Telling AMD Ryzen CPUs apart (or for that matter, Intel Core ones) simply by numbers and names is tough enough: Core i9-12900K? How does that stack up to a Ryzen 9 5950X? It’s especially tricky with mobile processors, which tend to get less attention—and have more esoteric tiers and nuances related to power consumption, and the like—than their rock-star desktop counterparts.
AMD is aiming to make things easier with its next-generation processors, with a refinement, for starters, to how it names its chips designed for laptops. But ironically, do you know the old saw of “needing a decoder ring” to interpret technical jargon? It just slipped over into the real world as part of AMD’s move. Behold the AMD Ryzen Mobile CPU Decoder. (Our term, not AMD’s.)
(Credit: Kyle Cobian)
These wheels are just gimmicks for the press, a sort of Pantone kit for processor geeks. You won’t find one in every Best Buy attached to the shelves on a chain, like color swatches or a guide to paint hues at your local home center. (Though maybe you should, if you ask us!) But at its recent Ryzen Tech Day in Austin, Texas, AMD used them as props to brief PCMag and a select group of other journalists on coming changes to how it names its mobile processors.
It’s All in a Number
Now, note that AMD hasn’t shared anything major about its next-generation Ryzen chips for mobile devices; the latest laptop chips, the Ryzen 6000 series dubbed “Rembrandt,” just hit the market earlier in 2022. (See our first tests of a laptop with a Ryzen 6000-series mobile chip.) What we do know: The new families, when they do hit the market in 2023 laptops, will be split into lower-power “Phoenix” models (what are typically thought of as the U-series), and higher-power “Dragon Range” chips (the various H-series classifications, more about which in a moment). The new numbering scheme will start with those chips, and it will tell you more about them than previous generations’ names ever did.
This all-AMD Corsair Voyager a1600 laptop is built on the current-gen AMD Ryzen 9 6900HS. (Credit: Kyle Cobian)
First, let’s deconstruct the “old way.” Take the current-generation Ryzen 6000 flagship CPU, the Ryzen 9 6980HX. The “Ryzen 9” part is self-evident; “Ryzen” distinguishes it from an Athlon chip, of course, and the “9” places it in the Ryzen 3, 5, 7, 9 hierarchy—in, of course, the highest-grade family. As for the next element: The “6” indicates the generation, while the following “9” situates the chip in a relative sense versus other sixth-generation Ryzen 9s. The last two digits are simple further differentiators, almost always a “00” or a step-up multiple of 5 or 10, if the preceding number isn’t enough characterization; say, if slight variants have been issued at that power level. A terminal “5” usually indicates an ultramobile-class chip.
Finally, the last letter or two tells you what power class the mobile chip belongs to: U for ultraportables, H for mainstream power, HS for thinner power-user machines than the straight-H series (the HS chips have lower default TDPs), or HX for AMD’s top-end unlocked Ryzen mobile chips. The H classes are meant for mainstream power notebooks, gaming laptops, and workstations, usually paired with discrete graphics; the U class is for light laptops, usually relying on the on-chip graphics.
fair enough; a decent bit of info gets imparted there in those names. The complication is, in some cases, we’ve seen chips with different Zen architectures residing in the same Ryzen generation. And that means you end up with two classes of similar-sounding chip with very different innards and efficiencies. There’s been no way to distinguish those on sight…until now.
Decoding the Decoder
In the new scheme coming with Ryzen mobile 7000, every digit will carry its own weight. Nothing changes about the Ryzen 3, 5, 7, and 9 part of the chip name; those are the big categories. It’s the following four digits, and the letters at the end, that are getting tweaked.
The first number remains the generation indicator. With these new chips, that will be “7” (aligning with the seventh-generation 7000 series). Simple enough.
The second number is the tricky one—it will generally match the Ryzen 3, 5, 7, or 9 designation, but in some cases it can also be one number up: say, a “4” with certain Ryzen 3 chips, or a “6” with certain Ryzen 5s. An “8” could be a kicked-up Ryzen 7 or a step-down Ryzen 9. The use of the higher number for a given class could indicate a “second wave” or refresh of chips in that same generation. So a refined, refreshed Ryzen 3 7340 chip could be dubbed a Ryzen 3 7440.
(Credit: Kyle Cobian)
Then there’s the next two digits. “It’s the last two digits that are really different from what we did the last few years,” notes Don Woligroski, senior mobile processor technical marketing manager for AMD.
The third number is a wholly new approach: It corresponds, now, to the generation of Zen architecture on the chip. Take the newest Ryzen 7000 mobile chips, when they launch: They will have a model number constructed like “7x4x,” as they will be Zen 4-based. But this gives AMD the flexibility to issue later Zen 3-based CPUs in the Ryzen 7000 series, if it so chooses, without confusion: Just call them 7x3x.
Why is AMD willing to expose the architecture even if it makes it clear that sometimes, it’s a step down? As Woligroski puts it, even with Zen 3, “It’s nothing worse than 7nm.” Given Team Blue’s well-documented woes in advancing its technology process in recent years, AMD has no problems touting what will soon be its previous-gen 7nm tech, even in the shadow of its upcoming 5nm.
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The last digit in the new scheme is purely a further differentiator, according to Woligroski. It can be used for upper vs. lower segments of a given processor class. It could indicate an intermediary step up in architecture (like when AMD issued Zen 3+ vs. earlier Zen 3 chips), or a low-power-consumption vs. high-power design (like a “0” for Phoenix vs. a “5” for Dragon Range).
Finally, AMD will be using the same U (15 to 28 watts), HS (35 watts), and HX (55-watt or above) suffixes with its Ryzen 7000 mobile chips to distinguish the overarching power class. Also in play is a C suffix (15 to 28 watts), a relatively recent new addition, which indicates a power-efficient CPU designed specially for the Chromebook, as opposed to Windows laptop, market. And, according to the decoder, AMD will be adding an E suffix for forthcoming 9-watt very low power chips.
(Credit: Kyle Cobian)
So, take for example this arbitrary alignment of the wheel above (which, mind you, we doubt will correspond to a chip that will ultimately exist). This theoretical Ryzen 5 7540HX would be a midrange Ryzen 5 chip in the seventh-generation Ryzen 7000 family, built on Zen 4 architecture and meant for beefy, power-user gaming laptops. Simple…right? simplerde todas formas.
The Future of Chip Naming Is…Clearer?
So far, AMD is rolling out this new schema only for its mobile chips. The Ryzen 7000 desktop processors that it detailed at its recent Ryzen 7000 Tech Day will be sticking with its existing naming rules. Indeed, we know the names of the first four of them to be released, and they won’t toe this new line. They have exact name and spec parallels in the preceding Ryzen 5000 series desktop line. AMD reps could not confirm if the new scheme, or a version of it, might eventually come to desktop Ryzens in a future generation.
So, expect to see all this first in AMD laptop chips in 2023. As noted, AMD hasn’t shared any substantive speeds and feeds for the Phoenix and Dragon Range Ryzen 7000 CPUs, but they will be the first chips to actually employ this new naming scheme.
Having struggled for ages, along with your typical shopper, to keep our mobile CPUs straight, we appreciate AMD’s admirable effort at clarity. Your move, Intel, to hit us with an Intel Core equivalent—maybe a compact mockup of an Enigma machine?—to decrypt the nuances of your next-gen CPUs.
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