AMD Brings Ryzen to Laptops: What You Need to Know

After years of powering mostly low-end laptops, AMD is finally taking the performance fight to Intel. The company's brand-new Ryzen Mobile processors are designed to compete with Intel's 8th Generation CPUs. The chips promise better multi-threaded performance than comparable Core i5 and Core i7 chips and significantly better graphics speeds, thanks to AMD's integrated Radeon Vega GPU. 

These new chips, which are laptop versions of AMD's high-performance Ryzen desktop processors, will appear in three premium ultrathin laptops beginning this holiday season, with more models and higher-wattage processors likely to hit the market in 2018. Here's what you need to know about Ryzen Mobile, and to figure out which processor is right for you, check out our CPU buying guide.

Which laptops have Ryzen Mobile?

The first three laptops to feature Ryzen Mobile APUs (AMD calls its processors APUs rather than CPUs) will be configurations of the HP Envy x360, the Lenovo IdeaPad 720s and the Acer Swift 3. All three laptops are already available with Intel chips, so these will not be new chassis designs, just alternative configurations with Ryzen inside. The laptops should start shipping in November. The Envy x360 will start at $699; we don't yet have pricing for the other two laptops.

The 15-inch Acer Swift 3 and the 13-inch Lenovo IdeaPad 720s will each come with a choice of Ryzen 5 2500U or Ryzen 2700 U processors. However, the HP Envy x360 will come only with a Ryzen 5 2500U chip.

What's inside a Ryzen Mobile processor?

A Ryzen Mobile APU includes the following main components:

  • A quad-core CPU, which is based on the company's Zen microarchitecture. Zen promises 52 percent more instructions per clock cycle over the prior generation, without increasing power use.
  • AMD Radeon Vega graphics with eight to 10 compute units, AMD's equivalent to graphics cores.
  • I/O and memory controllers: The chip includes a DDR4 memory controller for interacting with the RAM, display and multimedia engines, and an I/O and system hub.
  • Infinity Fabric: This is a set of sensors that connect the GPU, CPU and controllers. AMD claims that the Infinity Fabric allows its chips to better balance heat and power consumption against clock speeds.

How much faster is Ryzen Mobile?

It almost goes without saying that Ryzen Mobile APUs will be significantly faster than their direct predecessors. AMD claims that the new chips offer up to 200 percent faster CPU performance and 128 percent faster GPU performance than the company's 7th Generation APUs while consuming 58 percent less power.

However, most shoppers will be comparing Ryzen Mobile processors to Intel's 8th Generation Core i5 and Core i7 processors. According to AMD, Ryzen Mobile offers superior graphics speed and comparable CPU performance to 8th Gen Core, besting it on some tests and falling just short on others. For example, the company claims that a laptop with a Ryzen 7 2700U CPU scored 719 on the Cinebench R15 nT synthetic performance test, while one with a Core i7-8550U managed just 498. However on another version of the test, Cinebench R15 1T, Intel's processor scored 159, compared with AMD's 144.

However, on graphics-centric tests, Ryzen Mobile promises to beat the pants off of Intel's offerings. According to AMD, a laptop with a Ryzen 7 2700U APU scored an impressive mark of 915 on the 3DMark Time Spy test, while a system with a Core i7-8550U inside returned a score of 350.

We look forward to testing Ryzen Mobile-powered laptops in our lab so we can verify AMD's claims.

Can you play games on Ryzen Mobile?

Because of its speedy Radeon Vega GPU, Ryzen Mobile should provide more gaming capability than an Intel CPU with integrated graphics. However, it's important to note that AMD's on-chip GPU is no substitute for a discrete graphics card and won't suddenly turn an Ultrabook into a gaming rig.

According to AMD, a laptop with a Ryzen 7 2700U APU inside can achieve a rate of 59 frames per second on League of Legends running at 1080 resolution, 49 fps on DOTA 2 at 1080p and 49 fps on CS:GO at 1080p. The company also claims that its chip can run Overwatch at 66 fps, provided that you drop the resolution to 1280 x 720.

If you turn the special-effects settings down far enough, you can also make many of these games playable on an Intel CPU with integrated graphics. We'll have to see how a Ryzen Mobile-powered laptop runs these titles in real life to find out just how impressive these numbers really are.

How many cores and threads does Ryzen Mobile have?

The initial Ryzen Mobile processors have four cores, each of which enables two threads, for a total of eight concurrent threads overall. Intel's 8th Generation Core Series processors have the same number of cores and threads.

What Ryzen Mobile processors are available?

For launch, AMD is releasing just two versions, both of which are designed for ultrathin laptops that might typically use Intel U series CPUs.

The Ryzen 7 2700U is designed to go head-to-head with Intel's Core i7-8550U. It has base and turbo frequencies of 2.2 and 3.8 GHz, respectively, along with 10 Radeon compute units and 4MB of L3 cache. Built to take-on Intel's Core i5-8250U, the Ryzen 5 2500U features base and turbo clock speeds of 2 and 3.6 GHz, eight Radeon compute units and 4MB of L3 cache.

How much wattage do Ryzen Mobile APUs consume?

Like Intel's mainstream U series CPUs, the Ryzen Mobile APUs will have a standard thermal design profile (TDP) of 15 watts. However, laptop manufacturers can configure the chips to use up to 25 watts in larger systems with more power and cooling. The three launch laptops all use the standard 15-watt TDP.

What can manufacturers do to make their Ryzen Laptops faster?

If they provide extra cooling, manufacturers can use a Ryzen feature called Mobile XFR (extended frequency range), which allows the processor to reach higher clock speeds than it would under normal conditions. Higher clock speeds equate to faster task completion.

How much will Ryzen Mobile-powered laptops cost?

We don't know yet how much HP, Lenovo and Acer plan to charge for their Ryzen Mobile-enabled laptops and whether that price will be more, less or the same as the Intel-powered versions. Given AMD's second-place position in the marketplace, we think the Ryzen Mobile versions may be a little bit less expensive, but we won't know until the companies announce their MSRPs.

What's an APU?

AMD calls its chips accelerated processing units (APUs) rather than CPUs, because they have both the graphics processor and the regular central processor on the same piece of silicon. Intel does the same thing with its integrated GPUs and still calls its products CPUs. AMD's integrated graphics tend to be faster than Intel's, but ultimately, both brands' processors do the same thing.

Image Credits: AMD

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Avram Piltch
Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.