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AMD's Newest Mobile Processors Have an AI Engine

AMD promises up to 30 hours of laptop video playback and better performance than Apple's M series.

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Amd Ryzen 7040
Photo: AMD

On Monday, Nvidia announced its new mobile graphics cards, and early on Wednesday, Intel announced new mobile processors. On Wednesday night, AMD fired back during its CES keynote with competing products in both categories: new mobile gpus, new mobile Ryzen 7040 series chips with a built in AI engine, and new 3D V-Cache desktop processors, including the 7800X3D, 7900X3D, and 7950X3D.

The desktop 3D V-Cache processors are exciting for those who do intensive tasks like gaming, since they pack extra memory on top of the compute die. But mobile chips and GPUs are often difficult to get excited about on their own, since they usually rely on their implementation in actual laptops to make their first impression. This year, though, AMD’s introducing a new mobile feature— Ryzen AI.

On the mobile Ryzen 7040 series chips, including the the Ryzen 7640HS, 7840HS, and 7940HS, you’ll now be getting an integrated AI engine—the first on an x86 processor. x86 is a type of CPU architecture common to Windows machines, and its until-now lack of AI capabilities is part of what’s driven manufacturers like Apple to go in-house. In other words, your Windows laptop probably doesn’t have an AI chip, but your M2 MacBook does.

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Ryzen AI
Graphic: AMD

According to information shared to the press, AMD’s new engine is FPGA-based, and the idea is to use it for tasks like video conferencing, predictive UI, security, and even gaming. Specific use cases are currently a little vague, but one example is Microsoft Teams calls. AMD tells us it’s been working with Microsoft to use its AI engine to improve auto-framing and eye gaze correction in Teams, something that solutions like Nvidia Broadcast require a discrete GPU to pull off.

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Other applications for a mobile AI engine could be in improving battery life by having the chip smartly adjust how much power your laptop draws based on the task at hand. During its keynote, AMD promised its AI engine will enable up to “30 hours of video playback.” As AMD put it during a meeting with the press, the idea is to use AI to make using your laptop as easy and seamless as possible, without requiring you to fiddle with settings. The company’s still nailing down the specifics on these implementations, with more info to come closer to when the chips drop.

We’ll see how this plays out, but it’s an exciting prospect, given that Intel’s inability to support AI engines on its consumer chips is part of what pushed Apple to develop its M series of chips. AMD is promising that Ryzen AI is “50% more efficient” than the Apple M2 neural engine.

While it’s unclear how much the Ryzen AI engine contributed to these benchmarks, AMD demonstrated the power of its 7040 series chips with a Cinebnech benchmark comparing the 7940HS to the Apple M1 Pro, in which the former was 30% faster. Manufacturer specs should always be taken with a grain of salt, but the gauntlet is clearly thrown down here.

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AMD Ryzen 7040 series
Graphic: AMD

For what it’s worth, AMD’s entire new mobile processor line includes 20 series, 30 series, 35 series, 40 series, and 45 series options. The CPUs get more powerful as the number gets higher, which is interesting— the AI engine isn’t coming to AMD’s most powerful mobile chips, the 7045 series. At least not yet. AMD didn’t explain why during a chat with the press, nor did it explain why the solution isn’t coming to desktop. The company does offer its Alveo cards, which utilize a discrete XDNA AI engine, but those are intended for enterprise solutions.

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Regardless, we’ll be able to test the AI engine on the 7040 mobile chips when they first start coming to laptops in March. The other mobile 70 series chips will hit laptops then as well, while laptop makers are already working with AMD’s new mobile GPUs.

On the desktop end, the new 3D V-Cache processors will hit in February. Before then, AMD is also releasing cheaper, lower-wattage versions of its current lineup of desktop CPUs, which is great for anyone wrestling with increased power bills during the pandemic. These CPUs will drop on January 10th, with prices ranging from $229 to $429.