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Intel's 12th-gen hybrid CPUs bring 14 cores to laptops

·Senior Editor
·5-min read

After debuting its hybrid 12th-gen CPUs for desktops in October, Intel is ready to bring them to notebooks. To recap, the company's new CPUs (previously codenamed Alder lake) combine performance cores (P-cores) and efficient cores (E-cores) on a single chip. The idea is that they'll be able to better handle the demands of real-world computing, like juggling gaming on the faster cores while the slower ones power your livestream. In addition to faster performance, that tag-team approach could also lead to better battery for laptops.

Intel's 12th-gen laptop CPUs will top out at 14 cores, consisting of six P-cores and eight E-cores (that's two fewer P-cores than the desktop versions). At this point, Intel is mainly focusing on its powerful H-series 12th-gen chips, which are meant for 14-inch ultraportables, gaming notebooks and other beefy machines. The company also unveiled specs for its its U and P-series chips, which it'll discuss further in the first quarter. Those will be aimed at smaller ultraportables, as well as "performance thin and light" machines (like Dell's new XPS 13 Plus), respectively.

As for other new features, Intel's 12th-gen mobile hardware will also support DDR5-4800 and low-power LPDDR5-5200 RAM. Expect to pay a premium for DDR5-equipped machines, though, as PC makers predict stock will be limited throughout 2022. Wi-Fi 6E is also baked in, just in time to hop onto the new 6GHz bands from last year's 6E routers. And of course, Thunderbolt 4 is back to deliver 40Gbps of bandwidth goodness.

Intel 12th-gen mobile CPUs
Intel 12th-gen mobile CPUs

While we haven't been able to test out Intel's 12th-gen desktop chips, early reviews have praised their multitasking performance, especially with the increased bandwidth from DDR5 RAM. We'd expect a similar upgrade on the notebook front. For now, though, all we have to go on are Intel's numbers: the company claims 12th-gen is up to 40 percent faster than 11th-gen chips overall. The top-end Core-i9 12900HK is also up to 28 percent faster in gaming, and it has a commanding lead over the Ryzen 9 5900X across many titles.

In Hitman 3, a notoriously CPU-heavy game, the 12th-gen chips saw an 8 percent FPS bump through better workload prioritization. The P-cores handled rendering and more demanding tasks, while the E-core focused on background audio. As for productivity tasks, the 12900HK was 44 percent faster than 11th-gen hardware in the Premiere Pro PugetBench test, as well as 30 percent quicker when it came to Blender rendering. Intel's own benchmarks also showed Apple's M1 Pro and M1 Max, as well as the Ryzen 5900HX, trouncing the Core i9-11980HK in Blender. In many ways, the 12th-gen hardware feels like an apology for last year's chips.

Intel 12th-gen mobile CPUs
Intel 12th-gen mobile CPUs

More so than the fastest 12th-gen hardware, it'd be interesting to see what sort of performance gains Intel can eke out from its more accessible Core i5 and i7 chips. The i5-12450H features 8 cores (4P and 4E) with a max Turbo speed of 4.4GHz, whereas last year's 11500H had six cores that maxed out at 4.6Hz on a single core. Both chips have 12 threads (only P-cores support Hyperthreading, so their thread number is doubled), but the 12th-gen chip should be able to use its power more wisely. That could be good news for mainstream PC buyers who can't quite justify a core i9 machine.

Intel 12th-gen mobile CPUs
Intel 12th-gen mobile CPUs

Intel's new hybrid architecture also leads to some interesting configurations for its other mobile processors. The fastest U-series model, the Core i7-1265U, is equipped with 2 performance cores and 8 efficient cores. That technically makes it a 10-core chip, whereas the previous U-series hardware topped out at four cores. The P-series performance notebook chips, meanwhile, sport up to 6 P-cores and 8 E-cores in the i7-1280p. Each mobile CPU line also has up to 96 graphics EUs (execution units), just like the 11th-gen chips.

In addition to new mobile CPUs, Intel also unveiled the rest of its 12th-gen desktop lineup. It starts with the Celeron G6900, which has just two performance cores, and tops out with the 16-core i9-12900. (Overclockers are better off with the unlocked 12900K that debuted in October.) Surprisingly, Intel isn't including any efficient-cores in its mainstream i3 and i5 chips; they're all P-cores, so they're not actually hybrid CPUs at all. System builders can buy unlocked i5 CPUs with four E-cores, but I'd wager that could make things confusing for shoppers. Why is the i5-12600 a six-core chip when the i5-12600K (thanks to the addition of four E-cores) has 10?

Intel is still lagging behind AMD and Apple when it comes to node size — the 12th-gen chips are a refined version of its 10nm process, while AMD has been building 7nm chips since 2019 and is eyeing 5nm this year — but the company's hybrid design shows plenty of promise. Just like with its recent desktop chips, though, the real question is how Alder Lake will compete with what AMD and Apple have in store for 2022.

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