AMD Ryzen 4000G Desktop Chips Could Finally Deliver on the Promise of APUs
AMD has announced its upcoming Ryzen 4000 G-series desktop chips, with availability expected in Q3. It’s a significant event for the company, given the current strength of its overall product line, and it’s intended to put pressure on Intel in the mainstream consumer and business desktop segment. AMD is only launching these chips for business and consumer OEMs, however — if you like what you see, you’ll need to plan to buy a system instead of building one.
AMD has been building APUs for nearly a decade, and the chips have spent much of that time with a hand tied behind their back. AMD has almost always led in integrated graphics — the launch of Ice Lake was the only brief window that disrupted its leadership — but the CPU situation was varying degrees of bad from 2011 – 2017. The Ryzen 2400G dramatically improved the situation with a vastly superior CPU core, but buying an AMD APU meant being stuck on four cores, tops. Now, for the first time, you’ll be able to buy an eight-core Ryzen CPU with a solid integrated GPU attached to it.
The Ryzen 4000G family is AMD’s play for customers who want more CPU horsepower but don’t necessarily need a discrete GPU. The onboard graphics on the Ryzen 4000 offer up to 60 percent more performance per CU and while integrated graphics are never going to be anyone’s idea of fast, there are hundreds of indie and low-weight games that run just fine on these kinds of solutions.
Now, one thing you’ll notice is that these comparisons are against Intel 9th Generation chips. According to AMD, they’ve had real trouble sourcing 10th Gen Comet Lake CPUs in representative commercial systems. This may well be true. When I looked at the situation between 9th Gen and 10th Gen HEDT CPUs recently, I found the 9th Gen parts selling well below MSRP, while the 10th Gen chips were running above it. In any event, AMD brought the comparison issue up directly and promised to follow up with better data as soon as hardware was available. Companies don’t typically do that if they’re trying to hide things.
This slide is a blowout win for AMD, but it’s also not surprising. The iGPUs on Intel’s 9th Gen chips are essentially the same solutions it’s been shipping since 2015. Intel has newer graphics on Ice Lake and Xe coming on Tiger Lake, but we haven’t gotten an updated GPU core for desktop yet.
Let’s talk about how these numbers would look if 10th Gen chips were used instead. The 1T CineBench numbers wouldn’t change much, because most of Intel’s clock increases were small, on the order of 100MHz. In MT, many of the listed Intel CPUs gained Hyper-Threading when they moved from 9th to 10th Gen, and HT is typically worth some performance. A decent rule of thumb is to assume HT will boost performance between 1.10x and 1.25x for an Intel CPU. Even if you mentally tack those performance improvements on, however, AMD still wins this single multi-threaded comparison.
I believe AMD when it says it’s had trouble sourcing systems. Supply lines are still pretty screwed-up right now.
The APU Tradeoff is Smaller Than Its Ever Been
AMD didn’t compare these new 65W desktop chips directly against their counterparts without APUs, but the implication of the test data they did unveil is that the Ryzen 4700G will be within a few percent of the Ryzen 7 3700X. Ars Technica thought that comparing the Ryzen 5 3400G against the Ryzen 7 4700G is a deliberate way to make the performance improvements of the latter seem larger than they are.
The Ryzen 5 3400G is the fastest desktop APU with the fastest GPU that AMD has previously released. There was no Ryzen 7 3xxxG-class part, and therefore nothing for the company to compare against. There are going to be customers who think that a 65W CPU that’s a few percent faster than the 3700X + onboard graphics is a bad deal. If you know you’ll never use the integrated GPU, it may not be worth buying one. Fortunately, AMD doesn’t force you to.
It’s not unfair for a company to compare the fastest part they shipped last generation with the fastest part they’re shipping this generation, even if those two parts are now binned into different families/performance brackets.
As I see it, the bottom line is this. Up until now, every big-core APU AMD has built has asked you to give up a significant amount of potential CPU performance in exchange for faster graphics. With the Ryzen 4000G family, that gap appears to basically be gone. So can we get some in the retail channel already?
AMD’s official statement: “While the AMD Ryzen 4000 G-Series Desktop Processors will initially be available exclusively for pre-built systems, we understand and appreciate that some DIY customers may be eager to have a next-gen APU. While we cannot discuss all the specifics of our roadmap, we want to assure DIYers we will offer an upgrade path for both AMD 400 and 500 series motherboards.”
So… maybe? Or maybe not.
Zen and Zen+ were desktop/HEDT launches first, while their APU laptop variants dipped a proverbial toe in the water, demonstrating that AMD could build far more competitive systems, but not immediately driving a lot of sales. AMD winning a spot in the Surface 3 Laptop last year was a big deal because so few OEMs have committed to building first-class AMD mobile systems.
In retrospect, the SL3 looks like a harbinger of things to come. One of the things I predicted when desktop Zen 3 launched last year is that we’d see the CPU truly shine in mobile. This spring proved the truth of that. We’re now seeing AMD’s APUs moving much closer in overall performance to their CPU cousins on both desktop and laptop.
I suspect AMD’s newfound technical ability to combine an improved IGP with an eight-core CPU indicates we’ll see a much smaller gap between CPU and APU launches on a given Zen version. AMD’s current manufacturing strategy is to minimize the number of different die designs it has to build while maximizing the markets it can sell its hardware into. One reason AMD might not be planning a big consumer launch for these parts is that the Zen 3 APU variants may be closer than we think.
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