Friday, February 23, 2024

Intel’s Core i9-12900HK steals back the laptop lead from AMD


“AMD [is] in the rearview mirror […], and never again will they be in the windshield.” That’s what new Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said recently about his new Alder Lake chips in relation to the competition.

It sounds confident, if not a bit pompous.

But now that I’ve tested the first device with Intel’s new Alder Lake mobile chips, I find myself agreeing with him. It feels like the return of Intel’s dominance in laptop performance, and the start of a new era.

Intel 12th-gen H-series comes to life

Intel’s entire line of 12th-gen H-series chips will be rolling out in all sorts of content-creation and gaming laptops shortly. As a sneak preview, though, I got to test the Core i9-12900HK in an update to the MSI GE76 Raider. The processor is Intel’s flagship H-series mobile CPU — and it’s a chip that has something to prove.

Like other Alder Lake chips, this one has 14 cores — six “performant” cores and eight “efficiency” cores. The combination of these different types of cores is what makes this a “hybrid” chip, as Intel calls it. Smartphone and tablet processors use a similar approach to balancing heavy workflows with background tasks.

We saw how powerful this could be with the first Alder Lake desktop chips in the line in 2021, but in laptops is where this more efficient type of processor should have an even larger effect. And based on my testing, Intel has a winner on its hands with the Core i9-12900HK.

Intel Alder Lake performance

I won’t bury the lede further: The Core i9-12900HK is leagues ahead of both Intel and AMD’s previous generation of chips. This is far from a standard generational jump in performance. Just look at this chart comparing some machines with previous-gen chips in popular benchmarks that test single-core and multi-core performance.

MSI GE76 Raider (Core i9-12900HK)
Asus Vivobook Pro 16X (Ryzen 9 5900HX)
HP ZBook Studio G8 (Core i9-11950H)
MacBook Pro 16 (M1 Pro)
Cinebench R23 (single / multi)
1872 / 16388
1486 / 11478
1594 / 11788
1531/ 12343
Geekbench 5 (single / multi)
1855 / 13428
1544 / 8299
1637 / 9139
1773 / 12605
PCMark 10
Handbrake (lower is better)
72 seconds
90 seconds
89 seconds
95 seconds

It’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen a Core i9 laptop beating a Ryzen 9 one, and it’s across the board, regardless of test. Multi-core performance has been drastically improved this year, which was a weak spot in Intel’s chips in the past due to being stuck at just eight cores. But here, we’re seeing the Intel machine run circles around AMD in tasks like Handbrake encoding, which can make use of those extra cores. The Core i9-12900HK easily sets a record for Intel-powered laptops and even ties with the Core i9-10900K desktop chip.

But perhaps the most impressive result was in single-core performance. Scoring as high as 1872 in Cinebench R23 is a huge deal. Being 21% faster than your competition is a good place to be. That lead even extends to PCMark 10, which tests simpler tasks like word processing, web browsing, and videoconferencing. Intel says it hits 5.0GHz in Turbo and 2.5GHz as a base frequency.

High single-core performance can also be handy in gaming, though it’s hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons here. The MSI GE76 Raider just happens to also come with the latest RTX 3080 Ti, so it’s hard to make many assumptions about the contributions of the CPU. But even here, you can see the CPU flex its muscles in CPU-bound games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla or Civilization VI.

The laptop is record-setting in terms of gaming, so read our full review of the MSI GE76 Raider to learn more about how it performs.

Because this is an “HK” chip, that does mean it’s overclockable, but all of this testing was done under MSI’s “Balanced” power profile and Nvidia Optimus turned on. The MSI GE76 Raider unit I reviewed also included 32GB of DDR5 RAM and a 1080p 360Hz screen.

The one caveat to these results? Yeah, we haven’t tested the latest from AMD quite yet. Ryzen 6000 looks like a modest improvement over last year’s chips, with a particular focus on improving the integrated graphics. My hunch is that Intel will still have a lead, especially in specific applications like Premiere Pro where it was already strong. However, I’ll reserve any final conclusions until I’ve tested the latest AMD processors as well.

Video editing: Intel Alder Lake vs. MacBook Pro

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the comparison between the Core i9-12900HK and Apple’s own top-of-the-line chips. We already know just how good Apple’s M1 Pro and M1 Max are at video editing, specifically in using its advanced media engine to keep video playback super smooth. The Core i9-12900HK doesn’t quite make up the difference, but it gets close.

MSI GE76 Raider (Core i9-12900HK)
MacBook Pro 16 (M1 Pro)
MacBook Pro 16 (M1 Max)
GPU effects

The scores above come PugetBench’s Adobe Premiere Pro benchmark. The overall score puts the Core i9-12900HK in between the M1 Pro and M1 Max, which isn’t too surprising. But the real story is in playback.

In previous versions of Premiere — and with older Intel processors — Apple’s processors ran circles around Intel. That made video editing feel so much smoother and faster on a MacBook Pro, even if it wasn’t quite as fast at timeline exports. But tested with the latest 2022 version of Premiere Pro, the Core i9-12900HK makes a huge improvement in this regard. This update makes use of the Core i9-12900HK’s hybrid architecture to greatly speed up high-resolution video playback.

To put it in perspective, when tested with older versions of Premiere Pro, the Core i9-12900HK is more than 50% slower than the M1 Pro in video playback. Cutting that down to just 7% is remarkable.

Of course, it has to be said that comparing the MSI GE76 Raider to the MacBook Pro isn’t exactly fair. The MSI machine is a massive 17-inch laptop that weighs 6.4 pounds and is over an inch thick. Not only is the MacBook Pro far more svelte, it’s significantly quieter while running these same tests. Add in battery life that’s not even worth comparing, and you see plenty of reasons for many to still opt for the MacBook Pro.

Still, I’m impressed that Intel was able to close the gap in its video-editing capabilities. It dampens some of the excitement around the M1 chips in general, and leaves me excited for where Intel chips will go from here.

Intel — you have my attention.

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