We all love arguing AMD vs. Intel, and AMD vs. Nvidia. The challenge is that you’re rarely comparing apples to apples.
What if two apples fell right into your lap? That’s what happened when we had the chance to test two of Acer’s Predator Helios 500 gaming laptops: one with an Intel CPU and an Nvidia GPU, and the other with all-AMD.
With basically identical machines, we can answer some hard questions about which configuration makes the better high-performance machine. There’s so much to test here, between the CPUs and GPUs, and their different core counts, clock speeds, and technologies. So grab your popcorn and get ready to see two heavyweights in the ultimate gaming laptop fight.
AMD vs. Intel: The features and specs
Representing Team Blue and Green (Intel and Nvidia) is the $2,500 Predator Helios 500, with these specs:
- CPU: Intel’s 8th-gen six-core Core i9-8950HK
- RAM: 16GB of DDR4/2400
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 with 8GB of GDDR5 memory
- Display: 144Hz G-Sync 17.3-IPS screen with a resolution of 1920x1080
- Storage: 512GB M.2 SSD and 2TB hard drive
Representing Team Red (all-AMD) is the $2,200 Predator Helios 500, with these specs:
- CPU: 8-core AMD Ryzen 7 2700
- RAM: 16GB of DDR4/2400 with two free SO-DIMM slots
- Graphics: Radeon RX Vega 56 graphics card with 8GB of HBM2 memory
- Display: 144Hz, 1080p IPS screen with AMD’s FreeSync.
- Storage: A single 256GB M.2 SSD
A note about the AMD version’s skimpy storage: There is a free M.2 slot and a free 2.5-inch bay—but there’s no connector for the drive. That’s just odd and makes the extra $300 for the Intel and Nvidia laptop seem well worth it.
What’s different, what’s the same
The two laptops basically appear to be the same except for the motherboard, CPU and GPU. In fact, we successfully removed the bottom cover from the Intel/Nvidia version, and snapped it in place on the AMD version. So yes, they’re about as close as you can get.
After testing both systems, one unexpected surprise was the fan noise. We expected the Radeon and Ryzen combo to sing all the time, but instead, it was the Core i9 and GeForce that droned on forever. The AMD version is among the quietest gaming laptops we’ve heard in a long time. In fact, it’s almost too quite and made us wonder if more performance tuning might be warranted.
How we tested
For our tests, we ran the laptops in stock configurations. Because the Intel/Nvidia-based laptop features a factory “Turbo” setting (which basically overclocks the CPU and the GPU when switched on), we also tested it with that enabled.
We tried to squeeze a little extra performance out of the AMD Ryzen 7 2700 by using the included Ryzen Master to overclock it, but we failed to obtain even marginal clock boosts. For the most part; the Ryzen 7 2700 topped out with all cores and single cores at 3.4GHz to 3.5GHz. The Ryzen 7 2700 is rated with a base clock of 3.2GHz and boost clock of 4.1GHz. We suspect this may change as AMD and Acer get a better handle on it, but for now, this is what you get.
The Intel CPU is rated at 2.9GHz to 4.8GHz. The clock speeds vary based on thermal and power load and how the laptop maker chooses to tune the system. The stock speed we saw on the Intel chip varied from 3.5GHz on multi-core loads to 4.5GHz on single-core loads. When set to Turbo we saw all-core loads of up to 4.4GHz and single-core loads up to 4.7GHz on the Core i9. While not all users will overclock, we believe it would only be fair to show a possible buyer what can be hit.
Core i9 vs. Ryzen 7: Multi-Threaded Performance
Multi-threaded applications are still somewhat niche, but they are the best way to show off the full capabilities of today’s high-core-count flagship CPUs. Let’s kick off the competition with Chaos Group’s V-Ray benchmark. It’s a 3D rendering engine available as a plug-in for a number of popular modeling applications. Like most professional rendering engines, it loves CPU cores and threads. The more you throw at it, the faster it finishes the job.
What you see below is simple math: The Ryzen 7 2700’s 8 cores > the Core i9-8950HK’s 6 cores. AMD takes a big win here against Intel’s most powerful Core i9 CPU.
We see a repeat in the Corona rendering benchmark. Corona is an “unbiased photorealistic renderer” that works in 3ds Max. “Unbiased” refers not to its CPU preference, but rather to the lighting model it uses. Again, the Ryzen’s 16 threads > Core i9’s 12 threads, and the AMD Ryzen 7 pulls out a very decent win against the Intel Core i9.
Core i9 finds its footing in another rendering test. Check out the Blender results below. Blender is an open source 3D modeling application popular with many indie movies. Like most 3D modeling apps, it favors more cores and more threads. Ryzen 7 2700 wins, but the margin is thinner despite having two more physical cores. When overclocked, the Core i9 gets so close you can call it a tie. As Blender shows, clock speeds can help sometimes, even in multi-threaded loads.
Our last rendering test is the ever-popular Cinebench R15. Based on a older rendering engine from Cinema 4D, the benchmark generally favors more cores than clock speed. But like Blender, sometimes the higher clock speed, or perhaps the design of the Core i9, just works better with it.
Overall, we give the Ryzen 7 2700 the nod for 3D modeling tasks, but the story changes for our next category. To be fair, the multi-threaded benchmark in WinRAR has never really loved Ryzen. We’ve long suspected that it doesn’t like Ryzen’s Infinity Fabric or other mesh designs, because it also runs slower on Intel’s mesh-design Skylake X CPUs than it does on the mesh-free Broadwell-E Intel CPUs.
Moving on to the far more popular and economically priced (it’s free!) 7-Zip, the Ryzen 7 2700 pops back to the front of the line, but not by a huge amount for a CPU that has two more cores. The sub-scores show the Ryzen performing far better with the decompression tests, which leverage more memory bandwidth, than it does in the compression tests, which 7-Zip says push integer performance more. When you average out both, it’s a wash.
Our last multi-threaded test uses the free HandBrake application to encode a 30GB file using the Android Preset in the free encoding application. HandBrake favors more cores, and the Ryzen 7 2700 finishes this battery tests with a solid win. We can see from the Core i9 result that its Turbo setting doesn’t help it much. As the entire workload takes some 30 minutes to finish, that’s likely long enough for the overclock to run out of steam. The math is pretty simple on the multi-threaded tests, because 8 cores > 6 cores most of the time for these tasks.
Ryzen 7 2700 vs. Core i9: Single-threaded Performance
Most mainstream applications still use just one or two threads at a time. To gauge single-threaded performance, we run Maxon’s Cinebench R15, setting it to use just one thread.
For the most part, the Core i9 and its superior turbo-boost performance on light threads put it far ahead of the Ryzen 7 2700 CPU. Pushing the Turbo or overclock button on the Intel-based Acer doesn’t help much because the single-thread performance is already pushing near 4.8GHz.
We also ran 7-Zip, POV-Ray and WinRAR using a single thread, and the results are nearly the same as what you see in Cinebench. The clock disparity puts the Ryzen 7 2700 at a loss. At this point of any Law and Order episode, they’d stipulate that the Ryzen 7 is unlikely to win any battles on single-threaded tasks.
We wanted to delve a little bit more into how the Ryzen 7 2700 performs against a Core i9 laptop CPU, so we use Cinebench R15 to run from 1 to 16 threads on both laptops. While 3D rendering may not be exactly what you do in Microsoft Word, or Photoshop or After Effects, it does give us a general idea of how the CPU in a laptop will perform under heavy to medium to light loads.
The chart below tells us the Core i9 outperforms the Ryzen 7 on light to medium loads. Ryzen 7 wins only on loads that stress 14 threads and up.
One problem with the overall score on the chart above is the loss of scale, so we also produce a chart that shows you the performance differences by percentage. As you can see, the Ryzen 7 gives up most performance to the Core i9 on the lighter loads, where the Core i9 is pushing much higher 4GHz+ clock speeds.
We also ran our test with the Intel CPU in “Turbo” mode, which opens up the performance gap even more against the AMD CPU.
Here’s the performance difference again as a percentage based on how many threads the CPUs are tasked with in the Acer Predator laptops. Clearly the Intel CPU is likely to have a hefty performance in most of the applications people run. Remember: This doesn’t run counter to what you saw with V-Ray, Corona, HandBrake, and others, but those are applications that easily scale with the number of CPU cores.
Ryzen 7 and Radeon RX Vega 56 vs. Core i9 and GeForce GTX 1070: Gaming Performance
The GPUs in these two Predator Helios 500 laptops are rivals, too. We ran both on various games to see how the Radeon RX Vega 56 and GeForce GTX 1070 would fare.
One thing that makes this a little messier than a normal GPU showdown is the CPU. In most GPU reviews you test the graphics card using the same CPU. With these reviews, we’re really factoring in CPU performance as well, because you can’t separate the GPU from the CPU.
The old scream of “No one plays games at 1080p!” doesn’t apply, because both laptops feature 1920x1080p resolution screens with 144Hz refresh rates. For our testing, we actually disabled FreeSync and G-Sync, which can slightly drag down performance during benchmarks.
The first result is in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which was run with the 4k texture pack installed and with the Ultra preset. The results put the Ryzen/Radeon RX Vega team at a disadvantage to the Core i9/GeForce team. While there could be many reasons for the performance difference, the most obvious one is clock speed. Most games just don’t use that many threads, which means the Core i9 is going to be in front.
The other possibility is optimization. Most games just aren’t optimized to work with AMD’s Ryzen. That’s led to a rather familiar 10- to 20-percent performance drag when compared to an Intel CPU (when using the same GPU.)
The results in Shadow of Mordor are echoed in tests using Rise of the Tomb Raider with the Very High preset in DX11 mode. Team Red was again at a disadvantage. AMD actually worked with the Rise of the Tomb Raider developer to optimize for Ryzen last year and picked up a performance boost. That makes us believe much of the performance gain here could be the clock speed advantage of the Core i9 chip.
In the 2012 vintage Tomb Raider, don’t expect any miracles for Team Red. The Core i9 and GeForce GTX 1070 continue to lead by a very familiar margin.
If you think this is all the fault of the Radeon RX Vega 56, we also ran the latest 3Dmark Time Spy 1.1 benchmark on both laptops. 3DMark Time Spy lets you dive down into just the graphics performance without considering CPU performance. While it’s synthetic, it can give you a relatively neutral test.
The results we saw from the Radeon RX Vega 56 are a tick or two faster than the GeForce GTX 1070’s. That kinda matches desktop reality: The Radeon RX Vega 56 slightly outperformed the GeForce GTX 1070 enough that Nvidia went ahead and created the GeForce GTX 1070 Ti, just to put itself back on top. In this case, there is no GeForce GTX 1070 Ti riding to the rescue, but when overclocked in the Predator using the factory Turbo button, they were dead even.
Moving on to more real-world games, we can see the situation improve for Team Red. In Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, Team Red is just a tick slower than Team Blue and Green. While overclocking pushes Team Blue and Green ahead a little more, it’s clear there’s plenty of performance on both to play on the 144Hz 1080p screens.
Team Red also picks up a win in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. This is a particular game that AMD has said doesn’t have the same issues as others have with Ryzen. The Radeon/Ryzen duo is basically on a par with the Core i9 / GeForce duo when overclocked.
We’ll finish off game testing with results from Shadows of the Tomb Raider. This is a fairly new game, and in DX12 mode it seems to prefer more CPU cores. The Radeon and Ryzen are good clip ahead of the GeForce/Core i9 combo.
The chart above is simply average frame rate and, from what we can tell, more indicative of graphics performance. In other words: the Radeon RX Vega 56 is likely responsible for pushing it ahead.
Shadows of the Tomb Raider also has a CPU frame rate reported, which seems to indicate what the performance would be if the GPU were taken out of the equation. The result pretty much puts both on the same level, which makes us believe the high clock speeds of the Core i9 are enough to nullify most of Ryzen 7’s core advantage.
We wanted to see just how much each laptop consumed under a fixed power load. To try to separate CPU power consumption from GPU consumption, we used two different tests and measured at-the-wall power use using Watt meters. Screen brightness was set to the same 260 nits on both. Keep in mind that this is total system power, not just the CPU itself.
First, we used the CPU Prime95 test to put a load on the laptops. For this test, we selected a version of Prime95 that does not use AVX. “Winning” would be using less power. The Core i9 laptop consumes a little less power, but when overclocked it gulps more—enough to make it a tie.
To gauge GPU power consumption, we used the stress test Furmark at 1080p and again monitored power consumption at the wall. The Radeon RX Vega 56 has a reputation for using more power than the equivalent GeForce. We see that reflected in the results, with the Radeon consuming 208 watts, vs. 175 watts for the GTX 1070. Even with the GeForce set to Turbo mode, the Radeon was still using considerably more power.
It’s a fairly small difference, but those interested in ultra-efficiency may want to lean toward Team Green.
Our last test is basic battery rundown performance. For the test, we use a 4K video file with the laptop set to 260 nits and airplane mode. We loop the video until it dies. Earbuds are used to reduce the power consumption of the laptop’s audio drivers.
It’s clear that using desktop chips in a laptop hurts battery life. The 72 minutes it takes the Ryzen/Radeon combo to drain a 74-watt-hour battery is pretty atrocious. That said, we wouldn’t be bragging about the Intel/Nvidia’s 125 minutes either.
To be fair, battery performance is not the highest priority for anyone buying a 17.3-inch, 8.5-pound laptop (12 pounds with brick). The vast majority of people who buy laptops this big and heavy care about only one thing: gaming performance. Gaming and battery life still don’t mix. If it took 125 minutes to drain the Intel/Nvidia box on video, you can expect gaming to cut it at least in half.
Conclusion: Gaming vs. Multi-threaded apps
We have to say, we expected this to be basic repeat of the Ryzen 7 2700X vs. Core i7-8700K. It is, after all, an AMD 8-core against an Intel 6-core.
The results were far more interesting than we expected. While we saw fairly huge differences in V-Ray and Corona, in a spate of other multi-threaded tests, the Core i9 came surprisingly close. The reason is most likely clock speed. The Ryzen 7 2700 in the Acer mostly tops out at 3.5GHz, with only occasional and very, very short bumps to 3.7GHz. The Core i9, even stock, was always well north of 4GHz.
The Ryzen 7 2700 is also likely penalized by the fairly slow DDR4/2400 RAM. The CPU’s design almost mandates much higher-clocked DRAM, but on laptops that’s a lot more difficult to do.
We do highly recommend the Ryzen 7 2700, but only if you are doing tasks (read: multithreaded) where you know it will offer the dividends. In reality, the Core i9 is going to give more people a lot more bang a lot more of the time.
We thought that would translate into more solid wins for the Core i9/GeForce in gaming, but the Radeon Vega RX 56 saved the Ryzen’s day enough times that, well, you might actually want to buy it.
Is there an actual winner? That depends. Buy the Ryzen 7/Radeon RX Vega 56 combo if you need the core count, and you’re OK giving up some gaming and single-threaded performance for it.
If you’re mostly a gamer, the Core i9 / GeForce is the better choice for most titles, thanks to its higher clock speed.