(Babble?) 4 years with AMD's first-generation, mid-range Ryzen mobile processor (in a 13" 2-in-1)
Let me start this off by saying I'm typing this (Well, at least the first part, until anxiety inevitably forces me to go within the safe confines of my house) on a bench in a field, in a park, about ~100M from my house. Which is a pretty huge step for me given my current... state of mind. It is, however, only 17 minutes past 6 AM, so there are not many sentient apes walking around, yet.
Back to the subject of this post; I am typing this on my HP Envy X360 13" 2-in-1 (I like to call it a "Laplet") with Ryzen 5 2500U processor from 2018. I got this device roughly around the time when Ryzen mobile first launched, and it's been a while since then and seen a decent amount of use. It's been a bit of a bumpy ride but the point of this post is to summarise just how I Feel AMD's first attempt at high performance ultra-thin processors went, at least for me.
I'll start by saying it's generally been pretty good. I have a few things to say about it, though, so I might as well get started before I lost interested in this post and wander back to my house to fire up the desktop to play some pointless video games. Ahem.
Okay. So where to start? First by stating I want to keep this concise due to the aforementioned attention span issue. I delay my medication consumption until around 10 AM to increa- I'm doing it again. PROCESSORS ASHLEY.
(That is legit by the way).
About the processor!
Oh yeah. I already started by saying it's been generally good and I stand by that statement. So let me expand. The Ryzen 5 2500U is a mid-range processor based on AMD's 'Raven Ridge' silicon. It's the first Ryzen branded mobile processor chip; built on GlobalFoundries's 14nm (LPE or LPC iirc) lithography and is a huge milestone for AMD because it marks the first shift away from the "Construction" cores in their mobile processor offerings. I.e, a huge leap in CPU performance and efficiency. That is definitely true, but I do have some "gripes" with the efficiency part which I will address shortly.
Raven Ridge is a quad-core processor utilising the first-generation "Zen" microarchitecture. The chip houses a single quad-core CCX which is functionally identical to the CCX that makes up the Ryzen 1000 (i.e, 1800X) desktop processors except for a reduction in L3 cache size from 8MB (Per CCX) to 4MB. That is for power and area savings, though it does exacerbate the high latency issues Zen has, but eh, it's not a huge concern for this part.
The GPU is a pretty important... ( I did type something here about not wanting to be outside, so I'm going in, but Wix's website for blog entry didn't handle me putting the device to sleep very well so it deleted it on resume - picking up from my last saved draft which was literally before I typed "Fuck it, I'm going home"... anyway...
The GPU is pretty important because it also represents the move to 5th Generation GCN 'Vega'; which, although still being inherently the same overall architecture as the previous APUs' graphics architecture, is significant because of the frequency/voltage optimisations AMD has done to the Vega design. I.e, it runs at much higher clocks, or much lower voltages for the same frequency as previous designs. This makes it quite a bit more power efficient, than, say, GCN2 or (or was it 3? I think it's 2) used in the 'Kaveri' APUs, even with the same number of active compute units in the 2500U. Anyway, GPU spec...
The GPU portion of Raven Ridge contains 11 5th generation GCN compute units. Everyone familiar with good old - my cat is licking tins on the kitchen work surface. One moment....
Honestly, I'm more concerned with him hurting his tongue on one of the cans than his behaviour, also - he was a hungry, he had breakfast but he's a gannet so I gave him another tin. (I mean, the food in it, not the actual tin itself). They're only small tins, but I must say, a shout out to the cat food brand "Cosma" because those things look, smell (and likely taste) the same as the tuna I get from the brand of human-food tinned tuna I have in sandwiches, just with all the cat-focused nutrients my floof needs.
Wow. That digression.
Anyone familiar with GCN (if you're reading this, you probably are) will know that each Compute Unit (Which is essentially a graphics 'core', so it's an 11-core GPU chunk. (Lol. "Chunk", not used that in this context before) with 64 little tiny 32-bit FPUs arranged in 4 groups of 16-wide vector units which each handles a quarter (25% duh) of a GCN-class 64-wide Wavefront, ie, wave64. Now you can go and read something about GCN somewhere if you want to know the limitations of this set-up, but I will stop digressing...
The GPU on 2500U has 3 of those CUs disabled, so you get a total of 8. Hence, Vega 8. Also,(to my knowledge) it has two Render Backends; each with 4 pixels of throughput so you get a whopping 8 ROPs (yes, it's sarcasm). You know the TMU count because you know the CU count, let's face it, and of course the GPU has 1MB of dedicated on-chip L2 and backs out onto the same 128bit DDR4 memory interface as the CPU gets, yes, they share it, duh, it's an APU.
At this rate I'm gonna burn this post out before I even get to say about my experience with the device and its processor. Actually, since I'm home and it's a PITA typing on a 13" keyboard, one moment... Okay, I'm at my desktop. Woo. That was like, instant for you, but... uh, anyway.
So yeah. I'm really not going to babble about the specs anymore, so let's get into the actual device and how I feel the processor has performed for me over the time I've had it.
About the device!
There is a reason I made the device model in bold at the top of the page just now (it wasn't originally going to be bold!), that is because the device and how the vendor of the device (i.e, HP in this case) is a huge factor in the performance of the... device. Who would have thought? So it's important to note that, for example, the 2500U in my device could be (oh boy, more on this later) performing much worse than say, another brand device, like, maybe Lenovo. You know. Maybe someone who didn't gimp the GPU clock speeds to 200 MHz on battery after 2 minutes? Oh here we go. So I already gave that away. It's not AMD's fault, but I'm babbling again.
The device is honestly pretty good. I have only one major complaint with it, and that is battery life. The battery life is bad. Like, really bad. I get maybe 2-3 hours of it in normal use (not intensive, web browsing, etc) and maybe 1 hour tops out of it in heavy use (gaming, etc). This is more to do with Raven Ridge's wonky power management than the battery capacity in the device, but (I seem to say this a lot) more on that later (will I actually even get to that?, find out later!)
The other complaint is minor; the screen is not very bright. In fact, it's pretty dim. This is only a concern when I take it outside and it's not an overcast, since I basically can't see the screen at all with even the most faint of reflections on it. Oh yeah, the screen is pretty reflective and a finger-print magnet, too. It's a touch screen, so go figure. Anyway, it's pretty solidly built; aluminium chassis and the keyboard is solid and reasonably comfortable to type on (for a 13" that is). The hinge (a major point of concern for longevity on a convertible) is solid and seems to have held up quite well with only a minor reduction in resistance being noticed over the time I've had it. (Though it must be said that I don't use it heavily every day).
The device has a dinky little heatsink and fan, and it's pretty loud. In tablet mode, it's kinda annoyingly loud since HP saw fit to increase the fan RPM to stupid levels when the device is folded, even when the SoC is at reasonably low temperatures (<70*C). I'd prefer it to run hotter and be slightly warmer to the touch and be quieter, honestly, but whatever. HP does include a software suite called "HP Command Centre" to switch fan profiles but honestly, aside from forcing the CPU to clock down to 1.2 GHz, it doesn't do a lot, lol. Oh, clock speeds. Yeah, we should talk about those next.
Oops, I almost forgot to say, the device's touch screen is really nice, I've never had any issues with it. It's accurate and has never needed calibrating to be accurate. Did I mention the screen is a 60 Hz 1080p IPS? Well, I did now!
About the performance!
This is the important bit! How has AMD's first-generation mid-range Ryzen mobile processor performed for Sash all this time? Huh? Are you going to say or not?
It's performed pretty well honestly, but I do have major complaints. Those complaints, however, are actually more HP's fault than AMD's. Details following now.
As you might have guessed from what I mentioned earlier, the processor in this particular device is a bit... uh... there's a word I want to use but it's not really appropriate but I'm going to use it anyway. CASTRATED. There, I said it. it's a bit 'castrated' (as in, lacks balls, it's not a MANLY CPU ANYMORE, hence the inappropriate bit given the presence of testicles on an organism (or in this case, a device(?)) is kind of arbitrary to any level of merit, including performance, in my personal opinion). Restricted. That's better.
The processor is heavily limited by HP's implementation of power management, including the dreaded enemy of anyone who is trying to squeeze more performance out of their AMD Mobile processor; Skin Temperature Aware Power Management (STAPM). This is technically designed to throttle the processor back to prevent the 'skin' (i.e, the chassis) of the device becoming uncomfortably warm when touched by our weak organic feeler extremities that are sensitive to, honestly, a pathetically tiny temperature range. Anyway, HP thought that the person using this device would have a heart attack if the chassis was like, a degree over ambient so say good bye to clock speeds in tablet mode, or after a few minutes heavy use (even plugged in).
That said, in heavy use, for those few minutes (and with this handy tool) I can really tell you about the un-castra- uh, I mean, un-restricted performance of this pretty wedge little processy boi. (Really, Ashley? Yes). When the clock speeds are as per AMD's spec (unlimited by the STAPM implementation) the performance is really good. The CPU is leagues ahead of anything AMD had previously (4-thread Bulldozer derivatives) and competes really well with Intel's mobile offerings of the 7000 and to an extent, the 8000 series. It's not quite as efficient in raw CPU performance as the Skylake-based mobile parts with quad-core CPUs, but it's close enough that it doesn't really matter in terms of raw performance. I mean, it's fast when you browse the web (even to this day) and feels 'snappy' most of the time. This is largely to do with the SMT-enabled, fairly wide processor core which operate up to 3.6 GHz and do actually hit this boost speed in daily use quite often. You get 8 threads and it can hit 3.1 GHz on all 8 of them in full use for short periods, or up to 3.6 on a couple at once. This is more than enough to give you a snappy web browsing experience or when using software like office (or typing this blog on Wix's website).
The issue isn't the performance of the 2500U's CPU, though, it's the power consumption. Now, it's not that bad, but it does use more power than Intel for the same experience when the CPU is under load, that means you get less battery life... But that's not really the biggest issue with Raven Ridge...
Biggest issue with Battery Life...
The issue is how much power the SoC uses when the chip is idle. Makes no sense, right? Well, it's true. AMD never officially stated anything about this, but one of the major drawbacks of this processor (Raven Ridge) is the power managment of the Infinity Fabric (interconnect between the functional blocks. i.e, a data bus) is pretty poor. At least that is what I believe it is. Idle power consumption is around 2-3W which is kinda bad. This is potentially because of a flaw in the on-silicon power management with the fabric itself (i.e, unfixable) that keeps the bus in a higher clock/voltage state than it should when idle. This was apparently addressed in the second revision of this processor ('Picasso') of the Ryzen mobile 3000 series, built on GlobalFoundries's newer 12nm LP process.
To my knowledge, at least one firmware/BIOS update helped the idle power usage issue, since it was actually worse on launch (likely 4-5W) but never truly fixed it. That is an innate issue with 1st generation Ryzen Mobile. I mean, it's not a HUGE issue unless you are really sensitive to extremely long battery lives. If you're using the device in your home or you're like me and address it pragmatically by carrying around enough AC power banks to be illegal to take on an airliner, it really is a non-issue. Ryzen 3000U is much improved here, and to AMD's credit, Ryzen 4000, 5000 and 6000U are stellar in this regard. AMD definitely improved it.
Graphics and gaming!
So, what, you ask, is my main use for this device (aside from web browsing and typing this blog while outside, when I rarely am outside - though I used to be outside a lot more often until my anxiety worsened. Sad Violin time). That would be, yes, you guessed it from the sub-heading, Gaming!
I like to use this device to play my favourite MMO games (Warframe, War Thunder, Deep Rock Galactic and even Elite Dangerous, lately) when I'm outside. Typically, this is when I'm waiting in the car for my mother to get the shopping from the supermarket, or when I'm waiting at the Job Centre to continue to be useless, oh, did I mention that? If you're my Work Coach reading this, it's not personal. It's more of a dig at the institution, than you personally. <3
So, how does this processor do in this regard? Well, I deliberately left the performance of the GPU portion (chunk, lol?) until this section because I have a lot to say on it. Well, it might not be a huge amount, but still.
The graphics performance when not throttling due to HP's wonky STAPM implementation is... really good. It is capable of handling Warframe at 1080p medium/30 FPS or 720p low 60+ stable. As in, it won't drop below 60. That's really nice. It can also handle Warframe at 720p high at 30-40+ FPS which honestly looks fine at 720p. The GPU (Vega 8) runs around 700-800 MHz even on battery for the short period of time you get the full performance. This is enough to play the latest MMOs at 1080p on low or medium at playable (30~ FPS) or 720p (preferably for me) at potentially over 60 FPS. I usually game at 720p since on a 13" display, the image quality gains from 1080p aren't really worth the performance reduction.
So, the primary use for my device is a "out of the house Warframe player" and it does that job really well, if I'm honest. Even when the device throttles under STAPM (HP's fault, more on that shortly lol) and the GPU hits 200-300 MHz, it can still run Warframe at 720p low at 30-60 FPS depending on the CPU load, this is honestly the requirement since it still runs fine and looking like a PS2 game isn't really a concern when I'm sat in a car park. The one positive thing about running at such low clock speeds is the pretty frugal power use of the SoC (delta over idle, that is), which sits around 12W (cTDP down of 2500U, figures). Battery life gaming at 100% GPU load here is around 1 hour, or a little over depending on the CPU load. Which is sort of OK, not stellar, but always enough to cover my requirement even though I carry the battery packs, too.
Okay, so the elephant in the room is the STAPM clock speed throttle after a few moments of use. You go from 800 MHz to 200 MHz on the GPU and trust me, if you're saying "Oh, I can play Warframe at high settings and 60 FPS at 720p", you feel that clock speed drop like a freight train hitting you at full speed. It's the difference between smooth 50-60 and unplayable, choppy 20 FPS. All for some "skin temperature" system that honestly makes no sense since it's not that hot even when under full load, and the temperatures of the SoC are also in check. VRM overheating, you might ask? I think not because...
Using the AMD APU Tuning Utility to tell STAPM to politely 'Fuck Off' every second (has to refresh or it won't stick) unlocks the full power of the Vega 8 graphics in this processor and I get fantastic performance. Easily enough to run Warframe at highest settings 720p (Classic engine, mind you) at a comfortably playable frame rate. As it should be! Of course, the SoC will use around ~20-25W to do this and it does get hot (90*C) but that is generally acceptable as long as it doesn't hit TJ Max (95, iirc). Battery life is pretty pants under load at 25W with the tuning, though, so you get maybe 30-40 minutes (lol). That is why I have my power bank, though! And plugged in, it can sit at 25W under load with no issues.
Honestly, the Ryzen mobile processors always had the advantage of pretty damn good integrated graphics with AMD's knowledge and expertise in creating high performance graphics cards for desktop filtering down to their mobile processors, too. This comes in the pretty nice ReLive software suite, which, the 2500U fully supports including FSR2.0 (to my knowledge) and Radeon Image Sharpening, VSR, Chill, etc. The only thing it doesn't' support natively is ReLive GPU encoding gameplay footage (IDK why) but you can use OBS for that. It does reduce performance a decent chunk, though, since the SoC is almost always bandwidth limited and that just compounds that issue.
Quick note on software/firmware support
I do have to add another 'issue', though, it is mostly resolved, it was a pretty huge concern for a while. That is, for a good chunk of time, this device would lock up if you installed the latest AMD reference driver for the 2500U's graphics. You could use HP's modified version but it was from 2018 which, in 2020-2021, is really outdated. This is because AMD sort of left it up to device vendors to update their 'modified' driver packages and of course, HP didn't give a shit about gaming on this device so never bothered to update it. This was an issue for me since it prevented me from using RIS and a few other nice features added that really help with a device in this performance bracket (for example, sharpening upscaled image from 720p to 1080p). The lock up was so hard that you had to boot into safe-mode to fix it, since every time the graphics driver was loaded, it would freeze the PC. Oof.
This was eventually fixed (I assume on AMD's side...) in the reference driver and I can now report that as of me typing this post (19/06/2022), the latest (or at least, the one before the latest, I'll check later) actually works fine.
I need to poo so I am going to wrap this up. I don't know why I can't just go poop and then resume typing, but considering the amount I have already typed and the high likelihood of burn out, I am going to conclude this post.
So here's the deal. I will make a set of bullet points to summarise my experience with AMD's first generation mobile CPU of the Ryzen generation, that is, the Ryzen 5 2500U, in HP's X360 Envy 13" device.
Things I like (about the processor):
CPU performance is really good, on par with Intel offerings it competes with (mobile i7 7000U)
Graphics performance in games when not restricted is great. At the time of release it was among the most powerful integrated graphics for ultra thins on x86 SoC. AMD's graphics drivers are generally pretty good and stable (much better than Intel's)
Web browsing and daily use feels really snappy and remains so, even as software progresses because of the SMT-enabled CPU with 8 threads.
Actually has VP9 decode in hardware, unlike desktop Vega processors, which is important for longevity.
Things I do not like (about the processor):
efficiency is a bit worse than Intel i7 in raw CPU performance
really high idle power use and pretty poor battery life
HP being retarded with STAPM
So there you have it. I really need to poo now. But is Sash looking to upgrade the 2500U device with a shiny new 5000 or 6000U-equipped device?
Well, not really. I think if this dies, yes, I'd get whatever is on the market in the same price range (x500U probably), but right now, I think Raven Ridge still has me covered (with the battery packs of course). Which really does say a decent amount about the processor. Really, a great leap for AMD and a good footing upon which they built their mobile domination that they enjoyed until Intel's 12th gen mobile. But honestly, even now, the Ryzen 6000U is still a bit more efficient and has a much better GPU.