Intel propels laptops to 16 cores with ferocious new Core HX laptop CPUs – PCWorld

Science & Technology

Intel announced the 12th-gen “Alder Lake-HX” (12th-gen Core HX) processor series, splitting the difference between an extreme gaming processor and one designed for workstations and content creation. The flagship, the Core i9-12950HX, is the company’s first 16-core chip designed for laptops and will run as fast as 5GHz across its eight performance cores and eight efficiency cores.
If the product designation sounds familiar, it should. AMD launched its own Ryzen 5900HX at CES in January, which they called the “world’s best processor for gamers.” While Intel isn’t making a similar claim, the company is saying that you’ll see this chip appear in the most extreme gaming laptops as part of Intel’s H-series chips for enthusiasts.
Daniel Rogers, senior director of mobile product marketing within Intel’s Client Computing Division, said that the 12th-gen Core HX platform was “built specifically for professionals in the field who need low latency access to data for their entire working data set in their computer to do very computational tasks in the field.” Rogers also said that the Intel Core i9-12900HK is “actually the world’s best gaming processor” (see PCWorld’s Core i9-12900HK review for more context), but that the “HX is a great gaming processor as well.”
Performance-wise, the Core i9-12950HX is 17 percent faster in single-threaded performance than the Core i9-11980HK and 64 percent faster in multi-threaded performance using the SPECint_rate_base2017 benchmark. Expect to see the HX processors inside the Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 SE, the Gigabyte Aorus 15X/17X, the MSI GT77 Titan, the Lenovo Legion 7i, the Dell Precision 7670/7770, and the HP Omen 17.
The 12th-gen Core HX platform isn’t a single processor, but seven of them. Ranging from the 2.4GHz/4.4GHz (turbo) 8-core Core i5-12450HX on up to the 16-core Core i9-12900HX, all of the chips consume 55W. That’s 10 watts more than the 12900HK. Like other “Alder Lake” chips, they use a mix of “performance” and “efficiency” cores, managed by Intel’s Thread Director technology in Windows 10 and 11. In the Core i9-12950HX, for example, the chip runs at 2.3GHz base and up to 5.0GHz turbo with a mix of 8 P-cores and 8 E-cores for a total of 24 threads.
In fact, Rogers said that Intel adapted the desktop version of the Alder Lake chip to create the mobile HX family, eliminating the “lid” from the desktop package in favor of a laptop-friendly BGA package. Though it doesn’t seem like much, Rogers said that it was necessary to reduce the height of the chip to fit it within a notebook complete with cooling. There’s another sacrifice, too. Like Intel’s “F”-series processors, none of the HX processors include integrated graphics.
All of the 12th-gen Core HX family is unlocked for overclocking, including memory (DDR4 and DDR5) overclocking, though have some of the processor models come with their own restrictions.
“We can have absolute high frequencies for the best possible performance and the desktop form factor,” Rogers said in a pre-recorded presentation. “And then we take the same CPU layout, but we optimize that both on the process and on the design side to deliver mobile class efficiency and performance together.”
Interestingly, Intel didn’t ship the “all performance core” chip that some were expecting. But Nick Blair, part of Intel’s enthusiast laptop innovation team, said that the company had worked with developers like Creative Assembly to optimize games like Total War: Warhammer III to use both the performance cores and efficiency cores at the same time.
The HX platform preserves the advanced features of the Alder Lake platform, including the x8 DMI data connection between the CPU and Platform Control Hub, as well as the 16 lanes of PCI Express 5 (plus four lanes of PCI Express 4) off of the CPU. An additional x16 PCIe4 and x12 PCIe3 connection hangs off of the PCH. That’s somewhat different than Intel’s Core i9-12900HK chip, which did not include PCIe 5 support — though Intel executives said the 12900HK was PCIe5 compliant. There are two other interesting differences.
First, the HX platform supports two discrete, external Thunderbolt 4 controllers while the HK platform integrated them. But the HX platform includes up to14 USB2 and 10 USB3 ports, which is far more than the older HK platform.
Some of the differences can be explained away by the target audience, which includes data analysts who need fast, error-free access to data. Those PCI Express lanes enable four local SSDs for up to 16TB of local storage, which can be placed in a RAID configuration for even more performance or redundancy. Compared to the HK platform, memory options are slightly more limited with the option of either DDR4-3200 and DDR5-4800 (4 DIMMs up to 128GB at 2 DIMMs per channel). There’s also the option of using Error Correction Code (ECC) memory.
Intel believes the Core i9-12900HX is faster than the Core i9-12900HK, the i9-11980HK, and the Ryzen R9-6900HX. However, the company isn’t saying exactly how much. Intel provided benchmarks from Blender, CrossMark, and Unreal Engine 5.0.
Naturally, the Alder Lake-HX series is superb for gaming. Here, Intel didn’t provide comparative benchmarks, but it’s hard to argue that the chip won’t offer silky-smooth gameplay with 400+ frames per second on games like Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.
“We’ve sort of saved the best for last…bringing this brand new HX processor to life,” Rogers said.
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As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.
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