AMD’s Mendocino processors for low-cost laptops generated a bit of buzz when they were announced earlier this year. In order to keep costs low while offering decent performance, AMD equips these chips with Zen 2 CPU cores (which debuted in 2019) and RDNA 2 graphics (from 2022).
You know what else has Zen 2 CPU cores and RDNA 2 graphics? The chip that powers Valve’s Steam Deck handheld gaming PC. So some folks got excited that Mendocino could bring similar performance to other devices. But it turns out that’s not exactly true, because the Radeon 610M integrated graphics in Mendocino chips is a lot less powerful than the GPU in the Steam Deck’s “Aerith” processor. And now that the first laptop with a Mendocino processor is shipping, we have the benchmarks to prove it.
Acer loaned me an Aspire 3 laptop with an AMD Ryzen 3 7320U processor, 8GB of LPDDR5 memory, a 128GB NVMe SSD, and a 15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel display. It sells for around $400.
I haven’t been using it long enough to comment on battery life, Linux compatibility, or some of the other details you can expect from an upcoming review. But I have had a chance to run some initial benchmarks. Unsurprisingly, the CPU performs a bit better than you’d expect from a laptop in this price range. But also unsurprisingly, the GPU isn’t really designed for gaming.
This article is primarily focused on benchmarks, so stay tuned for a more detailed review of Acer’s laptop. But overall, I can tell you it has the look and feel of a decent budget laptop.
The display is decent, the bezels are slim, and there’s a large trackpad below a full-sized keyboard with room for a number pad. The notebook’s 720p webcam may not be super-sharp, but it does a surprisingly good job of adjusting for low-light conditions.
But you’d never mistake this for a premium notebook. The case is plastic. There’s plenty of flex in the keyboard area. And the keys are not backlit.
The most interesting thing about the Acer Aspire 3 (A315-24P-R75B) though, is its processor. The model Acer loaned me features an AMD Ryzen 3 7320U chip. That’s a 4-core, 8-thread processor with Zen 2 CPU cores, a 2.4 GHz base frequency and support for max boost speeds up to 4.1 GHz. It’s manufactured using TSMC’s 6nm FinFET processor and has a default TDP of 15 watts.
While the CPU cores use the same Zen 2 architecture as Ryzen 4000U chips that launched a few years ago, Zen 2 is actually still pretty competitive for entry-level and mid-range laptop-class processors and when it comes to CPU performance, the Acer Aspire 3 manages to be reasonably competitive with several higher-priced computers I’ve tested in recent years.
Its multi-core Cinebench R23 score is comparable with what I got from the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano laptop (with a Core i5-1130G7 processor) and GPD Win 3 handheld gaming PC (with a Core i5-1135G7 chip), although it lags behind them a bit in single-core performance.
Similarly, the Acer Aspire 3 punches above its price class in PCMark, a general-purpose benchmark that looks at all-around performance for a number of regular computing tasks.
Note that this test looks at more than just the CPU performance, since you also need decent memory, storage and graphics to run some of the apps in this test suite.
CPU-specific benchmark GeekBench tells a somewhat different story, with Acer’s laptop lagging a little further behind the competition. But it’s worth keeping in mind that this is an entry-level Ryzen 3 processor. AMD also offers a Ryzen 5 7520U Mendocino chip with higher CPU clock speeds, which may offer a little more bang for a little more buck. Unfortunately I haven’t gotten my hands on a computer with that processor yet.
And then we come to graphics benchmarks. There’s no way to sugarcoat this: the Ryzen 3 7320U’s integrated AMD Radeon 610M GPU is fine for everyday computing. But it’s not meant for gaming.
That’s because while Radeon 610M features RDNA graphics cores capable of hitting speeds up to 1.9 GHz, it has just 2 of those graphics cores. By comparison, the Steam Deck’s CPU has 8 RDNA 2 CPU cores. AMD’s Ryzen 7 6600U has 6 GPU cores. And the Ryzen 7 6800U chip that’s proving popular with handheld gaming PC makers this year has 12.
So what does that mean in terms of graphics benchmark performance? In a nutshell, the Acer Aspire 3 with a Ryzen 3 7320U processor lags well behind models with previous-gen Radeon Vega graphics (as well as Intel-powered laptops with Iris Xe graphics).
I haven’t tested any laptops with Ryzen 5 6600U or Ryzen 7 6800U processors yet, but I have been using an Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 gaming laptop with a Ryzen 9 6900HS processor as my primary computer for the past month or so.
While my laptop has an AMD Radeon RX 6700S discrete GPU, it also has Radeon 680M 12-core RDNA 2 integrated graphics. So I ran benchmarks with both the discrete and integrated graphics and compared the results with the Acer Aspire 3’s Radeon 610M 2-core graphics. The difference is pretty striking.
You’ll notice that I also threw in the results for a Dell Vostro 15 7590 laptop (the work laptop I recently retired), because it has an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 discrete GPU and I thought it was interesting to note that AMD’s Radeon 680M integrated graphics score higher in gaming graphics benchmarks than this discrete GPU from a few years ago.
Unfortunately it looks like core count matters, because Radeon 610M doesn’t even come close.
None of this is to say that Mendocino processors don’t over an interesting value proposition. They bring decent CPU and all-around performance for laptops and other portable computers that sell for around $400 and up. They just probably aren’t going to bring Steam Deck-level gaming to non-Steam Deck hardware anytime soon.
That doesn’t mean they’re useless for gaming though. Keep in mind that there are people who have been playing retro games on Raspberry Pi computers and other low-cost hardware for year. And a recent video from YouTuber ETA Prime shows that the Acer Aspire 3 with a Ryzen 3 7320U chip can actually handle PlayStation2, Nintendo GameCube, and Nintendo Wii U emulation at resolutions up to 720p. Just don’t expect much more than that.
It does make me wonder whether companies like AYA, AYN, and One Netbook jumped the gun a bit by announcing handheld gaming PCs that will use Mendocino processors. At least they’re expected to be cheap.