AMD SmartShift has been around since 2020, but it’s not something that’s discussed too often. That’s partly due to its inclusion in just one laptop during its first year of availability, which in turn is due to the relative rarity of full AMD systems with Ryzen Mobile CPUs and discrete Radeon graphics. SmartShift isn’t as rare as it was just a couple of years ago, and it’s still being improved by AMD with some new announcements at CES 2022.
The TL;DR: AMD SmartShift is a proprietary technology for laptops that lets the CPU and discrete GPU work together for increased performance and energy efficiency. Let’s take a closer look at how SmartShift works, what’s coming up next, and where you can find it.
What is AMD SmartShift?
Gaming and workstation laptops are popular high-performance solutions for those who don’t want to be tied down to a desk. However, there are some significant power and cooling tradeoffs compared to a desktop PC. Laptops generally have a thermal capacity that can’t handle the all-out running of both the CPU and GPU, which leads to there being a fixed power allowance on each component. AMD SmartShift essentially allows those fixed numbers to become intelligently dynamic, boosting system performance as needed.
Think of AMD SmartShift as being one large power pool from which both the CPU and GPU can pull as required. If the CPU is being hit a lot harder than the GPU, some of the GPU’s power allowance can be moved over to the CPU to keep it performing as needed. And vice versa. So why does this only work in laptops with AMD CPU and AMD discrete GPU?
SmartShift relies on a special Infinity Fabric controller found only in AMD Ryzen CPUs and AMD Radeon discrete GPUs. These controllers communicate on the go, simultaneously leveraging potent algorithms to intelligently shift power requirements back and forth between the components. This process all runs behind the scenes, and you shouldn’t notice when the shifts happen, save perhaps a boost to frame rates. AMD claims up to 14% better performance in AMD laptops when using SmartShift.
Gamers can certainly take advantage of SmartShift, but any work that relies on the combination of a CPU and discrete GPU — like rendering, design, editing, and other productivity — will also benefit.
What’s next for AMD SmartShift?
Announced at CES 2022 alongside the latest AMD Ryzen 6000 Mobile CPUs, AMD SmartShift is getting some improvements. What’s being called AMD SmartShift Max will further improve laptop performance and it will function with more games and workloads than before. AMD claims it can deliver up to twice as much of a performance boost in certain titles, though real-world numbers in most games will be much smaller.
AMD SmartShift Eco is another new offshoot designed to make your battery run longer while gaming. SmartShift Eco can automatically move the majority of the performance load to the Ryzen CPU’s integrated graphics when on battery power, intelligently moving it back to the discrete GPU when the laptop is running on AC power. AMD expects this to significantly boost battery life while gaming, though with the expected fidelity loss when moving from discrete to integrated graphics.
What laptops have AMD SmartShift?
The biggest downside of AMD’s SmartShift technology since its inception has been the lack of implementation. In 2020, the only laptop with both an AMD CPU and AMD GPU — the basic requirements for SmartShift — was Dell’s G5 15 Special Edition. Interestingly enough, the PlayStation 5 employs SmartShift between its AMD CPU and GPU. SmartShift is also compatible with Linux.
AMD has made it a bit easier to find laptops using both its CPU and GPU with the AMD Advantage naming convention. SmartShift Eco is expected in AMD Advantage laptops later this year, likely coinciding with the new Ryzen 6000 Mobile CPUs.
There are now a few more laptops you can check out if you’re interested in AMD SmartShift, and the number is growing. The HP Omen 16 Advantage Edition Ryzen 7 5800H CPU and Radeon RX 6600M discrete GPU is currently available, as is the ASUS ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition with Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU and Radeon RX 6800M discrete GPU. The Lenovo Legion 5 (Gen 6) can also be configured with both AMD CPU and GPU, as can MSI’s Alpha and Delta performance laptops. Keep an eye out for the launch of more full AMD systems in the next few months, and have a look at our collection of the best gaming laptops for other options.
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