What’s new in AMD’s Ryzen mobile processors?
Could there finally be a mobile competitor to challenge Intel’s dominance?
It’s been a busy year for AMD, with the company introducing three brand new consumer product lines with its Ryzen and Ryzen Threadripper CPUs, and Radeon RX Vega graphics cards.
But those have mostly focused on desktops and the high-end enthusiast and gaming market. Now, AMD has set its sight on laptops with Ryzen mobile processors that feature integrated Radeon Vega graphics.
Today, practically every laptop you buy runs an Intel processor, and those that are paired with discrete GPUs – which are often from NVIDIA – end up being quite thick and heavy compared to your average ultrabook. AMD’s Ryzen mobile chips hope to change that by bringing decent gaming performance to a new breed of slim and light notebooks.
In fact, systems from Acer, HP, and Lenovo have already been announced with the new hardware. Here’s what you should know about the new Ryzen mobile CPUs.
1. THEY USE VEGA GRAPHICS
Zen cores and Vega GPUs are linked on a single piece of silicon using AMD’s Infinity Fabric interconnect, which AMD says offers higher bandwidth and lower latency than the PCIe interface. This also provides a single coherent control and data interface to integrate and manage the full SoC.
Infinity Fabric acts as the bridge between the CPU, GPU and other SoC components, such as the multimedia and display engines, DDR4 memory controllers, and I/O and system hub. One benefit of this approach is its modularity, so AMD could swap out designs quicker. For instance, while Ryzen mobile only supports DDR4 now, it could conceivably be configured for lower power LPDDR4 later on.
That said, AMD is also claiming graphics performance on par with NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 950M GPU, which is more powerful than the integrated graphics on Intel’s new 8th generation Core products.
2. IMPROVED PRECISION BOOST
Ryzen mobile supports most of the same SenseMI features as their desktop counterparts, including things like Precision Boost, Pure Power, and Extreme Frequency Range (XFR). However, the new Precision Boost 2 technology adopts a new turbo frequency model.
Instead of sensing how many cores and threads are under load, and working from there to determine voltage, the frequencies on Ryzen mobile chips are based on CPU temperatures, current, and load. In addition, it also considers other inputs such as data from skin temperature sensors and battery life.
AMD describes this new algorithm as being more opportunistic, where the chips will provide the best possible turbo frequency, regardless of the number of threads being used.
Ryzen mobile processors can also take advantage of granular 25MHz adjustments, thus allowing the system to maintain a higher frequency and better performance.
3. XFR IS HERE, BUT IT ISN’T AVAILABLE ON ALL CHIPS
While the desktop Ryzen processors supported XFR across the entire product stack, not all Ryzen mobile chips will do so. However, this is more a result of the thermal limits of the designs of individual notebooks, as opposed to any deliberate processor level feature segmentation on AMD’s part.
In other words, XFR will only be selectively available on certain laptops that have been over-engineered to support higher power draws, such as the Acer Swift 3.
The mobile variant of this is called mobile XFR, or mXFR, but essentially it will work the same as its desktop variant, which is to unlock an even higher boost clock frequency than the advertized turbo range for the processor, as long as certain cooling and operational requirements are met.
4. BETTER BATTERY LIFE
AMD worked to improve power consumption, which is crucial for any mobile processor. One of the ways it’s doing that is by adding extra sleep states via the use of power gating. For instance, a single core can be mostly powered off, but still have its L3 cache active and available for use by another core.
Further work has also been done to enable more parts of the SoC to remain off when the display refreshes, so power consumption is overall lower. In addition, the GPU now has a VP9 decoder, and AMD says playback time is effectively doubled. Standard 1080p H.264 playback saw some modest improvements as well, going from 10.6 hours to 12.2 hours.
On top of that, Ryzen mobile will use per-core frequency and voltage algorithms, which allow fine-tuning of voltage and frequency for each core and the GPU based on external sensors, available power, and current load.
Ryzen mobile uses a single quad-core Zen-based CCX, as seen in the rectangle on the left. The Vega CUs are in the blue rectangle on the right.