Is this Laptop-CPU from Intel’s Core i9 HX a powerhouse “Alder Lake” processor

Is this Laptop-CPU from Intel's Core i9 HX a powerhouse "Alder Lake" processor

Tech Highlights:

  • Our early tests of the 16-core, 24-thread Core i9-12900HX in MSI’s new GT77 Titan gaming laptop show massive performance potential across CPU-intensive tests and CPU-reliant gaming alike. In short, this is truly desktop-replacement performance. Here’s what we saw. All computer processors work under power constraints that keep their operation safe and predictable. Naturally, laptop-bound chips are more restricted than desktop chips because of their operating environments—it simply isn’t possible to dissipate as much heat in the confines of a laptop versus a big desktop-PC case.

  • Core HX, Intel’s next high-end mobile CPU series designed for power users and competitive gamers, gives the most powerful laptops performance that rivals that of desktop computers. We test-drive our first HX laptop, and the Core i9-performance 12900HX’s stats are astounding. The performance gap between mobile and desktop CPUs is something that Intel’s latest 12th Generation (“Alder Lake”) Core HX-class laptop processors aim to close more than ever before. In comparison to Intel’s H-class CPUs, this new silicon offers higher core counts and power ratings as well as some more cutting-edge features, like compatibility for the emerging PCI Express 5.0 bus.

Our laptop processor guide breaks down the different processor power levels you’ll find in laptops, from 15-watt (or under) U-class chips to 45-watt desktop-replacement H-class chips. Intel’s 55-watt HX-class chips represent a more-than-20% power jump from the H class. Considering that laptops are already pushing thermal limits with the H-class chips, that increase is a significant one. More telling is the processor’s maximum turbo power, or the maximum amount of heat the processor can produce for short stints. The H-class chips top out at 115 watts, while the thirstiest of the HX-class processors tops a whopping 157 watts, which is undoubtedly desktop territory.

The flagship Core i9-12950HX differs from the Core i9-12900HX only by its support for Intel vPro remote-management technology; that’s also true of the Core i7-12850HX versus the Core i7-12800HX. Those four chips all sport eight P-cores and eight E-cores and differ primarily in core clock differences. Meanwhile, the two Core i5 chips sport fewer cores, though they offer slightly higher base clocks.

So, what kind of laptops will get these beastly HX-class chips? Intel is aiming them at elite mobile workstations and gaming laptops. It’s unstated in the marketing materials, but you can read between the lines—because of their formidable cooling requirements, you won’t find an HX-class chip in anything like a thin-and-light laptop. Here’s a look at Intel’s 12th Generation Core HX-class processors, all based on the “Alder Lake” architecture, which combines two different kinds of processor cores, Performance (P-core) and Efficient (E-core). Both types of cores operate at different frequencies. This is the first appearance of the HX family in Intel’s lineup.

But you can only learn so much comparing the Core HX-class chips to themselves. The MSI GT77 Titan we were sent for review has the Core i9-12900HX, so let’s stack that chip against some interesting Intel counterparts: the desktop Core i9-12900K (Intel’s top-end Alder Lake desktop chip of the moment, if you ignore the pricey and rarified Core i9-12900KS) and the mobile Core i9-12900HK, its previous mobile flagship chip… Intel’s desktop processors typically offer more cores than their mobile equivalents, but not so with the Core i9-12900HX; it has core and thread count parity with the Core i9-12900K. Its P- and E-core maximum turbo boost frequencies are also the same, though the Core i9-12900HX’s lower power ratings mean its base frequencies are lower.

The Core i9-12900HX is equally impressive against the Core i9-12900HK, the flagship H/HK-class chip. Most significantly, it has two more P-cores and can process four more threads. (P-cores, unlike E-cores, are simultaneously multithreaded—”Hyper-Threaded,” in Intel’s lingo—and can each process two threads.) The Core i9-12900HX also has more than 20% higher base power and 37% higher maximum turbo power, so it should offer substantially more all-around grunt, especially for long-running tasks.

Besides core/thread count and power ratings, the HX-class offers one other important advantage over the H- and HK-class lines, and that is support for PCI Express 5.0. This is an on-paper advantage for now, but it will become an asset when high-bandwidth PCI Express 5.0 storage drives hit the market and laptops start sporting PCI Express 5.0 M.2 slots. The GT77 Titan does not sport such slots, though given its gaming focus, this isn’t a major concern. (It does, however, have four PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots, sufficient for a huge array of very fast M.2 drives.)

 

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