even less power, with TDP ratings of 15 watts or 25 watts.
The flagship U-series chip is the Ryzen 7 4800U, which has the same number of cores and threads as the Ryzen 9 4900HS. The key difference (other than reduced power consumption) is clock speed: the Ryzen 7 4800U can run as slow as 1.8GHz during light workloads, almost three times slower than the Ryzen 9 4900HS.
Other U-series chips include a second eight-core Ryzen 7 without multithreading support, so it can only handle eight instruction threads instead of 16. Multithreading can make modern software run faster, since each core can handle two instruction sets at the same time, instead of just one.
There are also two six-core Ryzen 5 chips, and a quad-core Ryzen 3.
Better Performance, in Most Cases
What kind of performance can you expect if you buy a flagship ultraportable laptop with a Ryzen 7 4000-series chip instead of a Intel’s latest 10th-generation Core i7? According to AMD’s internal performance tests, the Ryzen 7 4700U is 36 percent faster than the Core i7-10510U at encoding a video using the Handbrake app. It’s also 24 percent faster at rendering an image in Blender, and 39 percent faster at performing digital content creation as measured by the PCMark 10 benchmark.
The new Ryzens also appear to have some advantages when it comes to gaming, though it depends on the title. AMD says the Ryzen 7 4800U was able to achieve 108 frames per second (fps) while playing Counter Strike: Go compared with 69fps for the Core i7-10510U. But performance on Fortnite is tied, at 62fps.
The same types of performance differences are true of productivity tasks as well. The Ryzen 7 is about 10 percent faster on the PCMark 10 overall benchmark, though it performed slightly worse than the Core i7 while running Microsoft Office applications in AMD’s tests.
We haven’t been able to corroborate these results, since Ryzen 4000-series laptops aren’t shipping yet, but benchmark results that leaked earlier this year appear to support at least some of AMD’s claims.
All-Day Battery Life
Other than performance, battery life is one of the key requirements for many laptop shoppers, and it’s something that AMD says it has greatly improved with Renoir. Previous AMD chips weren’t well-optimized to take advantage of times when the laptop doesn’t require as much power, such as when it’s asleep or during low-power activities like typing an email.
In AMD’s previous Ryzen 3000 “Picasso” generation, for instance, the laptop’s operating system can only see a single chip power state, according to Dan Bouvier, AMD’s chief architect for client systems. Renoir chips have a redesigned configuration and power interface with three distinct states, which means the operating system can better communicate to the chip exactly how much power is required for a given task.
While measuring battery life is notoriously difficult, AMD is confident that these and other improvements will help a typical Ryzen 7 4800U-powered laptop achieve a battery life of 11 hours under what it considers typical use scenarios. That’s longer than Intel’s Project Athena standard, which requires laptops that are certified under it to last for 9 hours of typical use.
Ryzen 4000 for the Win?
AMD’s Ryzen desktop processors have picked up favorable reviews from both consumers and the media. The company’s high-end Ryzen 9 and Ryzen Threadripper models in particular have offered exceptional performance at reasonable prices, and prompted a fair bit of hand-wringing at Intel, which last year drastically reduced the prices of its high-end consumer CPUs to stay competitive.
With laptop processors, however, AMD still has a lot of catching up to do. Will Ryzen 4000 be enough to cement AMD as a reasonable competitor to Intel in the far more important mobile chip market?
We’ll have to wait until we test a Ryzen 4000 laptop to find out. Widespread disruption to the technology supply chain in China from the new coronavirus could result in delays to the production of new laptop models. AMD expects the impacts to be modest, however, and it is sticking with the projections it first made in January that 100 laptops with Ryzen 4000 chips will be available for sale worldwide by the end of the year.