For the past several years, AMD has been an also-ran in the mobile-processor race. Though the company's APUs (AMD's name for CPUs) have powered many laptops, the chips have been limited to budget-minded, low-performance systems. However, with its new Ryzen Mobile chips, the company is finally taking the performance fight to Intel. AMD's quad-core Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 processors are designed to beat Intel's 8th Gen Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs while coming in at around the same price or possibly less.
To see which processors reign supreme, we got ahold of two nearly identical HP Envy x360 2-in-1s — one with Ryzen 5 and one with Intel Core i5 — and put them through our own set of tests. Overall, the Ryzen Mobile-powered laptop impressed us by getting much-higher graphics scores than its competitor. We're talking about three to four times faster.
Intel's chip scored a little higher on a couple of tests that didn't require much graphics might, but the overall takeaway is that AMD's mobile processors are now as good if not better than Intel's. And that's a big deal.
Our Test Systems
It's rare to find two units of the same laptop model with different CPU brands, and when you do, they won't necessarily have matching specs. For our tests, we used HP Envy x360 laptops with 15.6-inch, 1080p displays and 1TB hard drives. The Core i5-8250U-powered model had 12GB of RAM, while the Ryzen 5-enabled unit had just 8GB of memory. But because none of our benchmarks used more than 8GB, we think that this difference probably was not influential. At press time, the Intel-powered Envy x360 was selling for $849, while its AMD-toting sibling went for $749.
Both AMD Ryzen and Intel 8th Gen Core processors have four cores, which give you eight simultaneous threads. Both platforms have integrated graphics, but owing to AMD's rich history in the graphics-card market, that company's Radeon Vega GPU is quite a bit faster than Intel's UHD 620 graphics. Both processors have a standard TDP (thermal design profile) of 15 watts, though AMD says that if manufacturers use enough cooling, they can raise the TDP up as high as 25 watts.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||AMD Ryzen 5 2500U||Intel Core i5-8250U|
|Base Clock Speed||2 GHz||1.6 GHz|
|Turbo Clock Speed||3.6 GHz||3.4 GHz|
|TDP||15 watts||15 watts|
|Graphics||Radeon Vega||Intel UHD 620|
Just as Intel names its midrange and high-end processors Core i5 and Core i7, AMD labels its chips as Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7. The Core i5-8250U CPU we tested has a base speed of 1.6 GHz, with the ability to turbo up to 3.4 GHz, while the Ryzen 5 2500U chip goes from 2 to 3.6 GHz.
In pure processing performance, the two CPUs were neck and neck, with each one winning on different tests. On Geekbench 4, a synthetic test that measures overall performance, the Core i5 returned a mark of 12,485, compared to the Ryzen 5's score of 9,810.
We also ran Cinebench R15, another synthetic test, which measures overall performance by rendering a 3D scene. The AMD chip scored 609, besting the Intel processor's mark of 538.
On our Excel test, which matches 65,000 names with their addresses, the AMD chip finished in 1 minute and 20 seconds, while the Intel model completed the same task in 1:25.
When opening apps, a process that also involves the RAM and hard drive, the Intel-powered Envy x360 was a tiny bit quicker, launching Firefox, Chrome and GIMP in 0.6, 0.5 and 2.4 seconds, while the Ryzen 5 laptop did the same things in 1, 0.7 and 3.3 seconds.
The Ryzen chip really shined in video transcoding. It took the Ryzen 5 laptop just 17 minutes and 48 seconds to shrink a 4K video to 1080p using the HandBrake application. The Core i5 model took 20 minutes and 4 seconds to perform the same task.
Thanks to its Radeon Vega GPU, Ryzen Mobile is noticeably superior on any task that involves graphics. However, even with higher scores, a Ryzen Mobile chip by itself will not make an ordinary notebook into a gaming rig. If you want to play demanding titles, you'll still need a laptop with discrete graphics, no matter what brand of CPU you have.
When we played the low-end racing game Dirt 3, the Intel-powered Envy x360 managed a mediocre rate of 27.9 frames per second (fps), which is slightly below our 30-fps threshold for playability. The model with Ryzen 5 was over three times faster, returning a rate of 90.7 fps.
The Ryzen 5 chip was also three times as fast as the Core i5 processor when we played the more-intensive Rise of the Tomb Raider game, providing 15 fps to the Intel chip's 5.7 fps. But neither rate is even close to playable.
AMD's chip maintained its dominance on synthetic graphics tests, scoring nearly twice as much (912 versus 512) on FurMark, a benchmark that renders animal hair. On 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, Ryzen 5 scored a strong 73,701, edging out the Core i5 processor's score of 62,127.
Some AMD-powered laptops that we tested in the past had heat issues, but thankfully, the Envy x360 with Ryzen 5 stayed cool throughout our tests. After the machine streamed a video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 73 degrees Fahrenheit, the keyboard hit 77.5 degrees, and the underside rose to only 88 degrees Fahrenheit. All of those marks were well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The Core i5 model was just as cool, registering temperatures of 75, 80.5 and 80.5, respectively.
From our tests, it appears that Ryzen 5 and Intel Core i5 provide the same amount of battery life. When we put both Envy x360 laptops through our battery test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi, the Ryzen-powered system lasted 5 hours and 11 minutes. The Core i5 model tapped out after 5 hours and 17 minutes.
Now, it's important to remember that the CPU is just one component of many in a computer. On most laptops, the screen and the battery capacity will have at least as much influence on battery life as the processor does. In this case, we had two nearly identical systems, but many shoppers will be deciding from among radically different configurations of the same laptop or different models altogether.
Ryzen Mobile instantly makes AMD a serious player in the mainstream laptop space. In most use cases, a Ryzen Mobile chip is either a little faster or within striking range of the Intel 8th Gen Core. In fact, the only test that was a strong win for Intel was Geekbench 4; a few milliseconds of time in app-opens and 6 minutes of battery life are well within the margin of error. AMD's processor also offers significantly better integrated graphics, even though the graphics performance is not strong enough to turn a regular ultrabook into a gaming rig.
Given the choice between a laptop with Ryzen Mobile and another with Intel's 8th Gen Core (aka, Kaby Lake Refresh), we'd choose whichever machine is the better value at the time you're shopping. At press time, the Envy x360 with Ryzen 5 was $100 less than the unit with Intel inside. The difference in performance between these chips is really small for most users, and for AMD, that's a huge win.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||AMD Ryzen 5 2500U||Intel Core i5-8250U|
|3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited||73701||62127|
|Dirt 3 (fps)||90.7||27.9|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider (fps)||15||5.7|
|Excel macro test (minutes)||1:20||1:25|
|Firefox App Open (seconds)||1||0.6|
|Chrome App Open (seconds)||0.7||0.5|
|GIMP App Open (seconds)||3.3||2.4|
|Battery Life (hours)||5:11||5:17|
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