What is AMD SmartShift and how does it work?

What is AMD SmartShift and how does it work?

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.

AMD SmartShift has been there since 2020, but it’s not something that gets spoken about much. That’s partly because it was only available in one laptop during its first year, which is related to the relative scarcity of full AMD systems with Ryzen Mobile CPUs and discrete Radeon graphics. SmartShift isn’t as uncommon as it was a few years ago, and AMD is continuing to improve it with some new announcements at CES 2022.

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.

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