After 10 years, Chrome OS has become the second-most popular operating system for computers in the world, and as a result, we’re seeing more players in the place. In the past year or so, AMD has taken a bigger interest in Chromebooks, bringing its Ryzen chips to the platform. Over the past several weeks, we’ve had the chance to use one of the first AMD Ryzen Chromebooks and put it through its paces, and the results are a bit of a mixed bag.
If you’ve at all followed the PC gaming space, Ryzen may sound familiar. AMD’s consumer-oriented chips are taking that market by storm with crazy amounts of raw horsepower and special features while undercutting Intel on price. Most people building or buying a PC right now are way better off investing in AMD over Intel, and that story mostly extends to Windows laptops using the chips as well.
That’s why we were pretty excited last year when AMD announced an expansion of its offerings for Chromebooks, including the arrival of Ryzen chips in laptops from AMD, Lenovo, and more. Lately, my go-to Chromebook has been the Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga, one of the first Chromebooks available for purchase with a Ryzen chip, specifically the Ryzen 5 Pro 3500C. In terms of price, it sits roughly in the same place as the Intel Core i5.
Unfortunately, I don’t have good news to report on this chip.
In terms of raw numbers, the Ryzen 5 fell a fair bit behind Intel counterparts in my testing. Using Geekbench, the C13 Yoga reported 884 single-core and 2945 multi-core scores. The numbers are wildly inconsistent, though. I’ve also run into tests the reported back 729/2944.
That’s pretty rough compared to the Acer Spin 713, which reported 999/3541 in the exact same test and conditions, just with a 10th gen Intel Core i5 chip. An HP 14C Chromebook with a 10th gen Intel Core i3 reported 946/1537 as well.
But that’s just benchmarks; how does it translate to real-life usage? Unfortunately, the story is similar. I noticed that the Lenovo C13 Yoga would choke under load well before Intel machines I use. That bottleneck can be hit under fairly menial tasks, too. Lengthy and media-heavy WordPress editing pages slowed to a crawl on this machine, with the i3-equipped HP machine showing better performance. Linux works, but the same thing happens. Under “high” load, I noticed that performance would start to choke.
This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, though. The AMD Ryzen chips in Chromebooks aren’t the same as the ones you’ll find on Windows. Instead of using the new Zen3 or even the previous Zen2 architecture, it’s the based on the older Zen+. As our readers pointed out in the comments as well, the only real advantage these chips can currently provide over Intel is in the GPU department.
It’s worth noting that this doesn’t have much to do with the surrounding hardware. The Lenovo C13 Yoga Chromebook was a stellar machine otherwise. The keyboard is easy to use and the “nub” trackpad is great to see as an option. The machine also has a quality screen, a quick and accurate fingerprint sensor, and excellent build quality. Lenovo gets these core components right, as they usually do.
Battery life was also rather good, which is one good thing about the Ryzen chip inside. Healthy endurance quite literally sells Chromebooks, and Ryzen manages to at least meet Intel in my testing. Lenovo’s “all-day battery life” claim was pretty much accurate. However, there is one major quirk. The battery gauge in Chrome OS is borked on this machine. It’s probably something that can be fixed with updates, but I could never really trust the battery meter for both its remaining percentage or its time estimates. I could easily get through seven to eight hours of work without worrying about the battery, though, while using WordPress, Slack, Twitter, and other web apps all day long.
So, what’s the verdict? Right now, Ryzen isn’t the best choice for Chromebooks, at least based on what we’ve seen so far. The raw horsepower just doesn’t match up to what you’ll get on even a slightly lesser Intel machine.
This could be chalked up to software, with Chrome OS and its Android/Linux layers needing optimization to fully take advantage of the different core. In fact, we’ve got evidence to support exactly that! Back in January when we first ran benchmarks on this machine, the single-core score was in the 500s, and now it’s improved significantly. Hopefully, things will continue to get better with time, software updates, and other hardware offerings. But until that point, Intel still maintains dominance in the Chromebook market, at least in the mid-high end.
More on Chromebooks:
- AMD brings Ryzen and Athlon chips to Chromebooks w/ Radeon Vega graphics
- Stadia now comes pre-installed on all new Chromebooks
- Chromebook demand has grown by over 4x during the COVID-19 pandemic
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