When Asus revealed its upcoming ROG Ally handheld game console, the company said that it would feature a custom AMD processor designed for the compact gaming device.
Now AMD has confirmed that it’s developed new chips for handheld gaming computers. But it turns out that while the ROG Ally will be the first device to ship with a choice of the new AMD Ryzen Z1 or Ryzen Z1 Extreme processors, it may not be the only device available with these chips. AMD is positioning them as solution “for new form factors of computing” and will make them available to other device makers as well.
Both chips combine AMD Zen 4 CPU cores with RDNA 3 graphics. That means both the CPU and GPU are using more advanced technology than the Zen 2 + RDNA 2 chip used in Valve’s Steam Deck.
But the devil may be in the details when it comes to real-world performance, because the core counts and GPU compute units aren’t the same across the board. Here’s a run-down of AMD’s processors for handheld game systems:
|Chip||CPU||Cores / Threads||GPU||Compute Units||Cache||TDP|
|Ryzen Z1 Extreme||Zen 4||8 / 16||RDNA 3||12||24MB||15 – 30W|
|Ryzen Z1||Zen 4||6 /12||RDNA 3||4||22MB||15 – 30W|
|“Aerith” (Steam Deck)||Zen 2||4 / 8||RDNA 2||8||?||4W – 15W|
As we learned when AMD’s Mendocino processors first hit the streets, using the latest graphics architecture doesn’t always lead to the best graphics performance – Mendocino chips use the same RDNA 2 architecture as the “Aerith” chip used in the Steam deck, but since they have as few as 2 GPU compute units, gaming performance is much lower.
So while it’s highly likely that handhelds with the entry-level Ryzen Z1 chip will offer better CPU performance than the Steam Deck thanks to the move from 4 Zen 2 CPU cores to 6 Zen 4 cores, GPU performance improvements will be less extreme thanks to the move from 8 RDNA 2 compute units to 4 RDNA 3 CUs. Still, AMD says the new chip should deliver better graphics performance overall, with the Aerith chip offering up to 1.6 TFLOPS while the Z1 can hit 2.8 TFLOPS and the Z1 Extreme goes up to 8.6 TFLOPSs.
AMD says both of its Z1 series processors support features including USB4 connectivity, LPDDR5 and LPDDR5X memory, and AMD software including AMD Radeon Super Resolution, Radeon Chill, Radeon Image Sharpening, and AMD Link.
Both of the new Z1 series chips are basically packing the same technologies as AMD’s Ryzen 7040U processors. These 15 – 30 watt chips have lower power consumption than the 7040H/HS chips that were announced earlier this year, but use the same Zen 4 CPU + RDNA 3 GPU configuration.
More specifically, the AMD Ryzen Z1 appears to be a slightly modified version of the Ryzen 5 7540U processor, while the Ryzen Z1 Extreme is basically a Ryzen 7 7840U chip that’s been optimized for use in handhelds rather than laptops or desktops.
That’s not to say the chips are identical to their 7040 series counterparts. AMD told The Verge that the Z1 processors do feature “customized power and voltage curves, among other differences.” And the chip maker confirmed to Tom’s Hardware that this allowed the chips to be optimized and validated for these smaller form factors. The chips also lack one feature that’s included in higher-end Ryzen 7040 chips: the Z1 and Z1 Extreme do not have an integrated Ryzen AI Engine, which means they won’t support the same hardware-accelerated AI features that this FPGA enables on laptops and desktops.
The differences are small enough though, that some handheld makers are planning to use stock Ryzen 7040U series chips instead of Z1 series processors in upcoming handhelds. That includes the GPD Win Mini and AYA Neo 2S.
This article was first published April 25, 2023 and most recently updated May 6, 2023 with more details about the differences between the Ryzen Z1 and Ryzen 7040U series processors.
“customized power and voltage curves, among other differences.”
I’d like to see some real world tests. I recall the Steam Deck performing better/same as 6800U handhelds in some games when at lower TDPs.
I wonder if we’ll see similar results between the Z1 and 7040U chips. I’d prefer to usually run at lower TDPs for longer untethered gaming.
A part of that is because Valve worked side-by-side with AMD in order to produce the Aerith chipset. Just like how Sony did in developing the PS4 or Microsoft with the XSX.
But the other part of the key, is Linux. The Valve SteamDeck has notably better performance and lower thermals when running its dedicated OS. When you switch over to Windows, it loses that special sauce.
The Phawx did an analysis of this, and has uploaded a chart. The short-version is this:
5W vs 9W vs 8W
8W vs 12W vs 11W
11W vs 13W vs 12W
15W vs 14W vs 13W
The longer story is this:
So using an Optimised Software through Linux and Optimised Hardware through Aerith, the Valve SteamDeck is the clear winner running between 5W to 11W. This on average should result in 5.0 hours of gameplay using very modest fidelity (720p/30fps/Low Settings).
Using a Standard Hardware and Software solution like the 6800u, despite being more advanced, it only shows its advantage from 14W to 22W. Whilst that’s great it really eats into Battery Life and reduces it from around 5.0 hours to about 3.0 hours. However, it allows you to start raising the graphical fidelity (900p/50fps/Low Settings).
Meanwhile, using the latest chipset on an even less optimised Software and Hardware, we do see the efficiency benefits earlier and longer. It’s advantage starts at 12W to 25W. That should result in roughly 4.0 hours battery life, also at slightly higher fidelity (1080p/50fps/Low Settings).
Looking for other options, there is the likes of the QC 8g2 and Apple A16. They are very competitive at this 3W-6W range, much moreso than the VSD/Aerith. Whilst a more direct comparison would be the base level Apple M1 that will dominate at these lower (5W-11W) wattages. Meanwhile the base level M2 Pro should also dominate at these midrange (12W-25W) wattages. While we can calculate this and agree upon it, there’s a but. This comparison is not very useful in a practical sense, very Apples to Oranges. Those systems run Android, or iOS, or macOS, they cannot* run x86-64bit WindowsOS. When it comes to current-AAA gaming, there’s no high-grade game (RDR2) that is also cross-platform implementation. Even the SteamDeck is pushing it’s luck by using x86-Linux system and translation layers. Just because Windows and x86 are 1-2 (or more) generations behind the other competitors, that is NOT the entire reason to switch platforms. It really boils down to the user and their needs, specifically.
I’d love if someone slapped one of these in a tablet form factor, like a surface go or something. AMD has been doing such amazing processors but cool form factors are still using the same Intel tired old crap
A tablet with a 7840U would be awesome. Don’t know how they’d manage cooling in such a thin form factor, but it would still be awesome to have.
I haven’t ditched RISC-V yet as that is something I’m gunning for ultimately, but a 7840u tablet with a dock would hold me over. Might even be better than an Asus Rog with dock for my needs.
And who knows, maybe this chip might help bring back netbooks. ??
If these don’t come to mini-PCs from Beelink, Minisforum, Geekom etc. I will be very disappointed. Most consumer mini-PCs (beyond the entry level ones with Pentium and now Alder Lake N CPUs) are used for HTPCs, content creation and gaming. These are actually better for mini-PCs than the laptop CPUs that are generally used.
Hear hear! Also my immediate first thought.
Considering the possibility that these chips are just relabeled 7640U and 7840U chips, they probably will come to various Mini PCs. They just might not be called “AMD Z1”
The 12CU one seems fine. The 7840U is solid a successor to the 6800U, which did fairly well in handhelds recently. It’s probably worth the effort of tuning it a bit for gaming.
But the 4CU one just feels pointless. CPU cores are cut down 25%, but GPU cores are down 67%? It should be the other way around for a gaming-oriented chip. That’s the one that really screams “low effort re-badge”.
The 4CU chip’s very existence makes the “tuning” they did for the “extreme” one seem more suspect. Because if it was something that took significant effort, then they probably would have also come up with a better balance for the low-tier one.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that the z1 silicon is the exact same as the 7000-series counterparts, and all of the “tuning” is done in the driver.
My excitement is tempered by seeing that the bottom TDP of these chips is the max TDP of the Aerith. If they don’t allow more leeway in dropping that power envelope, this might as well be DOA for ultraportables. Having had a Steam Deck, I feel like its performance was “good enough” 99% of the time, and upping the resolution to 1080p or higher on a screen that small doesn’t make a difference to me. I’d be much more interested in a chip that maintains (or slightly beats) Aerith gaming performance with significant efficiency gains.
Yeah, that stinks, especially since these are made on a 4nm process (the Steam Deck’s Aerith is 7nm). But these would be great for gaming Chromebooks and even better for mini-PCs.
If AMD uses the same “tweaks” it used in Aerith, there won’t be any hard stops to the wattage, so running it at 7W could still be possible.
It’s not “designed” for gaming handhelds, like the steam deck’s soc is, no.
It’s laptop chips rebadged and retuned for handhelds with some marketing words to support it.
Don’t be shocked if the deck wins below 14W or something
TDP is not power consumption.
TDP is not power consumption.
TDP is not even maximum or average heat output.
Thermal Design Power means “Build your cooling system to this level to get expected performance.”
If a hardware integrator does not target that performance (for instance, hitting 48FPS @ 480p) then they use less power and design for lower average thermal.