AMD is making strides against Intel on the desktop with its Ryzen 3000 line of desktop processors. Now, the company is aiming its sights on ultrathin and high-performance laptops with new Ryzen 4000 mobile APUs (CPUs with an integrated GPU).
AMD Is Pushing Into Intel-Controlled Territory
Laptops are a firmly Intel-dominated PC segment despite attempts by AMD, Qualcomm, and others to unseat it. AMD realistically won’t overtake Intel anytime soon, but the company is releasing APUs that perform as high or higher than what Intel has to offer.
Similar to what’s happening on the desktop, AMD’s new processors threaten to chip away at the popularity of Intel. During 2020, around 100 laptops sporting new Ryzen 4000 mobile APUs are headed our way with quite a few hitting this spring. AMD wants to make six- and eight-core processors with multi-threading the norm on laptops. That would be a noticeable boost in performance compared to what you can get now.
AMD vs. Intel: The Real Battle Begins
Just like on the desktop, AMD is considered the lower-cost option for laptops, while most people opt for the more powerful and efficient CPUs from Intel.
That image started changing slightly with the advent of Ryzen 3000 mobile processors, but it promises to make a serious advance with the new crop of AMD APUs. Assuming, that is, the experience of using Ryzen 4000 lives up to the hype.
Right now, eight-core multi-threaded processors aren’t that common. You can find them in the upper echelons of Core i7 and Core i9 CPUs, to be sure. The bulk of laptops, however, are rocking Core i3 and Core i5 processors. In that range, Intel mobile CPUs are solidly four cores with up to eight threads, with some six-core and six-thread options.
Don’t get us wrong, AMD will also have Ryzen 4000 APUs packing lower thread and core counts. The Ryzen 3 4300U, for example, will have only four threads and four cores. Most Ryzen 4000 CPUs that we’ve seen so far, however, are six cores, twelve threads and up.
The company is also increasing its portfolio of laptops promising about 100 different laptop models to hit store shelves throughout 2020. That’s a solid number for AMD, especially if each model has multiple Ryzen-based options to offer a range of pricing.
So what are Ryzen 4000 processors? First, let’s be clear that there are no plans for Ryzen 4000 desktop processors at this time. Ryzen 3000 on the desktop is still relatively new and is quite successful.
Ryzen 3000 mobile APUs exist, but they are a generation behind their desktop counterparts. Ryzen 4000 aims to close that gap. The new laptop APUs use the Zen 2 CPU architecture just like Ryzen 3000, as well as the same 7 nm (nanometer) process. That means Ryzen 4000 laptop processors should be more efficient and offer better core versus core performance compared to Ryzen 3000 laptop APUs.
Side note: Ryzen 4000 7 nm chips are expected to be comparable in performance to Intel’s Ice Lake 10 nm chips. Don’t get hung up on nanometer size, as it’s generally considered to be a marketing term these days.
AMD is also offering what it calls SmartShift power technology to Ryzen 4000 H-class high performance chips. SmartShift enables the APUs to intelligently shift power demands between the CPU and GPU depending on which part of the system requires more power at any given time. That could help with overall performance.
One thing that Ryzen 4000 won’t have is PCIe 4 support. We expect that’s because the power and cooling demands of the new standard do not yet make it practical for laptops.
Some questions also remain about power draw. AMD didn’t announce anything about battery life expectations, because it’s still fine-tuning power draw, according to PCWorld. It’s not clear what to make of that, but battery life promises from manufacturers were all over the map during CES 2020, based on PCWorld’s report. That is a bit of a red flag and suggests the smart move is to wait and see what independent third-party reviews have to say about battery life before picking up a Ryzen 4000 laptop.
AMD Goes Core Crazy
Now, let’s take a look at what we know so far about Ryzen 4000 chips.
First up, we have the 15W TDP U-Series CPUs, which are aimed at ultrathin laptops. At the top of this range, we have the Ryzen 7 4800U, an eight-core, sixteen-thread CPU with a base frequency of 1.8 GHz that goes up to 4.2 GHz. Next, is the Ryzen 7 4700U, which is an eight-core, eight-thread model with similar frequencies to the 4800U.
Then, we have a six-core, twelve-thread CPU in the Ryzen 5 4600U; the six-core, six-thread Ryzen 5 4500U has a base of 2.3 GHz and a boost of 4 GHz; and then there’s the aforementioned four-core, four-thread Ryzen 3 4300U.
For laptops that need better performance for tasks such as gaming and video editing, AMD is rolling out the Ryzen 4000 H-Series. The Ryzen 7 4800H is an eight-core, sixteen-thread processor that has a base clock of 2.9 GHz and a boost of 4.2 GHz. Finally, there’s the six-core, twelve-thread Ryzen 5 4600H with a base of 3 GHz and a boost of 4 GHz.
How Expensive Will Ryzen 4000 Laptops Be?
Those all look great, but what kind of pricing should we expect when the laptops start rolling out? Given AMD’s typical strategy, the processors should be cheaper than similar Core processors such as the 10 nm Core i7-1065G7 or the 14 nm Core i9-9980HK. Current laptop models with a Core i9-9980HK often cost well over $2,000, while a laptop with a Core i7-1065G7 is in the $600-$1,000 range, though some gaming laptops go for much higher than that.
If AMD-based laptops cost about the same as Intel, then the company won’t be off to a good start. Going head-to-head in pricing is a matchup that AMD won’t win, at least not yet.
During CES 2020 in January, Lenovo showed off its Yoga Slim 7 Series due out in April, complete with early pricing sporting both Intel Ice Lake and Ryzen 4000 options. Pricing for the 14-inch Slim 7 with Ryzen 4000 starts at $850, while Ice Lake clamshells start at $1,210, according to Tom’s Hardware. That’s a difference of about $360.
If Lenovo’s pricing is a sign of things to come, then the AMD laptop is the usual strategy of offering equal or better performance that undercuts Intel on price. That’s where AMD’s strength in the desktop lies—Ryzen 3000 offers solid core counts and performance at lower prices than Intel—and it should be the same with laptops.
If we end up with equally well-performing processor platforms on store shelves in 2020, you will have more real choice for laptops and a better range of pricing options overall.