Our sister site PCMag has given an all-AMD laptop an Editor’s Choice award, for the first time I can remember. It could very well be the first time an all-AMD system at the $1,000 price point has ever won the accolade.
AMD has struggled to compete in the laptop market for two decades. There are various reasons for this, including Intel’s rebate practices in the early to mid-2000s, the uphill battle AMD has faced against Nvidia on power efficiency since at least Maxwell in 2014, and the fact that AMD’s CPUs were not particularly competitive on power consumption or performance relative to the competition. The impact of these factors varies depending on the year you choose to examine, but they’ve all played a part.
This situation locked AMD in a feedback loop: OEMs refused to put in the work to build competitive AMD systems because they didn’t think such systems could justify the work — which meant AMD’s bandwidth-hungry APUs shipped in mobile laptops that offered meaningfully worse experiences compared with Intel systems. This did nothing to encourage customer uptake, while providing OEMs with an ongoing reason for why optimizing for AMD wasn’t worth the money. Ryzen Mobile has changed that equation and the existing Surface 3 Laptop with an AMD APU was far more optimized for that chip than any previous system AMD has built with a vendor. Some of the fruits of that collaboration may still be paying off in other areas.
Meet the MSI Bravo 15
The MSI Bravo 15 fields AMD’s Ryzen 4800H (2.9GHz base, 4.2GHz boost) and pairs it with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM. Storage for both US models is 512GB, and the available GPU, in both cases, is a 4GB Radeon RX 5500M. The display is a 1080p panel with AMD FreeSync support and a maximum 120Hz refresh rate.
Running a FreeSync panel at 120Hz may not make much sense at first glance, since the entire point of FreeSync is to improve frame rates at low speed, but having both technologies present improves overall flexibility. Games that can run at 120fps may not visually benefit much from FreeSync, but all laptops age. A few years from now, a FreeSync-enabled 30-40fps will look significantly better than standard v-sync at that speed.
The Bravo 15 is fairly light, at 4.1 pounds, and there’s a little bit of flexion in the bottom half of the chassis. As reviewer Charles Jeffries notes, however, “[T]his is not unusual for a gaming notebook in this price range.” The display evaluates along similar lines: It’s a 1080p panel and the colors won’t blow your mind, but it’s an IPS screen with a matte finish and wide viewing angles. G-Sync, also, is typically not available in this price range.
One place where I differ from the reviewer is in his evaluation of port availability. The MSI Bravo 15 offers an HDMI and power plug on the left-hand side, with four USB ports crammed on the right (two Type-C, two Type-A). Hanging all the USB ports off one side of the machine can be inconvenient when you have devices that take up more space and I’d rather have three USB Type-A slots. I don’t love the port configuration — the Asus Zephyrus has two Type-A ports and a Type-C port on the right-hand side, and its HDMI port and a single Type-C on the left. The MSI Bravo offers more ports, but the ROG Zephyrus G14 distributes its three ports more effectively, in my personal opinion.
The GPU Is the Surprising Thing
If you’ve been following the news on AMD’s Mobile Ryzen parts, you know that these chips have knocked it out of the park in overall power efficiency, even when compared against Ice Lake. On the GPU side, however, AMD has struggled to match Nvidia’s power efficiency, despite the move to 7nm. Given how power-constrained mobile environments are, it was an open question whether AMD could compete.
While the RX 5500M is not quite as fast as the GTX 1660 Ti, it’s markedly better than the RX 5500M installed to the MSI Alpha 15. This highlights how much of a difference a stronger CPU can make in mobile, and how important the 7nm node has been to AMD (the Alpha 15 uses a Ryzen 3750H).
Battery life is also better than the MSI Alpha 15 at 6 hours, 55 minutes compared with 5 hours, 1 minute. Top spots go to the Dell G15 SE (Ryzen 7 4800H, like the MSI system) and the HP Pavilion Gaming 15 (Intel Core i7-9750H). While the MSI system isn’t as long-lasting as the Dell, the gap between the Dell and HP is just seven minutes: 7 hours, 33 minutes versus 7 hours, 40 minutes.
The downsides to the system are its heat output (a common issue with the Zephyrus as well) and the fact that it doesn’t quite catch the 1660 Ti on price (though those systems, if equivalently equipped, typically cost a bit more). Overall, it’s “a standout in this category,” PCMag wrote.
AMD Gains Ground
Right now, there are only a bare handful of AMD gaming laptops and this, to the best of my knowledge, is the only one fielding all-AMD hardware. But the point is being made — AMD is capable of hanging with an Intel + Nvidia combination. Four years ago, we couldn’t even get manufacturers to stop shipping APUs with single-channel low-speed memory. Today, AMD is starting to get some genuine traction. It’ll take time for the company to take any significant share of gaming laptops, but clearly OEMs are paying attention to what the company has built already.