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:
|Cores / Threads
|Ryzen Z1 Extreme
|8 / 16
|15 – 30W
|15 – 30W
|“Aerith” (Steam Deck)
|4 / 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.