AMD has kept their Ryzen platform under wraps for a very long time, and new details continue to be uncovered as this year rolls past. First it was Ryzen 7, challenging the status quo for Intel. Then it was Ryzen 5, toppling the Core i5 from its throne as the best-selling processor for gaming. Ryzen 3 felt a bit weak in some places due to the make-up of its cores, but overall it runs well and provides a good alternative to the Pentium and Core i3 families.
Today, AMD has announced the next step for the Ryzen family in the form of Ryzen with Vega Graphics. Yeah, it’s not a catchy name. It’s not even short, and it’s a bit of a drag to type out. But it’s here, and it’s shipping in notebooks that’ll be launched in the next two months.
Ryzen with Vega Graphics (which I’ll refer to as Ryzen Mobile for the rest of this article) is the inevitable merging of two fundamental architectures – Ryzen and Vega – that helped AMD get back into a competitive position in the market.
To recap, Ryzen is a completely new CPU architecture that helped AMD provide competition in the market and helped bump its stock price to today’s levels, while Vega rewrote how the company thinks about graphics cards and the markets at which they’re targeting their architectures.
Both Ryzen and Vega have a slant towards productivity and creating media, while also being excellent components for a gaming machine. AMD’s goal was to get as close to Intel as possible while also not delivering exactly the same product. Ryzen is more well-rounded as a result, and while Intel’s offerings outperform their AMD counterparts in certain scenarios, AMD’s got Intel beat in others.
Looking at the die shot above, we can see that all four cores of the Ryzen part of the APU are in their own core complex, and are physically together on the die. This is important for making sure that there are no issues with cache hits or information that needs to travel between cores, because the cores are so close together. On the right is the Vega GPU. Surrounding it are some of the required video encode and decode blocks for hardware acceleration, as well as some logic to hook up to the Infinity Fabric. It’s an incredibly complex chip, because the chipset is also sandwiched in the middle.
The die size of Ryzen Mobile is also incredibly small. At 209.78mm², it’s only slightly bigger than the 192mm² die size of the Ryzen desktop chips. It’s only slightly more expensive for AMD to produce these processors than the Ryzen ones, and this means that AMD can have good margins without losing money. The slight increase in die size also means they can harvest a lot of good, working die from the wafer – almost as many as Ryzen, which yields about 150 die per wafer.
On paper, AMD’s engineers took what they knew they could do with Ryzen and Vega separately and estimated what kind of power and performance improvements they could get out of it. As with Ryzen, the first samples in the lab proved they were going in the right direction, and today AMD has announced that they’ve improved CPU performance by up to 200%, GPU performance by 128%, and power consumption by 58% in comparison to the Bristol Ridge APUs that’re shipping in some laptops today.
It’s an impressive feat, but do keep in mind how they’re claiming these improvements. The CPU boosts come not just from a better architecture, but also the ability to cram four cores with simultaneous multithreading into their notebooks. Ryzen’s IPC improvement over Bristol Ridge alone accounts for at least 65% of that boost. It’s a really impressive leap. GPU performance is also a lot higher because Vega is highly efficient at low clock speeds, and it can still muscle around workloads despite its handicap.
Ryzen Mobile comes with a new version of AMD’s SenseMI technology, which is driven by the Infinity Fabric on the processor. This is logic inside the processor that helps regulate clock speeds, thermal performance, and power draw in millisecond time-frames, so it’s very accurate and quick. SenseMI for Ryzen Mobile brings with it a new version of Precision Boost. In Ryzen for desktop, AMD’s Precision Boost would bump up the clock speed as much as possible to its boost limit in 25MHz increments, a neat trick that allows AMD to keep clock speeds high under load, whereas in the past they’d normally drop clock speeds to save on power.
Precision Boost 2 still does that, but it now tapers off more gradually as you load up multi-core workloads like video editing or 3D rendering. This is quite different to the graphs I produced in my article looking at Intel’s competing technology, where you see both AMD and Intel’s algorithms dropping clock speeds as more cores are loaded, but AMD’s chips drop a lot more. Intel has a good handle on how their silicon performs under load and under heat, so AMD’s addition of Precision Boost 2 is a welcome improvement that will eventually find its way into the Ryzen refresh.
Also along for the ride is Mobile Extended Frequency Range. This is a trick AMD came up with for Ryzen that allows them to eke out a few hundred megahertz or more when the processor had reached its power limit. It’s more of a mathematical solution than something in silicon. If you know that the difference between 3.5GHz and 3.6GHz on the same core results in slightly higher power draw, you’ll try to boost to that higher speed for as long as it makes sense. In Ryzen Mobile, Mobile XFR has a larger window to work in, and delivers better performance.
There’s a catch though. XFR for Ryzen Mobile might only be as substantial as Ryzen for desktop (around 100MHz) for systems that don’t feature advanced cooling that meets AMD’s “performance criteria”. What those are, and how much it’ll cost to implement, is a secret for the time being. Suffice to say, notebook vendors who put more effort into their cooling solutions will see better performance in benchmarks.
XFR and Precision Boost 2 both combine with other Infinity Fabric control nodes to finely regulate how power is dished out to the processor as a result. In previous APUs, the power budget was always heavily skewed towards the GPU, but this meant that the CPU cores ended up being heavily underclocked, and the GPU wouldn’t always underclock to a level that allowed the cores to reach their full potential. AMD employed various tricks like resonant clock mesh to regain some control of that power and direct it where it needed to be, but ultimately any sort of heavy GPU load wouldn’t allow that to happen.
In Ryzen Mobile, that’ll change. In the graphs AMD supplied, you can see that during the graphics-heavy portion of the 3DMark benchmark Fire Strike, more power is fed to the GPU to reach its max boost frequency. However, there isn’t a big drop in CPU performance at this point. Cores 0 and 3 retain a lot of their performance, while cores 2 and 4 don’t see much activity. As the benchmark moves to the CPU-heavy workloads, the GPU drops its power consumption dramatically, but loads it up again just enough to not impact on the performance of the CPU cores.
Debuting today is the Ryzen 7 2700U and the Ryzen 5 2500U. These are AMD’s top-end offerings in the Ryzen Mobile family for now, and both are configurable from 9 watts to as much as 25 watts. This means that the same chips are suitable for thin, light, fan-less laptops as well as traditional form factors with active cooling. The Ryzen 7 2700U starts off with a base clock of 2.2GHz boosting up to 3.8GHz, and has four cores and eight virtual threads, along with 10 Radeon Vega compute units for a total of 640 shaders (previous APU designs peaked at 512 shaders).
The Ryzen 5 2500U is the same chip, but has a base clock of 2GHz and a boost clock of 3.6GHz, and only ships with 512 Vega GPU shaders. Two of the compute units are disabled to lower the chip’s power requirements, but this may also end up being the best all-round performer because it’ll be slightly more efficient than the Ryzen 7 2700U. In terms of battery life, AMD claims an improvement to battery life that is double that of Bristol Ridge while watching video encoded with the VP9 codec. Nine hours of battery life for YouTube videos is insane.
The other battery performance stats are equally impressive. AMD claims up to 12 hours of battery life while watching local 1080p videos, and up to 13.5 hours in MobileMark 2014 which tests for performance in productivity workloads. If you zoom in, the slide’s footnote says that this is with a 50Wh battery.
In terms of application performance, AMD compares the Ryzen 7 2700U to the Intel Core i7-8800U and other processors. I’m not one to trust vendor-supplied charts, but these do look very promising. Against Intel’s latest chip, Ryzen Mobile pulls in as good a performance as it would on the desktop, with the Ryzen 7 2700U coming in very close to the single-core score of Ryzen 7 1800X… which is kind of crazy.
AMD was also careful to choose multi-threaded benchmarks for their comparisons, pulling in good performance in everything but PassMark. Essentially, it’s as powerful as a Ryzen 5 1500X, just in a mobile form factor.
AMD says that these productivity and gaming benchmarks were performed with the processor configured to a 15W thermal limit. That’s the same thermal limit as Intel’s processors in the same form factor. There’s a 25W power level available, which some laptop vendors might allow users to configure in the BIOS. In other words, there’s more performance on tap – it just needs better cooling and power delivery.
GPU performance is the other half of the story, and here I have no trouble believing the slides, because I’ve seen similar things for myself in AMD’s previous APUs. The Vega GPU is miles ahead of where Intel currently sits with 8th-generation Core processors when it comes to graphics performance and driver optimisation, and Vega will likely be a solid performer for gamers on the move as well.
AMD says their goal was decent performance in an APU that would allow you to easily play most games on it, and it looks like they nailed that. Overwatch at 60fps? Who doesn’t want that kind of performance in a notebook? As a bonus, Ryzen Mobile is capable of driving internal and external FreeSync 2 displays, is capable of decoding 4K video up to 240fps, and will also encode 4k HEVC video at 30fps. You can have FreeSync and you can be streaming to Twitch at a reasonably high frame rate. The GPU has some limitations when it comes to resolution, so most games will still need to be run at 720p.
Finally, let’s talk systems. AMD has three partners launching their notebooks in the very near future, just in time for holiday sales. Acer’s Swift 3 will be available with both the Ryzen 7 2700U and the Ryzen 5 2500U, along with up to 8GB of DDR4 2,400MHz RAM, up to 256GB SSD, a 15.6-inch form factor, a 1080p IPS display, and a 48Wh battery. If it’s priced anything like the current Swift 3 at around R12,000, this should be a nice, affordable, highly portable option that can game on the go.
Next is Lenovo’s Ideapad 720S. This comes with both APUs, up to 1TB of SSD storage, a 13.3-inch chassis with your choice of 1080p or 4K IPS display, and a 48Wh battery. Lenovo only ships one RAM stick in it though, so you’ll have to open it up and add another if you want the best GPU performance. It might even be the case that there isn’t another RAM slot.
Lastly, HP’s Envy X360 is a 15.6-inch design with a rotating hinge that will only come with the Ryzen 5 2500U APU, up to 8GB of DDR4 RAM, up to 512GB of SSD storage, and a 55Wh battery.
AMD’s Ryzen with Vega Graphics is set to launch in Q4 for notebooks, with desktop versions launching later. AMD says they’ll have more to show at CES 2018 in early January.