AMD Ryzen for Android development

I bought a new laptop, such fast, much happy.

I’ve recently been in the market for a new laptop for myself. My priorities were:

  • Small enough to be able to sit on the sofa and do my life-admin tasks.
  • Powerful enough to do a bit of development without waiting for the earth to do a complete rotation.

The laptop which I was using for these tasks was a Pixelbook i7 16GB. To be honest, I love this laptop for general web-browsing tasks. It’s small, it’s portable, and the 3:2 screen ratio really works for reading/writing. BUT…. it’s slow. Linux on ChromeOS works really nicely, but the laptop just doesn’t have enough power for anything even close to what is needed for Android development.

My initial thought was a new Macbook Pro 13" with the M1 chip, and it would have been a fine choice, but decided against it because:

  • No option currently for 16GB of RAM. 8GB isn’t enough for Android development when you also use emulators.
  • Minor thing, but I use a Macbook Pro 16" for work (more on that below), and wanted to go back to using something non-Mac.
  • Cost. £1300 is more than I wanted to pay for a weekend machine.

So, what did I end up…

I ended up with a Huawei Matebook 14 16GB. Listing out the reasons:

  • Has a AMD Ryzen 5 4600H CPU. That’s the faster H chip, not the 4600U which you typically find in ultrabook laptops.
  • 16GB of RAM. ‘nuff said.
  • 3:2 screen ratio. This wasn’t a requirement, but it really does work well for coding.
  • Cost: £849.

I won’t turn this post into a sales pitch for the Matebook 14, but this is honestly one of the best laptops I’ve ever had. Small (but not too small), nice keyboard to type on (as good as the 2019 Macbook), good touchpad. The only downside is that it only has 1 USB-C port, but I can get over that.

Android development build times

So lets cut to the actual point of this blog post, putting the AMD Ryzen 4600H through it’s paces for some Android development.

I used the same process that I used when I compared Jetpack Compose build times, by building Tivi in a loop:

The full commands I ran:

# Prime the build caches, start the Gradle daemon, etc
./gradlew assembleDebug
# Do a full build 5 times
for i in {1..5} ; do
./gradlew --profile --offline --rerun-tasks assembleDebug
done

To provide a comparison, I also did the same on my work laptop, a 2019 Macbook Pro with a 2.4 GHz 8-Core Intel Core i9 and 32GB RAM. I just checked and it’s current cost is £3,499, over 4x the price of the Matebook. 🤯

Results

Macbook Pro 16": 101.9 seconds. Matebook 14": 106.84 seconds

These results didn’t surprise me in the slightest. After trying out some development on the Matebook, it certainly didn’t feel any slower than the Macbook which I use every day. 5 seconds difference for a full build is practically nothing, especially when you’ll typically be doing incremental builds.

The CPU in the Macbook is the Intel I9–9980HK, which is a 8-core top-spec CPU. It would be interesting to compare the results against a Ryzen 7 4800H, which is AMD’s top-spec laptop CPU.

There are some obvious things in this test which could influence the results, the biggest being the OS (Mac OSX vs Debian), but the scenario was pretty realistic in how I’d actually use the laptops.

When I factor in the price, I’m extremely happy with my laptop choice. There are other brands of laptops which use Ryzen CPUs, so definitely shop-around if you’re in the market for a new laptop.

Work @Google on #Android

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