"Since forever" is a long time to wait, but that’s effectively how far back you have to go to find a decent mobile CPU from AMD. In other words, it’s debatable whether AMD has ever made a truly competitive laptop chip. Yes, AMD’s mobile processors based on the Bobcat core were OK for budget devices, but Intel’s domination has been even stronger in laptops than it already was on the desktop. That's evident in Intel's chips dominating our selection of the best gaming laptops (opens in new tab).
Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 2500U
Graphics: AMD Vega 8
Memory: 8GB DDR4
Display Type: IPS
Primary Storage: 256GB M.2 SATA
Additional Storage: N/A
Connectivity: HDMI, USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, USB C, headphone
Dimensions: 0.7 x 14.6 x 10 inches
Warranty: One year
Or at least until Ryzen came along and proved how complacent Intel has become. But that was just desktop, right? This is mobile and, at last, Ryzen has made that transition to laptops, and we can finally tell you whether it’s as big a game changer in the portable market as it has already proven to be on the desktop. Well, that was the plan, courtesy of the Acer Swift 3. On paper, it’s the ideal system for weighing up the relative pros and cons of the latest mobile CPUs from AMD and Intel.
That’s because it’s one of the very few mobile rigs offered with both AMD Ryzen and Intel Core processors. Yes, variables remain, including the motherboard, but the really critical bits, such as the screen, chassis, and battery, are shared by both variants, providing about as level a playing field as you’re ever going to get.
In practice, it doesn’t quite work out like that. But first, let’s dissect exactly what Acer is offering with this AMD-powered Swift 3. For the most part, it’s a resolutely middle-market offering in a 15.6-inch form factor. It’s powered here by the Ryzen 5 2500U. That’s the second tier in a four-strong range of mobile Ryzen CPUs. The 2500U has the full complement of four cores and eight threads on the CPU side, but it loses a pair of compute units from its AMD Vega graphics core. Where the Ryzen 7 2700U gets 10 compute units, the 2500U makes do with five.
The 2500U is also 200MHz down on clock speed, with a base clock of 2GHz, and a maximum Boost clock of 3.6GHz. But overall, it’s a good introduction to Ryzen’s mobile capabilities. Elsewhere, the Swift 3 boasts a Full HD IPS display covered in Corning Gorilla Glass, and a 256GB M.2 SSD hooked up via SATA, rather than the powerful PCI Express interface. In terms of physical attributes, it’s an intriguingly mid-sized aluminum affair, rather than a truly thin-and-light option, packing a curb weight of 4.85lb, and equipped with a 48Wh battery.
That battery not only reveals the Swift 3’s mid-market positioning, it also makes it tricky to get a feel for how efficient AMD’s Ryzen processor is in a mobile implementation. A premium 15-inch portable, such as Dell’s XPS, offers roughly double the battery capacity, for instance. Making matters worse, we had problems getting our pre-production review sample up to full charge. In short, we couldn’t assess the unit’s battery life at all.
If we’re honest, that pretty much sums up our experience with the Swift 3 as a whole. During testing, this laptop kicked out a fairly mixed bag of results, both in outright terms, and in the sense that performance in the same test varied widely over the course of multiple runs. We extracted scores varying from 340 to well over 500 for Cinebench in multithreaded mode, even with Windows Update turned off. The graphics performance of the AMD Vega 3D core was also patchy.
Very likely, all of that reflected our review unit’s pre-production status. Maybe the firmware needs a tweak, or the cooling hasn’t had that final polish. The overall sense is that this isn’t Ryzen mobile at its best. That’s a pity, not only for this laptop—it’s a solid little unit, with a nice IPS panel, and a firm feel to its keyboard performance—but also for the Ryzen chip, which looks very promising indeed. For now, our feeling is that Ryzen will give certain members of Intel’s latest eighth-gen mobile CPU range a very serious run for their money, but we’ll need to spend time with a better optimized system for a more detailed conclusion.
This article was originally published in Maximum PC's August issue. For more quality articles about all things PC hardware, you can subscribe to Maximum PC (opens in new tab) now.