Gaming laptops will never be the same, and it's all thanks to AMD

(Image credit: Future)

Even the best laptops are, traditionally speaking, a lot slower than a full desktop PC. The PC components that laptop manufacturers shove into a portable machine consume way less power, and are generally constricted  by thermal limits imposed by being in a tight space – especially with recent Ultrabooks and such getting thinner and thinner. However, with AMD Ryzen 4000, that has fundamentally changed. 

We've finally been able to get our hands on a Zen 2-powered laptop, in the shape of the Asus Zephyrus G14. That laptop is equipped with the Ryzen 9 4900HS, which is the 35W variant of the most powerful laptop chip in the lineup right now. And let us just say this: it's mighty impressive

In fact, this processor blew our minds so much, that we did a full round of testing, putting it up against the most powerful consumer processors on the market right now from both Intel and AMD. It's definitely not faster than either the Intel Core i9-9900K or the Ryzen 9 3900X, but it comes close enough to definitely be classified as desktop-class performance. 

(Image credit: AMD)

But first: battery life

However exciting it would be to just dump a bunch of performance graphs in your face (don't worry, that's coming here in a bit), we want to note that there's a fundamental difference in what's valuable for a laptop and for a desktop. 

When you're picking up a desktop processor, power consumption does matter to a point. The more power you draw from the wall, the more you're typically going to spend on your power bill each month. The difference between a 65W Ryzen 7 3700X and a 95W Core i9-9900K each month will likely be trivial, but there's definitely a difference there. 

For a laptop, however, battery life comes into play in a huge way. One of the major appeals of having a portable device is to, like, be able to carry it around wherever you go, and if your gaming laptop dies after an hour or two of just browsing the web or watching a movie on the train, what's the point of it even being a laptop?

For the longest time, that's kind of been the compromise you had to make for having a gaming laptop in the first place. Even the most power efficient gaming laptops out there only last 3-5 hours doing even the most lightweight tasks – but that's changed now. 

In our battery tests for the Zephyrus G14, the laptop has battery life that's right up there with the likes of the Dell XPS 13, a laptop that is designed first and foremost for working on the road. All in a gaming laptop that can play all the latest and best PC games

Thanks to a controller that's built into the CPU die, AMD's firmware is able to dynamically adjust clock speeds depending on the actual workloads being imposed on the laptops. So, if you're just browsing the web or writing up a document in Microsoft Word, clock speeds come down, which also brings down power consumption. 

This is pretty much standard, but what sets AMD apart from either Intel's current Ice Lake chips or even AMD Ryzen 3000 mobile is how much faster these Zen 2 processors are at adjusting clock speeds – as the simple act of adjusting clock speed takes power, too. 

This was all done in the name of maximizing real-world battery life beyond what people even test for. AMD flew us out to their Austin, Texas campus to do a deep dive into what Ryzen 4000 would be capable of, and in an interview AMD director of product management Renato Fragale told us that rather than focusing on hard benchmarks, "we need to be looking at, or around, a cross-section of applications". 

We specifically asked a question for one of our own use cases, like traveling internationally to a big tech conference (even if they've been cancelled for a bit), and Fragale explained to us "if you know you're going to be unplugged for 14 hours, and you know you've gotta get some work done, you slide [the Windows Power Slider] towards battery life. Because realistically, if you're doing Word or PowerPoint, or whatever, you probably don't need a ton of performance to do that; so let's go save some battery."

Long story short, AMD has introduced laptop chips that can provide excellent performance for workloads like gaming – which we're about to dive into now – yet can also deliver battery life to get you through a long plane flight. It's finally the best of both worlds. 

Test system specs

This is the system we used to test desktop CPU performance:

CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Masterliquid 360P Silver Edition
Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super
RAM: 32GB HyperX Predator RGB @ 3,000MHz
Motherboard: MSI MEG Z390 ACE
Power Supply: Phanteks RevoltX 1200
Case: Praxis Wetbench

CPU Cooler: 
Cooler Master Masterliquid 360P Silver Edition Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super
RAM: 32GB HyperX Predator RGB @ 3,000MHz Motherboard: X570 Aorus Master
Power Supply: Phanteks RevoltX 1200
Case: Praxis Wetbench

AMD Ryzen 4000 crushing those benchmarks

So we teased the performance a bit when we noticed earlier that the AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS is faster than the Intel Core i7-9700K in Cinebench R20. To be fair, this was a claim that AMD made way back when it revealed its lineup back at CES 2020. We don't know about you, but we never trust manufacturer-delivered benchmarks – we like to test everything ourselves. 

And, well, that's exactly what we did. We tested the Ryzen 9 4900HS against the Intel Core i5-9600K, Core i7-9700K and Core i9-9900K. And, for parity's sake we also tested the AMD Ryzen 5 3600, Ryzen 7 3700X and Ryzen 9 3900X. The numbers are frankly astounding. 

Like we already mentioned in that earlier news story, the AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS scores a whopping 4,194 points in the Cinebench R20 multi-core test against the Intel Core i7-9700K's 3,726. But we had to go deeper for this one. 

In Geekbench 5, the 4900HS comes ahead in multi-core with 7,820 points to the 9700K's 7,728, while coming close to the same single-core performance with a 1,170 single-core score. Even in 3DMark, where Intel is historically very strong, the 4900HS beats the 9700K with a CPU score of 8,438 to Team Blue's 8,106.

What's even more impressive, however, is how close the AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS comes to the Intel Core i9-9900K. A chip that not only retails for $479 (£469, about AU$696) on its own, but also has a TDP of 95W – more than double the power of the 4900HS. 

In Cinebench R20, the Core i9-9900K gets a multi-core score of 4,789 and a single core score of 515. That's just 13% and 7% faster, respectively, for a processor that consumes more than double the power and is being cooled by a 360mm AIO liquid cooler. 

Even in Geekbench, the 9900K is just 13% faster than the AMD laptop chip, scoring 8952 in the multi-core test. The higher numbers might look at first to be a win for Intel, but we can assure you they're not

The 4900HS is even within reaching distance of AMD's own desktop processors, namely the Ryzen 7 3700X. AMD's 8-core, 16-thread mainstream desktop processor gets a Cinebench R20 multi-core score of 4,802 and a GeekBench multi-core score of 9,037. 

The AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS certainly isn't faster than the Ryzen 9 and Core i9 desktop processors, but the fact that it is right up there with them should be applauded. 

This is excellent news for anyone that needs a powerful workstation that won't break your back while traveling. If you just need something that can handle video editing while traveling, now's the time to pick up that new laptop. Best part? During our testing the temperatures for the Ryzen 9 4900HS peaked at 91 C – short of the thermal limit that most MacBooks constantly bump up against. 

We are in a new age of high-end mobile computing, and it's all thanks to the amazing work AMD put in here. 

Razer Blade 15 Studio Edition

(Image credit: Future)

Looking to the future

However it's not all sunshine and roses here. Right now Intel has claim to all the shiny flagships on the market right now. The Razer Blade 15, the MSI GS66 Stealth and more are all still exclusively rocking Intel Comet Lake-H processors. 

To be clear, we haven't tested Comet Lake-H processors for ourselves yet, so we can't speak to their performance or the battery life offered. 

What we can say, however, is that Intel processors are the ones that are getting paired with an RTX 2080 Super to provide high-end gaming or video production laptops. 

Now, it's important to note that AMD isn't restricting manufacturers from pairing an AMD Ryzen 4000 processor with a higher-end GPU. In our Austin interview, AMD Senior Manager of Product Management Scott Stankard told us that "we didn't place a restriction. But in the contest of: we are attacking the market, we are saying that we want to go over double the systems from 2019 to 2020."

In short, AMD wants to make sure it has the bulk of the market covered. And, it's true that when you're out there shopping for a laptop, a high-end device that can cost thousands of dollars is only going to appeal to a limited number of people. 

And again, as much as we'd like to see AMD processors in the halo laptops of the world, AMD isn't the only company that has to make that decision – laptop OEMs have to, well, put the processors into the halo laptops. 

Stankard tells us "in the notebook, it's a collaboration with the OEMs. So the OEM has to look at their portfolio, figure out what they want to go build and how they want to go attack it. So we don't have the full free-rein to say, "we will do this"." AMD can certainly influence laptop manufacturers, but the Asus's and the Dells of the world have to actually make the decision to include the processors they want to include. 

Personally, we can't wait to see these processors paired with the best GPUs on the market. We absolutely love the idea of pairing a high-end AMD CPU with the top-end mobile GPU in a gaming laptop that can absolutely destroy games even at 4K. That day isn't here yet, but as more laptop manufacturers come around to just how good AMD Ryzen 4000 is, and the benefits it provides everyday users, we're sure that's going to change. 

Until then, we can just revel in the performance that these processors deliver. The best gaming laptops just got a whole lot better, and if things continue in this direction, we might even start recommending gaming laptops over an Ultrabook, thanks to the increased performance without having to compromise on battery life. It's just that good. 

Bill Thomas

Bill Thomas (Twitter) is TechRadar's computing editor. They are fat, queer and extremely online. Computers are the devil, but they just happen to be a satanist. If you need to know anything about computing components, PC gaming or the best laptop on the market, don't be afraid to drop them a line on Twitter or through email.