Intel is announcing its new, 9th generation laptop processors today, in a surprisingly competitive strike for a company not generally known for dramatic product shuffles.
From 2011 to early 2017, Intel stuck to essentially the same price bands and SKU structure for its desktop and laptop processors. Standard desktop chips ranged from dual-cores without Hyper-Threading at the bottom of the stack to quad-core chips with HT at the top. Laptops were almost entirely dual-core, with a handful of quad-core parts. This only began to change in early 2017, as a response to AMD’s incipient Ryzen CPU. But while Intel has expanded both desktop and laptop CPU core counts, it’s been taking these moves in reaction to what AMD was doing — not trying to get out ahead.
Intel’s 9th Generation mobile CPU parts are an obvious attempt to put the company back on a more aggressive footing. Intel’s Core i9-9980HK has a single-core turbo frequency of up to 5GHz and a whopping eight-core/16-thread configuration. Intel claims it can deliver the chip in the same 45W TDP envelope as the Core i9-8950HK. For comparison, that CPU had a base clock of 2.9GHz and a boost frequency of 4.8GHz. The Core i9-9980HK has a base frequency of 2.4GHz and the aforementioned 5GHz boost. The chip will also feature Intel’s Thermal Velocity Boost, which allows a CPU to run as much as 200MHz faster in short bursts if the Tcase temperature is below 50C.
The slideshow below summarizes Intel’s new CPUs, increased performance expectations, and other features of the platform. As expected, Intel is positioning the H10 Memory solution that combines QLC NAND with an Optane cache drive.
The full suite of 9th Generation CPUs launching today is shown below. All of them share a 45W TDP. This likely translates to higher sustained frequencies for the lower core count quad-cores.
Click to enlarge.
When Intel revamped the 8th generation family and introduced quad-core mobile chips, it dramatically cut the base clock on these CPUs. At the time, we warned that this could have performance impacts if OEMs didn’t cool systems appropriately — a fast dual-core can outperform a quad-core if the latter is severely throttled. This problem, however, never materialized. 8th gen quad-core mobile chips were significantly faster than the dual cores they replaced.
The same should be true here as well, though obviously not to quite the same degree. Moving from two cores to four doubled the available core count, while the four-to-six shift is a 1.5x improvement and the six-to-eight step is just 1.33x. Mobile owners should be aware that with higher core counts comes more heat at the same clock speed, and that these chips probably won’t run as fast as lower core counts — but with 8th Gen, Intel demonstrated it could calibrate its chips to deliver impressive gains. Assuming OEMs do their job with proper cooling, these CPUs should deliver gains over their predecessors, even in the limited confines of laptop cooling.
We don’t necessarily expect a near-term response from AMD. Third-generation Ryzen will launch in the coming months, with Navi and undoubtedly a Ryzen Mobile refresh at some point after that. The shift to 7nm will undoubtedly give AMD new options for its APUs. The only thing the company has said to date, however, is that we should not expect a Matisse-style APU (this would be an APU with both a CPU and a GPU chiplet).
We also don’t know where AMD will focus its efforts. The company could challenge Intel across the entire mobile market, or it might choose to focus on low power bands, emphasizing improving its competitive standing in the areas where 7nm has the most to offer. Either way, Intel’s decision to launch an eight-core mobile chip means it’s serious about driving the performance conversation.