Conclusion

We started by taking a look at a laptop that we found a great deal on this past Cyber Monday, 2019.   We found a great deal on a laptop, $299 spent on a 15.6” laptop that’s originally $519.99. 

In our first review, we focused on the CPU side of performance with the AMD Ryzen 5 3500U on board with Vega 8 graphics.  In today’s article, we continued reviewing performance by honing in on the Vega 8 performance and gaming experience.  We found some interesting results that were not expected. 

Compute Performance

We used several synthetic benchmarks and showed you the overall scores with which you can compare with online databases.  The performance of our Vega 8 does show up as being faster as the Vega 8 in the Ryzen 5 2500U due to the fastest clock speed with ours in the 3500U.  The compute performance results confirmed this.  It also showed that the Vega 8 is faster than the likes of the GeForce GTX 650 Ti and GeForce GTX 950M as well Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 and Intel Iris Pro Graphics 580.

The shocking part was when it came to rendering applications like Blender, or video encoding performance.  We actually found that when Vega 8 was utilized alongside the CPU performance was slower in rendering times, and video encoding times.  This was repeatable, and we tried over and over to make sure our results were correct.

The running theory is that including the Vega 8 part of the APU package is making the entire APU hit its TDP limit of 15W much quicker.  This overall limits the ability of the CPU and iGPU combined in tasks where all 4 cores, and 8 threads are being pushed plus the Vega 8. 

Remember, all these things are on the same die, so they affect one another.  When we just let the CPU do the rendering Vega 8 doesn’t draw power away from the CPU and allows it to run more efficient at rendering with all cores.  The only way to overcome this would be to have higher TDP, which would defeat the purpose of the thin and light form factor.  Therefore, if you are rendering, it is best to take the Vega 8 out of the equation and let the CPU go full throttle on your workload for the fastest results.

Gaming Performance

In terms of gaming performance, a very clear pattern started to emerge very quickly in our testing.  We utilized 16 games to give a big picture of gaming performance, from the latest games to a few real old games.  One thing that did benefit us well was upgrading the Radeon drivers via the AMD website.  Lenovo was very behind with the latest driver package.  We were able to go AMD.com and get newer chipset drivers and Radeon drivers which helped performance and support and computability. 

With the 3500U and Vega 8 on this laptop, we could not go below 720p resolution, 1280×720.  We could only select between 720p, 900p and 1080p without having game issues.  It became clear from our testing that 1080p and 900p were just out of the question for most gaming performance.  There is simply not enough performance to provide 1080p gaming here.  Instead, we found 720p to be the common resolution for gaming.  

Then, once we found 720p to be the resolution we had to game at, we also found that we had to use the lowest game settings in almost every game.  For any modern game we absolutely had to lower and turn off everything in the graphics just to get near to 30 FPS at 720p, and even then some were still in the ’20s at 720p. 

There were only a select few games, of older origin, that we could turn up the graphics a bit on.  These were older games and thus performed generally well here.  CS:GO was able to be turned up to “High” settings and GTAV was able to be set to “High” settings also.  Dirt 4 was playable in “Medium” settings.  So from this, we can infer that older games that were released around the same time as these games might also be very playable with higher settings at 720p.

Gaming Conclusion

To conclude our game testing, we can say that the Ryzen 5 3500U with Vega 8 is going to be able to play older games fairly well.  You will be able to either raise game settings to medium or high settings at 720p, or keep them at low settings at 900p or 1080p.  This APU is perfect for those older, easier on graphics games, like esports titles. 

However, for newer games that were released in the last few years, it will be difficult for the 3500U/Vega 8.  You are going to find that the absolute lowest game settings at 720p will be pretty much all you can do and still enjoy the game somewhat.  However, be warned, there may be newer games like Red Dead Redemption 2 that are so slow anyway they just won’t be playable at all.

There are a couple of things holding back performance, that being TDP and memory bandwidth. It is too bad 3500U doesn’t support or run at DDR4-3200 at the very least, by default, instead of 2400. It would certainly help gaming performance.

Final Points

Overall, when we take into account the CPU performance we tested, plus the Vega 8 performance we feel that this is a strong thin and light CPU.  As far as its CPU capabilities go it is perfect for the on-the-go work laptop.  It can handle Microsoft Office type applications very well, and it can handle Internet applications very well.  It is also very good at media consumption with its hardware decoder.  Having 4 cores/8 threads in this form factor is a must. We must never settle for 2 cores in thin and light ever again. 

What the Ryzen 5 3500U is weak on, however, is its Vega 8 graphics performance.  Due to the limiting TDP it can actually hurt rendering performance, so you are best to let the CPU do that.  But honestly, this is not a good rendering laptop.  If you have workloads that require 3D rendering, or video encoding, this is not the APU for you. 

It is also not a very good gaming laptop.  At best it can provide gaming with older titles, or very light esports titles or turn-based strategy gaming.  Modern first-person shooter games choke otherwise.

For the price, this laptop was worth it as a laptop for mobile work, and very light gaming to burn time.  The Ryzen 5 3500U is a great CPU platform.  Now that the Zen 2 replacement Ryzen 4000 mobile series has been announced we look forward to seeing how that improves over the Ryzen 5 3500U.                

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Brent Justice

Brent Justice has been reviewing computer components for 20+ years, educated in the art and method of the computer hardware review he brings experience, knowledge, and hands-on testing with a gamer oriented...