CES 2021 Has Been A Big Year For AMD Gaming Laptops

CES 2021 Has Been A Big Year For AMD Gaming Laptops
Image: AMD (YouTube)

CES 2021 has begun good and proper, and early Wednesday morning a string of embargoes and keynotes aired, revealing the gaming product slate for the next couple of years. But perhaps the biggest announcement was the indication of just how much vendors have switched over to AMD-based designs.

We’ve already had a ton of gaming gear announced from AMD, Intel, Acer, ASUS, Razer and other companies, but the lion’s share of stuff that will become available over the next 12 months was announced overnight. AMD announced a ton of new mobile CPUs during their major keynote, while Nvidia brought their Ampere GPU architecture to a more affordable price point via the GeForce RTX 3060.

There was also a ton of new laptops announced from vendors, either sporting one of the new chips announced by Intel and AMD over the last couple of days, or Nvidia’s mobile GPUs. There’s a ton to unpack, so here’s what you can look forward to.

Intel doesn’t have a full response out to Ryzen’s 5000-series desktop CPUs yet — their i9-11900K Rocket Lake chip is due out this quarter — but a strong battle is emerging between Intel and AMD in the laptop space. AMD’s mobile Ryzen processors have been competitive for a couple of years now. But building motherboard and chassis designs for laptops is vastly more complicated than it is for desktop systems, which is why it’s taken so long for more AMD options to hit the market.

Asus’s 13-inch OLED Zenbook is a tiny looking laptop. Image: ASUS

ASUS is one company that tends to make more laptops than most, and this year they’re offering vastly more AMD options across their productivity and gaming suite. On the non-gaming side, AMD’s new 5000-series chips — announced during the CES major keynote above — can be found in ASUS’s ZenBook OLED 13 and the thin-and-light ZenBook 14. Both of those are pitching 13 and 16-hour battery life respectively, although it’ll be interesting to see the difference in battery life on Intel’s Tiger Lake hardware (since the ZenBook 15 and OLED 13 both have Intel options).

Intel hardware’s more common across ASUS’s ZenBook Pro Duo and Pro Duo 15 OLED series, although AMD’s starting to make more inroads into ASUS’s gaming hardware. The headline new introduction is the convertible 13-inch ROG Flow X13, a 1.31kg laptop that ships with a Ryzen 5980HS chip and a GTX 1650 GPU. The real kicker is the XG Mobile external GPU dock, which adds the power of an RTX 3080 GPU to the laptop via a proprietary connector.

The whole thing has around a 10 hour battery life while playing back video, and charges via a 100-watt USB-C charger.

Image: ASUS ROG Flow X13

All of the ASUS ROG laptops announced at CES this year featured Ryzen chips, which is a huge move from the biggest gaming laptop maker. The Zephyrus Duo 15 SE has the 5900HX mobile CPU and RTX 3080 with a combo of a 4K/120Hz screen or a 300Hz/1080p display. If you don’t want a laptop with an in-built second screen, however, the ROG Strix Scar 15 and 17 are more traditional offerings.

They’ve been updated with the latest RTX 30-series GPUs and Ryzen 5000-series chips, with 360Hz/3ms or a 1440p 165Hz/3ms option. And being esports-centric laptops, the keyboards have been updated with optical mechanical switches as well, which even have little air vents around the WASD keys to keep your fingers extra cool. (Because, you know, gaming laptops can get hot.)

Razer is sticking with all-Intel hardware for their 2021 refreshes, but the updates are largely in line with what you’d expect. The Base Razer Blade 15 and Advanced Models are getting Nvidia’s new mobile RTX cards (up to a RTX 3070 in the base Blade 15 and RTX 3080 for the Advanced Model, depending on configuration), although all the new models at the time of writing are still using Intel’s 10th-gen mobile CPUs. The Blade Pro 17 has been updated as well, although there’s an interesting twist: the Advanced Model offers two versions of the RTX 3080, one with 8GB RAM and another with 16GB RAM:

ces 2021 laptops
Image: Razer

If you want the beefiest RTX 3080 model, it’ll set you back a hefty $5999. The base Blade 15 with an RTX 3060 and a 6-core Intel CPU is going for $3149, with the 1440p / RTX 3070 version costing $3999. That’s quite a bit, but it’s not a huge surprise given the impact of the Trump administration’s new tariffs on components.

Unlike Razer, Lenovo’s gaming brand Legion has gone the opposite route this year. All of their latest models — including the Legion 5, Legion 5 Pro, Legion Slim 7 and Legion 7 — are all equipped with AMD hardware. Legion laptops have also traditionally been much more competitively priced locally, and the Legion 5’s 2021 edition with a 1080p/165Hz screen will be available in Australia for $1999 from April. (It’s not confirmed what the base GPU will be yet, but the Legion 5 can be outfitted with an RTX 3070 at the top end.)

Acer’s new Nitro gaming notebooks are mostly backed by AMD as well, with the Aspire 5, Aspire 7, 15-inch Nitro 5 and 17-inch Nitro 5 all hitting Australia from the second quarter of 2021. There’s no pricing yet, but a lot of the updates are in line with what you’d expect. The Nitro 5 is configurable up to a Ryzen 9 5900 HX and a RTX 3080 GPU with a maximum storage of a 2TB NVMe/2TB SATA drives, with either 1080p/360Hz or 1440p/165Hz screens. The Acer Nitro 5 is the lone wolf with Intel’s 11th-gen CPU, and it’s being pitched as a more affordable offering with unspecified GeForce GTX GPUs. It’s not as entry level as the Acer Aspire 5, which has a Radeon RX 640 dedicated GPU. The RX 640 isn’t really suited for games and it’s substantially less powerful than Nvidia’s entry-level MX450 GPU, so it’s probably best to think of the Aspire 5 as a entry-level student laptop.

If you need more power than that, there’s the Predator Triton 300 SE — a 1.7kg laptop with an Intel i7 H35 CPU and a RTX 3060. It’s a chrome styling that’s pretty reminiscent of the excellent Zephyrus G14 from last year, with some aggressive cooling grooves on the sides. This is a configurable laptop as well, and it won’t be available until Q2 2021, so we’ll have to check back in to see what the base pricing will be.

Image: Acer

Dell’s Alienware brand is still going with Intel for their m15 and m17 gaming laptops, although the Alienware Aurora pre-built desktops continue to offer Intel and Ryzen configurations. The cheapest offering here is the m15 R4, which starts at $4799. It’ll have a 10th-gen 8 core i7-10870H CPU, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage as the base, but you can spec the laptop out with 32GB RAM, 4TB storage and much more. The official spec sheet doesn’t list what the base GPU model will be, however.

ces 2021 laptops
Image: Alienware

It’s an awful lot of laptops to work through, but the most interesting thread amongst all of them is looking at just how much AMD has become a standardised option. Save for some holdouts — Razer and Alienware — most of the major vendors have converted over to AMD designs, or are at least offering AMD configurations alongside Intel. That’s a huge strike against an area of the market that Intel has dominated for literally decades. AMD’s Ryzen desktop chips have clawed back a ton of market share over the last half-decade, but a lack of supply and support from vendors have stopped AMD from properly making inroads into the laptop market thus far. 2021 appears to be the year where the tide has really changed, especially since Intel’s no longer part of the Macbook ecosystem. It still remains to be seen how much of an impact components tariffs will have on pricing — not to mention how much of an impact COVID and flexible working continues to have on the laptop/PC/component market come tax time.

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