We were impressed with Intel’s premium 12th generation desktop chips. While they still consume a lot of energy compared to competing AMD Ryzen processors, their combination of large performance cores (P-cores) and clusters of small efficiency cores (E-cores) helped them shine under all kinds of workloads, including games that run less, faster cores and video encoding and rendering tasks that take advantage of any core you can throw at it.
The laptop versions of those chips, which Intel announced at CES earlier this month, don’t have access to the massive power supply of a desktop computer or solid cooling systems. Nor do they benefit from comparison with mediocre predecessors. 11th Gen Core desktop processors backed a new CPU architecture to Intel’s decrepit 14nm manufacturing process with unimpressive results, while 11th Gen Core laptop chips took advantage of the newer 10nm process and correspondingly lower heat and power consumption. The 12th-generation chips use the same process, although it’s been renamed “Intel 7” to close the PR gap between Intel’s 10nm process and TSMC’s 7nm process.
The first Alder Lake laptop processor to make its way into our hands is the tippy top-end Core i9-12900HK, the fastest of the bunch. In our testing, we tried to see if the laptop version of Alder Lake offers the same performance balance as the desktop version: fast cores if you need fast cores and lots of cores if you need many cores.
Alder Lake-H, a primer
The i9-12900HK is at the top of Intel’s high-performance laptop CPU lineup. It combines six P-cores and eight E-cores for a total of 14 cores and 20 threads, with a peak Turbo Boost clock of 5GHz for the P-cores. In the past, Intel has included eight P-cores in its fastest Core i9 desktop chips, not six. But most 12th-generation laptop CPUs (from the Core i9-12900HK all the way up to the Celeron 7305) trade one or two P-cores for a cluster or two E-cores, assuming that more, slower cores are better for multi-core work.
Most Core i9 and i7 chips use the same six P-core/eight E-core configuration as the i9-12900HK, although the i7-12650H uses six P-cores and four E-cores instead. The more affordable Core i5 chips go back to just four P-cores across the board, with eight or four E-cores depending on the chip.
Unlike the desktop Alder Lake CPUs, there is no such thing as an Alder Lake chip without E-cores – there is no direct replacement for the older chips that only used P-cores. Usually the 12th generation chips will be as fast or faster than the processors they replace. But it does mean that older operating systems without full Thread Director support, including Windows 10, will never run as well on these systems as new operating systems.