Tesla Processor Showdown: Old Intel Atom GPU vs. New AMD Ryzen APU
Tesla is both an automotive and technology company all wrapped into one. That said, the hardware (and software) change and evolve over time. Just like computers or mobile phones, Tesla’s vehicles get constant hardware and software updates.
In December 2021, Tesla started installing an upgraded accelerated processing unit (APU) in the newly-built Tesla Model 3 and Model Y cars — the AMD RDNA 2-based Ryzen APU. Before this upgrade, the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y used to have the basic low-level Intel Atom graphics processing unit (GPU).
The design-refresh Model S and Model X, however, had the new AMD RDNA 2-based GPU with 10 teraflops of gaming power since the start of their production as AMD CEO Lisa Su announced at Computex 2021 last year.
An APU in a Tesla vehicle is responsible for running the normal operations of the Media Control Unit (MCU/infotainment system) — like maps, vehicle display rendering, Autopilot screen rendering, camera displays, music, browser, video apps like YouTube, video games, and other touchscreen functions. The latest version with the AMD Ryzen processor in Tesla Model 3 and Model Y is also called MCU3 by the Tesla community.
Tesla influencer Bjorn Nyland from Norway was able to get his hands on two Tesla Model 3 cars — one old 2019 model year with Intel Atom GPU and a new 2022 model year car with the AMD Ryzen APU (video below).
He first tested the old Model 3 for the performance of navigation maps. It works smoothly when the user zooms in and out, but when the same functionality was tested on the new Model 3 with the AMD APU, the performance was much better.
But the major performance difference was felt when Bjorn tested YouTube and the browser on both old and new Model 3s. YouTube app loading time was significantly better on the new Model 3 and the videos also ran smoothly, while on the old Model 3 with Intel Atom, the app loaded slowly and videos were jerky and frames were skipped.
Tesla’s in-car browser has often been a slower performing application on the center touchscreen and therefore the least used by Tesla car owners. But with the new AMD Ryzen processor (MCU3), the browser has become much faster and the scrolling has smoothed out.
Bjorn browsed a heavy news website with tons of articles to vertically scroll (www.dn.no), only to be astonished at the performance improvement with the new APU.
The new AMD Ryzen GPU is more power-hungry compared to the old Intel Atom GPU — the same phenomena that we face in computers. This extra power consumption did slightly affect the driving range of Model 3/Y by about 13 miles (22 km). But Tesla overcame this problem with software tweaking, heat management in new vehicles, and constant innovation in battery technology.
Unfortunately, Tesla has not officially confirmed an AMD Ryzen retrofit option in the foreseeable future for old Model 3 and Model Y owners with the old Intel Atom graphics processor.
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