Core i7 vs. Core i9: Which High-End Laptop CPU Should You Buy?

Core i7 vs. Core i9: Which High-End Laptop CPU Should You Buy?


Is Intel’s Core i9 really worth it? […]

When buying a high-end gaming laptop, a basic decision is whether to buy a model with a Core i7 or a Core i9 CPU. The Core i7 CPU is powerful, but the Core i9 is supposed to bring the peak performance that extreme machine is – usually with a corresponding surcharge.

If you focus on the CPU, it’s about performance, and two main factors affect that: the megahertz, or clock speed, at which the CPU runs, and the number of compute cores it has. In laptops, another important factor is cooling, which can put a dent in the bill.

We’ll help you decide which laptop CPU is best for you, with information about the Core i7 and Core i9 over the last three CPU generations from Intel, and which is probably the better choice for your laptop. We start with the latest and work our way backwards …

11th Generation: Core i9 vs. Core i7

Intel’s 11th generation Tiger Lake H marks an important milestone: Intel is finally moving from the same 14nm process formula it has been using for its H CPUs since 2015 to its most advanced 10nm SuperFin process. We had been waiting for this change for years.

11th generation Core i7 and affordable price

Acer Predator Triton 300 SE

Now that Intel finally has a 10nm performance chip to brag about, a whole host of Tiger Lake H notebooks have been announced. Some are already commercially available, including the thin, light and surprisingly cheap Acer Predator Triton 300 SE, which we have already tested.

You can see the lineup below. All Tiger Lake H chips are 8-core CPUs, another change from previous generations where the number of cores helped define the performance expectations of different chips in the same family.

All 11th Generation Intel Tiger Lake H laptop CPUs use a 10nm manufacturing process and have 8 cores (c) Intel

The clock differences are also sparse. The Core i7 – 11800H reaches a maximum of 4.6 GHz, while the Core i9-11980HK can reach 5 GHz, which is an 8.6 percent increase in clock speed. That’s not bad, but considering that both are 8-core CPUs, the Core i9 isn’t convincing to most users.

But there is another argument for the Core i9. The Core i9-11980HK offers the optional Thermal Design Power (TDP) of 65 watts. This higher TDP is only available for the top-end Core i9, which means that in a notebook that can handle the performance requirements and cooling, it can actually offer durably higher clock speeds than a Core i7 version.

However, such a notebook would probably be thicker and larger. So if you look at two thin laptops, one with a Core i9 and one with a Core i7, the thermal and power-saving margin is unlikely to make the difference worthwhile.

11th Generation Winner: For most users, Core i7

10th Generation: Core i9 vs. Core i7

With the 10th generation of the Comet Lake H family, Intel stuck at 14nm. The trick it played this time was to offer 8-core CPUs on both the Core i7 and Core i9, which offer the user more performance potential without having to pay for the top chip.

Core i7 of the 10th generation and the whole RGB

MSI GE76 Raider

Although the 11th generation notebooks are slowly entering the market, there are still some good products with 10th generation CPUs, including the MSI GE76 gaming notebook we tested earlier this year. With its fast CPU and lightning-fast 155-watt GPU, this notebook lives loud and proud. It even carries its RGB right on the leading edge.

You can see the four 10th generation H-Class 8-core CPUs below.

The 9th generation Core i7 and Core i9 chips offer the same number of cores and similar clock speeds, meaning it makes little difference to most users (c) Intel

As with the 11th generation chips, the nearby cores and clock rates mean that the differences between Core i7 and Core i9 are minimal for most users. With a maximum boost clock of 5.3 GHz for the Core i9-10980HK and 5 GHz for the Core i7-10870H, the difference between the two chips on paper is about 6 percent. If you do not need to exhaust your PC to the maximum, then the extra money for the Core i9 of the 10th generation is worth it.

10th Generation Winner: For most users, Core i7

9th Generation: Core i9 vs. Core i7

With the 9th generation of Coffee Lake refresh laptop H-class CPUs, Intel has still stretched the 14nm process as much as possible. A Core i9 offered higher clock speeds( up to a whopping 5 GHz) and had 8 CPU cores.

Thin, lightweight, fast gaming laptop

XPG Xenia 15

Sure, this chip came out two years ago, but you can still find it in good gaming laptops, like the XPG Xenia 15, which Intel helped develop. It is thin, light and fast, and also has an Nvidia RTX GPU.

Below you can see the top chips of the H-class Core i7 and Core i9.

In the 9th generation of H-CPUs, Core i9 means two additional CPU cores compared to Core i7 (c) Intel

The difference between the Core i9-9880HK with 8 cores and 4.8 GHz and the Core i7-9850H with 6 cores and 4.6 GHz is about 4 percent in clock speed, a difference few people would notice in actual use. Both of these CPUs were common in business laptops.

Most consumer laptops saw a choice between the 8-core 5GHz Core i9-9980HK and the 6-core 4.5 GHz Core i7-9750H. That adds up to an 11 percent clock difference between the CPUs, which is demonstrably faster and measurable, although again we would argue that most couldn’t feel the difference.

However, the difference in core count would often bring a far greater benefit in multithreading applications. We measured up to 42 percent faster scores in the 3D modeling test Cinebench R20 on an older XPS 15 with a Core i9-9980HK than on a gaming laptop with a Core i7-9750H. At higher load, which heats up the 8-core Core i9, the performance difference shrinks to only 7 percent. Obviously, the design of the notebook plays a big role here. One could argue for 8 cores versus 6 cores in at least some scenarios.

9th Generation Winner: Draw between Core i9 and Core i7, depending on your requirements

* Gordon Mah Ung, one of the founding fathers of hardcore tech reporting, has been reporting on PCs and components since 1998.

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