AMD Launches Its Most Aggressive Attack on Intel Yet, But PC Builders Could Be Left in the Cold

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo
Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

Another iteration of AMD desktop processors is here, but instead of being refreshed versions of the Ryzen 3000 series currently found on retail shelves, they’re refreshed versions of AMD’s new Ryzen 4000 mobile APU processors with Radeon graphics — and they’re only coming to pre-built desktops for now. This may not be the most exciting AMD announcement in recent times. We’re still waiting for a release date on the company’s next generation of graphics cards — which will also be powering the next generation of Xbox and Playstation consoles. Yet today’s news puts AMD in a good position to better compete with Intel in the pre-built OEM desktop space on a larger scale, and maybe finally provide us with a CPU that doesn’t require a discrete GPU to make most games playable.

According to Steam’s June 2020 hardware survey, 76.84% of respondents have an Intel CPU, while 23.16% of respondents have an AMD CPU. Crucially, this Steam survey doesn’t differentiate between pre-built and DIY, and it’s likely that most of that 23.16% is Ryzen 3000 or 2000 series CPUs without integrated graphics. AMD’s been doing just fine in the DIY space, and even in the higher end pre-built gaming PC space, but it needs to narrow the budget pre-built gap. AMD’s recent traction in gaining a greater share of the CPU market as a whole helps to explain why the company is choosing to revamp its Ryzen 4000 mobile APUs for desktop — and why it’s leaving behind DIY-ers for now.

During a product briefing, AMD said that the pre-built market is about 4 to 5% larger than the DIY market, so it makes sense why they are targeting the OEM pre-built market first. Now that AMD Ryzen 4000 mobile processors have been out in the wild for a bit, we have a good sense of how they perform. More OEMs like Lenovo are adding them to their laptop line-ups, and they’re priced lower than Intel-based models: A Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i (Intel version) starts at $US840 ($1,199), while the AMD version of the same model starts at $US660 ($942). It’s reasonable to assume that AMD’s desktop versions will price lower, too. Comparable performance for hundreds of dollars less? Yes, I would like to click ‘buy now.’ But at this time, there’s no release date on the new Ryzen 4000G desktop pre-builts, nor is there any information on what OEM will carry them.

This isn’t the first time AMD has released desktop APUs — AMD’s name for its CPUs with integrated graphics, but it is the first time AMD is basing its desktop APUs on its new Zen 2 architecture and offering a faster and more power-hungry Ryzen 7 version of its desktop APU. It’s APU graphics have generally been superior to Intel’s, but still not great at playing graphically intensive games without turning some graphics settings way down.

The main selling point for AMD’s new desktop APUs will be how well they can actually run games. Sure, you don’t need a discrete GPU on a personal or work machine that’s used only for basic tasks, but if the Ryzen 4000G series can live up to what AMD says it can, that opens a double-door to even cheaper budget-tier gaming desktops. The Ryzen 5 3400G gets about 30 frames per second in Far Cry 5 at 1080p on the lowest setting and about 35 fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider at the same settings. Just playable, but not close to that 60 fps ideal minimum. AMD says the Ryzen 5 4600G has 6% more performance than the Ryzen 5 3400G in 3D Mark, but that will translate to actual in-game performance differently depending on the game. If we assume that the Ryzen 5 4600G does actually get 6% better in-game performance to, then we could be looking at only a 1-2 fps boost. Which is still pretty incredible for an integrated chip.

Like the Ryzen 4000 mobile APUs, these new Ryzen 4000G series desktop processors will also be a single die solution, and will actually be the same die manufactured with the same 7nm process. So you could say that AMD is just putting its mobile processors in a desktop chassis, but the desktop APUs have a different tuning and optimisation point. They’ll be capable of hitting faster frequencies and will need to have a higher thermal design power (TDP) — that’s how much power the CPU needs to hit advertised performance. But they won’t consume that much more power, according to AMD.

Here’s the full line-up of consumer APUs coming to pre-built desktops:

  • Ryzen 7 4700G: 8-cores/16-threads, 3.6 GHz base (4.4 GHz boost) 12 MB cache, 8 graphics cores, 2100 MHz graphics frequency, 65W TDP.
  • Ryzen 7 7700GE: 8-cores/16-threads, 3.1 GHz base (4.3 GHz boost) 12 MB cache, 8 graphics cores, 2000 MHz graphics frequency, 35W TDP.
  • Ryzen 5 4600G: 6-cores/12-threads, 3.7 GHz base (4.2 GHz boost) 11 MB cache, 7 graphics cores, 1900 MHz graphics frequency, 65W TDP.
  • Ryzen 5 4600GE: 6-cores/12-threads, 3.3 GHz base (4.2 GHz boost) 11 MB cache, 7 graphics cores, 1900 MHz graphics frequency, 35W TDP.
  • Ryzen 3 4300G: 4-cores/8-threads, 3.8 GHz base (4.0 GHz boost) 6 MB cache, 6 graphics cores, 1700 MHz graphics frequency, 65W TDP.
  • Ryzen 3 4300GE: 4-cores/8-threads, 3.3 GHz base (4.0 GHz boost) 6 MB cache, 6 graphics cores, 1700 MHz graphics frequency, 35W TDP.

If we compare the upper-tier Ryzen 7 4700G to the Ryzen 9 4900H mobile APU, for instance, everything is the same aside for the graphics frequency. It’s higher on the desktop version, which should translate to better game performance.

AMD says OEMs could choose to pair any of the Ryzen 4000 APUs with a discrete graphics card, but these APUs are totally capable of running graphically intensive games at playable frame rates, meaning at 1080p on a low graphics setting. But will that mean more than 30 fps on a game like Far Cry 5, and if it does how much? We’ll have to wait to get our hands on a desktop to find out.