Ryzen 4000 Review: AMD's 7nm Ryzen 9 offers game-changing performance for laptops

AMD's Ryzen 9 4900HS deals a crushing blow to Intel's most powerful laptop CPUs.

AMD

When AMD introduced its Ryzen 4000 mobile CPUs at CES, the company made bold claims of game-changing performance. Coming off of years of underwhelming laptop chips, AMD promised it had optimized Ryzen 4000 for mobile computing.

Now we’ve tested those claims in AMD’s Ryzen 9 4900HS chip, which AMD announced March 16. It's a 7nm, 8-core/16-thread chip with a base clock of 3GHz and a boost clock of 4.3GHz. It also offers 8 Radeon Vega cores. The ‘H’ means it’s intended for power users, and the ‘S’ means it’s for “slim”-profile laptops. We’re stunned at the CPU’s impressive tour de force that defeats just about every Intel 8th- and 9th-gen laptop CPU we’ve ever seen.

Our testbed is the amazing Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 ($1,450 at Asus.com), a 14-inch laptop which also offers Nvidia’s new GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. AMD promises about 100 more partner products in the near future. Keep reading to learn how this chip brings AMD back into the mobile game—and why Intel should be worried.

Asus

The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 features AMD’s new 8-core Ryzen 9 4000HS, as well as a GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU, in a mere 3.5-pound package.

How we tested

AMD’s Zen 2 core performance has been well-tested in desktops. The new element here is how performance will be affected by the limited thermals, power, and acoustics of the typical laptop.

Testing a mobile CPU is not at all like testing a desktop CPU. In a desktop, the reviewer can control what GPU, what SSD, what RAM, and what cooling is used, and test apples to apples or darn close to it.

Every laptop, on the other hand, is a custom-built platform. The closest anyone can get to apples-to-apples testing is on that rare occasion when the vendor offers two different CPUs in the same rig. For instance, we compared Intel vs. AMD CPUs in Acer’s Predator Helios 500, the sibling laptops being nearly identical otherwise.

When you test a laptop CPU, what little you can control are comparable size and weight. Larger and heavier laptops can typically offer more space for cooling and power. It’s not fair to compare it to a thin-and-light laptop, which will face more challenges with ventilation and likely throttle performance to keep things cooler. 

Asus

Asus AniMe Matrix version of the ROG Zephyrus G14 features a thousand LEDs on its lid that can scroll logos or even display GIFS.

For the most part we tested the Ryzen 9 4900HS in the laptop’s “turbo” setting, which is one click up from its default “performance” setting. For all of the other laptops, we selected the performance results, but did not include any actual overclocked scores for those laptops. While it’s true that the performance of a low-power, superlight gaming laptop won’t be all we can see from the chip, this is largely what AMD intended, as the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is the launch laptop for Ryzen 4000. 

AMD actually wants you to see what a 3.5-pound laptop can do against 4.5-pound, 5-pound, and 7-pound laptops featuring Intel’s CPUs. The comparison laptops you’ll see are mostly in the ROG Zephyrus G14’s class, as well as ones far larger, and far heavier. We also include a laptop with an older 7th-gen quad-core, so you can see just how far we’ve come.

We should note that our comparisons mix mostly earlier test results with a few fresh numbers. Unlike our current desktop CPU reviews, where we keep the CPUs and can re-run tests with refreshed drivers, BIOSes, and OS, laptop tests are a snapshot in time before we return review units to the company. It’s not ideal, but when we’ve been able to retest, we’ve actually found little change. We’ll have fresher results once laptops with Intel’s newer 10th-gen chips show up.

Ryzen 4000 CPU performance

We put the laptop through our usual battery of performance tests, which you’ll see below. But with a new CPU we always want to see more, so check out our full CPU benchmarks for the Ryzen 9 4900HS, a companion piece to the main review.

Our first test is Cinebench R15. It’s a 3D rendering benchmark made by Maxon based on the engine from its Cinema4D product, which features in such products as Adobe’s Premiere video editor. This is an older test (but still relevant), so we have a healthy list of comparable Intel-based laptops.

Like most 3D rendering engines, the test is heavily multi-threaded. The more CPU cores and threads you throw at it, the more performance you get. It runs on today’s laptops in under a minute, so the all-core boost speeds of each laptop will have a larger impact.

The results are nothing less than phenomenal for the Ryzen 9 4900HS. As you can see, it easily dispatches the 8-core Core i9-9980HK in the big Acer Predator Helios 700, as well as the 8-core Core i9-9880H in the MSI GE65 Raider. The old-school Ryzen 7 2700—a desktop chip—in the Acer Predator Helios 500 pulls up last among the 8-core CPUs. Intel’s Core i7 and its older Core i9 chips with “just” 6-cores can’t hang, either.

The reigning champion is neither surprising nor embarrassing for the Ryzen 9 4900HS. It’s the Alienware Area 51m R1, a true beast with a desktop Core i9-9900K at its heart. 

Let that sink for a moment: A 3.5-pound Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 with a low-power Ryzen 9 4900HS is only about 5 percent slower than an 8.5-pound Alienware Area 51m R1 with a desktop Core i9-9900K. Granted, the Alienware could pull further away if overclocked, but this is a hell of a result for the Ryzen 9 4900HS.

IDG

The low-power Ryzen 9 4900HS in the Zephyrus G14 easily dispatches every single Intel mobile CPU we’ve ever seen. Only the desktop Core i9-9900K in the Alienware Area 51m pulls ahead.

The song remains the same in Maxon’s new Cinebench R20, which uses a far more current engine from Cinema4D, supports up to 256 threads, and also stresses AVX, AVX2 and AVX512 workloads. Add in the much longer run times, and you have a benchmark that is particularly tough on CPUs that rely excessively on boost clocks.

You can see the results of the harsher workload below. The Ryzen 9 4900HS easily beats every single laptop Intel sells—from 10-pound hulks to 5-pound workhorses with 8 cores inside. The only dog higher in the pile is once again the Alienware Area 51m R1. That’s just wow.

IDG

Cinebench R20 shows how a low-power Ryzen 9 4900HS can easily vanquish every single laptop CPU Intel sells today.

Multi-core performance is great, but the real world is often stuck in single-core land. While 3D modelling isn’t the same as say, running Microsoft Word, running Cinebench R15 on a single thread is still a valid way to measure how a CPU reacts under a given single-core load.

Intel’s mature 14nm CPUs have a well-known advantage in high clock speeds in the 4.8GHz to 5GHz range. Here, the Ryzen 9 4900HS falls back a few notches, but it loses only to three laptops that weigh 2.5 times as much as the ROG Zephyrus G14. Even with the thermal advantage, the Core i9-9980HK is only 3 percent ahead, and the mighty desktop Core i9-9900K, a mere 6 percent. The Ryzen 9 4900HS also pulls ahead of the only arguable competitor here, the Core i9-9880H in the MSI GE65 Raider.

IDG

The Ryzen 9 4900HS in the 3.5-pound Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 loses—but the three that come in ahead weigh 2.5X as much and pack far more cooling.

We ran Cinebench R20 in single-threaded mode as well, and we were floored by the results. Although technically a tie, the Core i9-9880H and Ryzen 9 are dead even. With Intel’s clock speed advantage, especially in single-threaded tasks, we didn’t think it would be so close. 

IDG

The Ryzen 9 4900HS tied the Core i9-9880H in Cinebench R20.

For another perspective on CPU performance, we use the free HandBrake encoder to convert a 30GB, 1080p file using the Android Tablet preset. It’s a multi-core CPU test that can take an hour to run on a quad-core lightweight laptop. Even on the more powerful laptops being tested here, HandBrake conversion can take around 20 minutes. That’s enough time for most laptops to start to throttle down as the heat builds up around the busy CPU.

Only the laptops with the very best cooling can sustain higher clocks. At least, that’s the way it’s been with Intel’s 14nm chips. With the 7nm Ryzen 9 4900HS, you can apparently do well in this test simply by producing less heat. While the huge, thick Alienware Area 51m and Acer Predator Helios 700 come in first, right behind them is the 3.5-pound ROG Zephyrus G14. It’s a bit like having two muscle cars lay skid marks and tear away at a greenlight—only see the Nissan Leaf pulling up just behind them at the next light.

IDG

It takes a desktop Core i9 and 10-pound chassis to beat a 3.5-pound laptop with AMD’s Ryzen 9 4900HS in it.

Keep reading to see Ryzen 4000 gaming performance.

Ryzen 9 4900HS gaming performance

Almost all of the tests in this story are CPU-bound because we’re focused on measuring solely the Ryzen 9’s capabilities in the ROG Zephyrus G14. Because most of the laptops here have very different graphics chips, anything touching the GPU would muddy CPU performance.

For those wondering how the Ryzen 9 would do in a theoretical game physics test, you can see that with UL’s 3DMark Time Spy CPU score. The score isolates CPU performance during a multi-core CPU test. As we’ve seen before, the two big “muscle books” lead the way by about 10 percent, and they also outweigh the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 by 2.5X to 3X.

Of more interest is the MSI GE65 Raider with its 9th gen 8-core Core i9-9880H. Despite weighing in at five pounds, the GE65 Raider falls far behind the Ryzen 9 4900HS in the ROG Zephyrus G14.

IDG

3DMark’s Time Spy CPU score tell us its hard to beat big giant “muscle books” but laptops closer to the Zephyrus G14 can’t touch it.

We know, we know, you still want to see how well the Ryzen 9 4900HS does in real games. We would too, but modern gaming is almost always about the graphics card. AMD does claim that its advantage in thermals with the Ryzen 4000 gives it an edge. To measure that though, we’d need a similar class of laptop with the same GPU and the same cooling. And again, ideally, we’d have this in the exact same model. 

Clearly, a 3.5-pound laptop with a GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q in it can’t easily be compared to a laptop with a GeForce RTX 2070, RTX 2080, or possibly even a RTX 2060.

We can at least show you the results of the graphics systems from many of the laptops above. It’s interesting to see the essential dead heat between the ROG Zephyrus G14 and a Dell G7 with a GeForce RTX 2060. That either means the lighter CPU thermal load from the Ryzen 9 does indeed help graphics performance, or there’s something more to this new GeForce RTX 2060 variant in the ROG Zephyrus G14.

IDG

Performance of the G14 with a GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q is actually pretty impressive but obviously pales next to much faster GPUs.

We also ran the laptop through real games such as Rise of the Tomb Raider. The results are again quite impressive given the disparity in weights, but so muddied by the different GPUs that it’s really hard to determine anything. What seems safe to say is that gaming with the ROG Zephyrus G14 is quite good, and in line what what you’d expect of a laptop with an RTX 2060-class GPU and a fast CPU.

We did consider running gaming laptops off of an external GPU, but without Thunderbolt 3 on the Zephyrus G14, it’s not possible.

IDG

Performance is quite good for an RTX 2060-class GPU.

One thing we have confirmed is the PCIe on the Ryzen 4000 is limited to x8 using Gen 3 technology for the discrete GPU. The SoC features another 12 lanes of PCI Gen 3 for various plumbing such as storage, WiFi, or 5G.

Should this deter you from Ryzen? In our opinion, no. Few consumer graphics loads truly require the bandwidth of 16 lanes of PCIe. To give you an idea of how much it doesn’t matter, Alienware’s Area 51m R1 with a GeForce RTX 2080 also uses an 8-lane connection to the GPU. The other eight lanes are repurposed to support the company’s external graphics amplifier. 

AMD

AMD’s Ryzen 4000 is limited to 8 lanes of gen 3 PCIe for the discrete GPU.

Ryzen 4000 battery life

Our last test is a simple battery test, using video rundown as the task. We use a 4K open source video and loop it in Windows 10’s Movies & TV app, with the laptop set to airplane mode and earbuds plugged in at mid-volume. The screen brightness is set to 250 to 260 nits, which is a reasonable brightness for indoor office use, or watching a movie on a plane with the cabin lights on.

Like GPU performance, battery performance is very tightly tied to the laptop itself. It depends on how large the battery is, how power-efficient the screen is, how power-efficient the audio is, and more. You can’t make a final determination of an entire CPU family based on one test of one laptop. However, you can at least see what the CPU is capable of in one laptop design. The results we got from our Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 make us feel pretty good about Ryzen 4000’s ability to compete with Intel’s chips.

IDG

Battery life in the Zephyrus G14 was quite good in video playback but like all performance or gaming laptops, once you push the CPU or GPU, expect to get no more than 2 hours out of it.

Due to time constraints, we couldn’t test battery life under heavy loads, but we do plan to. Like any performance laptop with a powerful discrete GPU, once you push the GPU hard, expect battery life to plummet. In fact, once you push the CPU hard, expect it to plummet as well.

Conclusion: Ryzen 4000 is a game-changer

To put AMD’s Ryzen 4000 in perspective, you have to understand that in AMD’s 50-year history, it has never beaten Intel in laptops. It’s won a few battles in desktop: Athlon, Athlon 64, and the current desktop Ryzen chips. AMD’s fortunes change dramatically with the Ryzen 4000 chips, which are clearly the new leader in performance laptops.

Even more astonishing is AMD’s ability to offer so much performance in such tight thermal and power constraints. While a comparably thin Intel-based laptop would have to crank up fans to annoying levels, the Ryzen 9 4900HS can do so with relatively moderate fan noise.

Worse news for Intel, AMD’s Ryzen 4000 can spar with laptops that weigh two to even three times as much. This is something we frankly didn’t expect. Ryzen 4000 is without a doubt the most game-changing performance laptop CPU we’ve seen in years.