While I was searching for a new on-budget laptop to buy, especially after my Lenovo Thinkpad x260 almost died, I did a lot of research specifically about what CPU & GPU vendors to choose, mainly because I use Linux only and I was worried about some rumors of compatibility and other issues.

At the end I chose AMD, and I bought a laptop powered by AMD. My experience with it on Linux has been wonderful so far. This is my story, and why I think that you should go with AMD for your next PC too.

Security

If You Are a Linux User, Make Your Next PC Powered By AMD 15 AMD Linux
Dell Inspiron 3585, my new laptop, fully powered by AMD.

One of the biggest security stories of the last year, as well as this year, was the discovery of the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities, which were followed by a huge series of other side-channel vulnerabilities. A quick research showed me that most of those vulnerabilities affected Intel CPUs, and few of them affected AMD’s products. You can check the number of discovered security vulnerabilities in 2018-2019 for both Intel and AMD, and notice the huge difference in numbers between the two (While I acknowledge that a lot of Intel’s issues were software, the number of hardware-only vulnerabilities remains bigger, also notice that most of AMD’s page is saying that those issues do not affect their products, such as Fallout, RIDL, ZombieLoad, Spolier, TLPBleed and others, they only affect Intel).

What was more concerning and enraging for me while I was following the news at that time, was the lack of responsiveness from Intel’s side. It took them a long time to release their patches, and even when they did, according to Linus Torvalds, they were “utter garbage”. I have no idea how the security team at Intel could’ve cared less for such serious issues and problems.

The other issue was that a lot of those vulnerabilities remain unfixed, because they are in the design of the CPUs their selves. They can only be fully-fixed by buying the most recent CPUs, which wasn’t even an option for me (Remember that I was searching for an on-budget laptop).

Performance

The other aspect of the previous security issues was performance. A huge number of benchmarks reported that after applying the new Intel’s microcode, along with other kernel-side fixes, Intel’s CPUs performance went down by 10-30%. This didn’t happen just on one CPU family, but almost on all of them. After a while, it became quite clear that Intel had cut some sharp edges in order to compete with other vendors and market its products as the best performance-oriented ones.

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This issue was one of the main reasons why I chose AMD; Their fixes affected performance so little compared to Intel’s CPUs, and those vulnerabilities continued to come. So it was a safe move to choose AMD for this.

Some other benchmarks done by Phoronix just few minutes ago demonstrate this even more.

I bought the Dell Inspiron 15 3585, which comes with AMD Ryzen 5 2500u CPU, integrated Vega 8 graphics card, 8GB of RAM, 256GB NVMe SSD, and a Full-HD 1920×1080 anti-glare screen. What was interesting is that the performance under Linux (Ubuntu 19.04) was actually better than Windows for games.

If You Are a Linux User, Make Your Next PC Powered By AMD 17 AMD Linux
Watching a game in the Dota 2 client on Linux, high tweaked settings with 60 FPS, on the Vega 8 graphics card and Ryzen 5 2500u.

For Dota 2 for example, on Linux, I was able to run it on high settings with 50-60 fps, and this was without installing not even a single extra software or driver from AMD’s or Dell’s websites. But on Windows 10, and even after I updated everything and installed the latest drivers, I managed to get only 30 FPS using the exact same settings. I noticed the same thing for CS:GO and many other games. Another benchmark by Phoronix for other graphics cards and CPUs is also reporting that AMD on Linux is actually better than AMD on Windows.

As a general knowledge to report here, AMD drivers for Linux are open source, and integrated in the Linux kernel as well as installed by default on the majority of Linux distributions like Ubuntu (Search for xserver-xorg-video-amdgpu package).

That’s not the case for a graphics card vendor like Nvidia. Nvidia drivers are very well known in the Linux community to have a lot of troubles in running and working, especially if it’s a Nvidia Optimus laptop. The open source Nvidia driver, Nouveau, is way much slower than the closed-source one.

This was one of the reasons why I wanted the graphics card also to come from AMD, not just the CPU. And indeed, as I can see myself, they work wonderfully out-of-the-box with no extra steps from me, and even give a better performance than on Windows.

Price

If You Are a Linux User, Make Your Next PC Powered By AMD 19 AMD Linux

The laptop I bought for all those cool things was for just $500.

There were so many other laptops that are powered by Intel’s 7th and 8th generation i5 and i7 CPUs, along with an integrated Intel HD 520 or 620 graphics cards or even some strong ones from Nvidia, but the price tag became at least $100-200 more expensive. Something which I didn’t personally want to pay especially that most benchmarks demonstrated that there’s no huge difference between the two in terms of performance, and more importantly, for my workflow, I really didn’t need that tiny extra performance.

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However, for you, and if you are looking for something more than just-a-suitable-laptop like me, then you’ll be delighted to know that the new AMD processors do beat Intel’s processors in the 3Ps: Performance, Power and Price.

One other aspect which I would like to highlight here was how horrible PC vendors builds were for AMD; You may find a laptop powered by an AMD CPU with a dedicated graphics card, good RAM, nice screen, but it only comes with a mechanical hard disk which runs on 5400 RPM (No SSD), and I was really shocked for how little the options were available for AMD-powered laptops. And I was wondering why there were thousands of laptops from Intel for various prices, but only too few from AMD.

Quite fair-ly competition from Intel, I guess.

Tweaking & Monitoring Tools

While the official tools by AMD do not support Linux, there are many 3rd-party tweaking tools for AMD’s CPUs and GPUs on Linux.

Right now, I am using a tool called “Ryzen Controller“, which is a frontend for RyzenAdj. This tool allows you to control STAPM limits, PPT limits, temperature limits, VRAM and transmission frequencies limits. There are some experimental options for adjusting the GFX and SOC clock speeds too:

If You Are a Linux User, Make Your Next PC Powered By AMD 21 AMD Linux
Ryzen Controller on Linux.

I am also using a GNOME Shell extension called “cpufreq” that allows me to play with the options of my Ryzen 5 CPU. You can for example modify the CPU clock, along with the number of working cores, CPU governer, load/unload presets beside many other options:

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I also happened to stumble upon “uProf“, which is an official AMD tool to monitor the performance of its CPUs and GPUs. This tool, unlike the official software settings application, works on Linux and FreeBSD too. So you can use it to monitor the internals of your computer.

Conclusion

If you are going to buy a new computer, whether it was a desktop or laptop, then I strongly encourage you to make it fully AMD-powered. There are so many options to choose for both the CPUs and GPUs for extremely affordable prices comparing to that of Intel’s or Nvidia’s. More importantly, you’ll get a computer with higher performance, better security and more Linux-friendly for sometimes half the prices from other companies.

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I would like to hear about your experiences with both hardware families, and what do you think about the discussion in general in the comments below. I am also ready for any questions.

10 Comments

  1. Michael Coyle

    July 16, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Great article. That 17″ model is calling my name! (Inspiron 17 – 3785). It ships with Windows, so I assume you’re dual booting. Any driver problems, Wifi for example? May I ask which distro you went with?

    Reply

    • M.Hanny Sabbagh

      July 16, 2019 at 5:01 pm

      My Inspiron 3585 came with Ubuntu 18.04 LTS preinstalled, so I nuked it and installed 19.04 myself.

      I don’t have any problems with it at all.

      Reply

      • Randal

        July 20, 2019 at 7:50 pm

        How did you order/get it with that preinstalled? (not showing on your linked to website)

        Reply

        • M.Hanny Sabbagh

          July 20, 2019 at 8:00 pm

          I bought it from a local shop in Turkey. It came preinstalled with no request/feedback from me. I don’t know if Dell offers that from their official website.

          Reply

  2. Robert

    July 16, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    I bought a HP Probook 445 G6 laptop with 16 GB RAM and a AMD Ryzen 5 25ooU cpu. I choose to let HP configure it with FreeDOS as the discount for not opting for a windows 10 licence gave me the opportunity to add better components. When it arrived I installed Linux Mint 19.1 with XFCE and although I carefully choose EFI install media and installed it correctly, it often didn’t boot and I had to switch it on multiple times to let it boot. I tried changing everything in the bios (secure boot and uefi) but nothing worked. In the end I had to buy a windows 10 1903 key from ebay and install windows 10 on it.

    Moral of this story, buy preconfigured linux hardware from DELL, System76 or Zareason if you want to be sure your hardware works flawlessly with Linux. I would add that to this article.

    Reply

    • M.Hanny Sabbagh

      July 16, 2019 at 5:24 pm

      Not really, all what you had to do was to disable secure boot/UEFI and boot using legacy from USB. The entire world is doing it this way. Either you didn’t figure it out or there was something wrong in your specific laptop. You didn’t even use Linux to blame it for the situation here.

      Reply

  3. DS-Tech Media

    July 17, 2019 at 9:25 am

    I enjoyed this article.
    I’ve been an enthusiastic AMD customer even before switching to Linux, starting with my 2005 Athlon64x2 2200+.
    Since my awesome experience with that system(which still runs but has been retired), I have always been aware of AMD’s value.
    I plan on purchasing a Ryzen/Vega APU notebook, as I’ve owned two pre-Ryzen models. A A10-5750m first, and then a FX-9800p both 15″ 1080p displays.
    I went with AMD’s APU’s because the graphics performance was unbeatable at $700, while you’d have to pay $1000 for most Intel models with ONLY Intel graphics. Not to mention, the cost of having a dedicated Nvidia/AMD mobile GPU. Insanity.
    These notebooks have both been particularly responsive with Linux, but a drawback has always been the lack of GPU acceleration for Radeon products vs. Nvidia’s. But now we’re starting to see that change, a big win has been OBS Studio adding VAAPI hardware support alongside NVENC. Running OBS with x264 software encoding on an AMD laptop was pretty much unusable.

    Reply

  4. DS-Tech Media

    August 8, 2019 at 4:51 am

    I had already planned on getting a AMD Ryzen APU, before reading this, but needless to say I concur with your findings.
    I’m basically a Linux-only user, I use it for graphics design, web design, music-production, and even produce my Youtube channel with only Linux. I occasionally use Windows for games, but mostly stick to titles that are also on Linux.(Metro Redux, Tomb Raider, etc).
    I’m a bit of an AMD fanboy, I have lots of AMD CPU’s, GPU’s, and 2 APU’s, both HP Envy’s, that are pre-Ryzen. Even on my 7th Gen FX-9800p Special Edition APU, Linux performs great. It’s a 15″ 1080p with all aluminum chasis. And yes it even games, despite being half as powerful as a Ryzen APU. I plan to buy the Ryzen upgraded, exact model.

    Reply

  5. Eric Quinones

    August 24, 2019 at 1:01 am

    My Story is a bit more of a successful accident. Iā€™m a noob at linux and because I hate MS Windows so much I have been using a Google chromebox for the last 6 years for light stuff like web browsing. I recently decided I want to learn web development but my chromebox would not deliver in that department. So on Prime day my wife took the liberty of buying me without asking an Acer Aspire 5 with an AMD Ryzen 5, Vega graphics card 4GB ram 128 ssd for only $260. It came with windows 10 and I was grateful for her consideration but kindly told her to return it because I wanted something better suited for web development which I assumed was a Mac at the time. But before she returned I tried doing some research on YouTube. So this led me to the idea to install Linux on this new Laptop specifically PopOs because of a video I saw from a guy called Chris Titus. So I installed it and it was a success never had a hiccup. I just followed all instructions and now it runs perfect just as if I bought it that way.

    So, wondering why I keep hearing about others having problems with drivers and other issues I found this article which helped me to understand so much and how fortunate I am to have such a considerate wife lol šŸ˜‰

    Reply

  6. Nenad Militarevic

    September 14, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    It is true about Dota, I have 2400G and it runs better on Mint than on Windows, the only thing I changed from the original installation is the new kernel.

    Reply

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