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AMD's Ryzen 5 2500U APU reviewed

Toward a more perfect fusion

Ever since their arrival in March of this year, AMD's Ryzen desktop CPUs have proven themselves compelling alternatives to Intel's chips at nearly every common price point. Ryzen CPUs generally bring more cores and threads to the table than equivalently-priced Intel CPUs, and recent sales have made it easier than ever to get gobs of multithreaded computing power for less.

Intel's latest Coffee Lake CPUs have closed the multithreaded performance gap in much of our testing, but the company's continued insistence on careful feature segmentation and the spotty availability of Coffee Lake parts in general has made the blue team's next-gen broadside less damaging to the resurgent AMD than one might expect so far.

Ryzen 7 2700U 4/8 2.2 3.8 10 1300 MHz 4MB 15W Two channels
Ryzen 5 2500U 2.0 3.6 8 1100 MHz

AMD's renewed competitiveness in the enthusiast desktop is a border skirmish compared to the war it's getting ready to wage in the mobile-CPU marketplace. Most PCs sold these days are laptops of some kind, and AMD's Ryzen Mobile chips are its latest in a long line of "accelerated processing units": CPU cores with a powerful on-die Radeon graphics processor. For the first time since the advent of the APU, AMD has both competitive CPU cores and a cutting-edge graphics-processing unit that it can bring together. With four Zen CPU cores and eight threads, plus as many as 640 Radeon Vega compute units, the Ryzen 5 2500U and Ryzen 7 2700U stuff a ton of potential computing horsepower into their 15W TDPs.

In an unusual reversal of roles for this year of CPU upheaval, though, Intel beat AMD to the punch with its eighth-gen mobile CPUs, which have been available for some time in shipping systems since shortly after their August launch. Kaby Lake Refresh brings the same four cores and eight threads to 15W CPUs that AMD is targeting with the CPU side of the Ryzen Mobile family.

The fact that this first battle is being waged in a 15W theater may help AMD compete better with Intel's chips in general. In the no-holds-barred arena afforded by 95W-and-higher TDPs, Intel can often clock its client cores to the moon and render discussions of IPC differences versus Zen moot in the wash of its chips' clock-rocket exhaust. Shrink that thermal envelope to 15W, though, and those minor differences become a lot more relevant. The Ryzen 5 2500U boasts a single-core Turbo speed of 3.6 GHz, a clock-for-clock match for Intel's Core i5-8350U, and its base clock speed is 300 MHz higher than that of the Intel chip's.

The improved Precision Boost intelligence in Raven Ridge chips also affords the Ryzen 5 2500U much more granular control over its per-core Turbo speeds versus its desktop cousins, too, meaning that the chip could potentially run more of its cores at higher clocks for longer as it distributes its thermal budget over given workloads. That improved precision seems essential for a thermally-restrictive environment like a laptop chassis.

HP's Envy x360 takes the stage
There's more to Ryzen Mobile, but we're here to test the thing, not dissect it further. For more information on the guts of Ryzen Mobile, be sure to check out my launch-day coverage. Let's talk a bit about the first system with a Ryzen Mobile APU inside: HP's Envy x360.

Given the importance of Ryzen Mobile's performance to the competitive landscape of mobile computing, we went out and bought one at retail to see how it handles. Our $750 test system pairs a Ryzen 5 2500U APU with a one-terabyte, 7200-RPM mechanical hard drive, 8 GB of dual-channel DDR4-2400 RAM, a 15.6", 1920x1080 screen with a convertible hinge. Most impressively, this rather beastly system is just 4.75 lb (2.15 kg) and slips into a body just 0.77" (19.6 mm) thick. Svelte. The massive-for-a-laptop Bang and Olufsen speaker array above the keyboard on this thing is the best-sounding mobile audio setup I've heard, too.

We can never end our judgment at looks alone, though, and choosing a mechanical hard drive, no matter how good, as the primary storage device in any computer is an unfortunate decision in 2017. Any virtues of the Ryzen APU are eclipsed by the agony of tangling with the limits of mechanical storage. For the moment, HP is offering $100 off a custom Envy x360 from its website, making a 256GB SSD an affordable upgrade from the factory at $130. $760 for this same system with a 256GB SSD upgrade is an immeasurably better starting position for the Envy x360 and its Ryzen 5 2500U.

To make benchmarking the Envy bearable (and to put it on a level playing field with the Acer Swift 3s I just reviewed), I stuck a Samsung 960 EVO 500GB NVMe from our stockpile inside. This setup won't be representative of the Envy x360 you might buy at retail, but it's a much fairer starting point for the Ryzen 5 2500U.

HP also seems to have put a 6-bit IPS panel of some kind in the Envy x360 to show the output of the Vega 8 IGP to the world, another decision that puts the wrong foot forward for this system. Color banding in photos, on web sites, and apps with any kind of fine gradations between colors will be immediately obvious. I find this decision quite odd, given the Envy's Wacom pen support and the potential content-creation chops of the Ryzen 5 2500U.

I could go on about the Envy's feathery, feedback-free keyboard and aggressive fan, but this isn't a review of the x360 in and of itself. HP's engineers can certainly design a dashing and classy-looking notebook, but looks alone don't make a solid PC. I'd recommend waiting and seeing how other Ryzen Mobile systems shake out unless you simply must have one of these APUs in a laptop today. The Envy x360 falls short in enough places that I'd have a hard time justifying its price tag.

For information about the Envy x360's battery life, refer to our separate article published after this piece hit the wires.