We were pleasantly surprised recently when we looked at the Core i7-10710U. This was the first demonstration of what Intel can still do on 14 nm to get more performance. The 10710U packs six cores and twelve threads in a 15 W package. Although this CPU ran under 2.0 GHz in long-term tests to get all these cores up and running in such a tight TDP, it was still able to deliver up to 30% more performance than 8th generation CPUs.
This is because Intel optimizes the efficiency point of this CPU. By slightly reducing the clock speeds, Intel was able to gain enough power budget to add two additional cores. These two cores more than offset the reduction in clock speed and offer us more performance with multithreaded workloads. This makes the CPU design more complex and expensive, and the gains are only seen on workloads that use more than four cores. However, there is no doubt that the profits are there.
Today we're testing another 10th generation Intel CPU, and like the last one, this chip is much more interesting than it appears at face value. You might think that Intel basically has nothing left in the tank with these 14nm +++ CPUs, but even with the quad-core that we're reviewing today, it's surprisingly far from the truth.
The i7-10710U mentioned above is the only CPU in the new 10th generation Intel product line with six cores. The rest are quad cores or even dual cores if we go to the Core i3s, Celerons and Pentiums. For example, the Core i7-10510U is a four-core, eight-thread CPU, but with its 1.8 GHz base clock and the maximum 4.9 GHz Turbo clock, it is a decent clock faster than the six-core 10710U . This is higher than any Whiskey Lake CPU, especially the popular Core i7-8565U, which is clocked up to 300 MHz lower.
Then we come to the CPU that we are reviewing today. The Intel Core i5-10210U has four cores and eight threads, but with some limitations compared to the Core i7 models. The clock rates are lower, with a 1.6 GHz base clock and a maximum single-core turbo of 4.2 GHz.
This is slightly higher than the corresponding Core i5 of the last generation at the maximum turbo speed, but not very different. The same applies to the all-core turbo, which sits with the 10210U at 3.9 GHz from 3.7 GHz. With these two clocks, we're not quite at the level of the Core i7-8565U, but in general, for a 15W processor, we're more performance-limited than clock-limited, and we'll examine that as we test.
The other important factor is the L3 cache size, which, like previous Core i5 models, drops from 8 MB to 6 MB and provides uniform access across the same number of cores. It is less important that the GPU remains the same, a UHD 620 with 24 execution units. The Core i5 is clocked 50 MHz lower than the previous Core i7. However, what you should know is that it's just a serviceable GPU that hasn't changed much since the Skylake U-series CPUs came on the market all these years ago.
As mentioned in our previous 10th generation core test, Intel didn't make it easy for the average laptop buyer to find out what CPU he was getting and at what level of performance. Comet Lake, the line-up we just talked about, exists alongside Ice Lake at 10nm. Ice Lake CPUs are limited to quad-core designs with lower clock speeds on the CPU, but have more integrated graphics with up to 64 execution units. Customers looking for the best CPU performance should look for Comet Lake, while customers who need better GPUs may be more interested in Ice Lake.
However, the naming scheme is simply unfriendly. The Comet Lake Core i5 chip that we're testing today is the Core i5-10210U. While Ice Lake Core i5s get names like Core i5-1035G1 or Core i5-1035G7 depending on the graphics configuration. There is also the Core i5-1030G4 and G7 with 9 W instead of 15 W, which further cloud the water. That really has to be simplified.
Combine this with the fact that many laptops are also equipped with discrete GPUs with low power consumption to improve graphics performance. So if you grab an Ice Lake laptop, you might not get the best GPU experience compared to a Comet Lake product with a discrete GPU.
If you continue, you would like to know that Comet Lake offers some additional features compared to previous generation products. So it is not a simple update with different clock rates. We are now getting support for memory up to DDR4-2666 speeds or LPDDR4x-2933, as well as native Wi-Fi 6 support. However, the bigger improvement comes from Intel Adaptix, which we didn't cover in our Core i7-10710U test, as it wasn't activated on the laptop we tested.
Adaptix is a new feature that is generally new not only for Comet Lake, but also for 10th generation CPUs. This currently includes Ice Lake. It is a new version of Intel's dynamic tuning technology that takes Turbo Boosts a step further than before with a mobile form factor.
Previously, there were two performance limits on 8th generation Intel CPUs: PL1, the long-term performance limit, and PL2, the short-term limit for turbo boost. When a workload is ramped up, the CPU jumps to PL2 for a predetermined time and then cuts back to PL1 when that time has elapsed. For a 15 W laptop, this usually means an increase to 45 W for a few seconds at higher clock speeds and a direct drop to 15 W for the rest of the workload.
Intel Adaptix changes that. Instead of dropping to the persistent PL1 limit, Adaptix dynamically adjusts the PL1 limit over time to maximize performance based on system boundaries. These limits are typically thermal restrictions. This could result in the system running above the long term PL1 limit much longer because the system thermal limit has not been reached.
In a way, the old system left a lot of potential performance on the table. If the system had dropped to PL1 long before heating the cooler to PL1, it could have taken longer to reach the limit earlier before falling. Adaptix aims to solve this problem, and Intel claims to deliver 8-12 percent more power. However, Adaptix is optional and requires a lot of profiling on the OEM side, so it is only enabled on some systems.
Our Core i5-10210U test platform is Adaptix-capable and nothing more than the new Asus ZenBook Pro Duo.
This is an interesting laptop for testing because it has a second screen above the keyboard. We have been using this laptop for several weeks. For the things we normally do on a laptop, like For example, surfing the web, editing spreadsheets, etc., the second screen isn't too useful, but it might be useful for some people to have it there. It is a very unique design and overall the laptop is very portable and fits in a 14 inch form factor.
The exact model we have on hand is the ZenBook Pro Duo UX481FL. It uses a 14-inch 1080p display, the Core i5-10210U processor, GeForce MX250 graphics and 8 GB DDR4 memory. You can accommodate up to Core i7 CPUs and 16 GB of RAM here, although it's nice that the MX250 is retained for the Core i5 model. In order to thoroughly test the i5-10210U, we ran a benchmark with both the MX250 activated and deactivated.
We'll start this with a look at Cinebench R20. First, let's briefly review the configurations that we have here. This is the standard core i5-10210U, which is run with manually deactivated Adaptix in a standard configuration of 15 W. This gives us a comparison of apples to apples with other CPUs of the U series, which are also configured here for 15 W, unless otherwise stated. This is what a typical buyer might expect from a 10210U laptop that does not use Adaptix.
Then we have two 18W configurations, one with Adaptix enabled and one without. The reason we configured it here to 18W is because the ZenBook Pro Duo comes standard with a long-term PL1 limit of around 17 to 19W and hovers between that brand, with Adaptix activated immediately. With the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility, we can then manually limit the CPU to a PL1 of 18 W. This gives us an overview of the performance benefits we get from Adaptix specifically and whether it is worth finding laptops with this optional feature.
The first thing to note is that this 10th generation Comet Lake Core i5 is not far from the 8th generation Intel Whiskey Lake Core i7 of the i7-8565U. We are only about 4 percent behind and faster in the single-threaded test, which impresses with a mid-range Core i5. However, the comparison of Core i5 with 10th generation Core i7 and Core i5 is 23 percent slower. The two additional cores that you get with the 10710U are therefore an important addition to this type of workload.
We also get a good look at Intel's Adaptix technology. In this benchmark, the activation of Adaptix offers a performance improvement of 11%, as it is possible to increase this bit even further in this medium-term test.
With a look at Cinebench R20, we can see above what happens at clock speeds. Without Adaptix, the 10210U works as we have always seen it from Intel mobile CPUs. We get a short period of time that goes into the PL2 state, this time around 3.7 to 3.9 GHz, which is expected given the maximum all-core turbo frequency of this CPU. Then it drops and maintains a constant clock during PL1, which is 2.5 W at 2.5 W or 15 W at 2.3 GHz.
When Adaptix is activated, the diagram looks very different. We still have this boost period right from the start, but immediately after that the clock rates gradually drop instead of going straight to PL1, and only halfway through the test do we see that they reach the long term limit of around 18W and deliver 2.5 GHz all-core. For more than half of this test, we benefit from clock speeds above one GHz in some situations as we are approaching the thermal limits.
There is no guarantee that this clock behavior will be the same for all Adaptix laptops. In fact, we can almost guarantee that there will be variations depending on the cooling capacity. This Asus laptop seems to be very chilled, so this is probably a best case scenario.
If we look at the older Cinebench R15, we get an even higher performance boost from Adaptix. This is because Cinebench R15's multithreaded test can run faster, so even more benchmark runs are performed during a boost phase. This gives the 10210U very impressive results that almost match the 10710U.
Also note that performance gains from Intel's Adaptix technology depend on how you use your system or how the workload is configured. If your system is idle before performing a particular CPU-intensive task, you get the greatest benefit and can make even greater profits than we show here. If you have done some moderate tasks, you will achieve a moderate improvement. If you are only 100% full on your CPU, you are unlikely to see a profit. For these benchmarks, we run an average of three runs in a row, so that the first run with Adaptix activated tends to get a higher score than the successive runs. In general, our numbers represent a “mixed” use case where you can move from one thing to another, with a few small idle times in between.
With longer workloads, the benefits of Adaptix are reduced. Here we have x264 encoding, and we only get a 6% performance gain in pass 1 and only 2 percent gain in pass 2. If the CPU falls back to long-term limits, there is no difference in clock speed and therefore no difference in performance between the two modes.
In this benchmark, however, it's nice to see that the i5-10210U and the i7-8565U offer roughly the same performance. The new six-core model takes a step up again with this 10th generation series, but achieving the Core i7's performance last year in this year's Core i5 isn't bad at all.
The same applies to Handbrake, although this test is very limited by the 15 W TDP of these CPUs. The i5-10210U is about 5% behind the 8565U of the previous year, but also 5% faster than the Intel Core i5 from two generations ago. For more improvements to Handbrake you need more cores or a higher TDP.
In 7-Zip, the decompression of the i5-10210U is slightly ahead of the Core i7-8565U and slightly behind that, so that trading with the Core i7 of the last generation comes to a standstill. Adaptix offers a little boost, 8 percent in decompression and 4 percent in compression, which in turn is decent. A Core i5-10210U laptop with Adaptix enabled can easily outperform the latest generation from Intel if it is configured not only in this test, but also in general for similar long-term PL1 TDPs.
PCMark 10 is a collection of shorter workloads and single-threaded content, but the 10210U does pretty well here and clocks 6 percent faster, similar to 7-zip, another shorter workload.
In Adobe Photoshop Iris Blur, we see that the 10210U works at roughly the same level as the 8565U in a shorter CPU-limited benchmark. Adaptix is also very impressive here and delivers an additional 12 percent. This is one of the better results and not surprising since the test takes less than 30 seconds. We are once again of the opinion that Intel has rated Adaptix with 8 to 12 percent more performance.
Adobe Premiere with Lumetri effects is a more computing-intensive benchmark, with the Core i5-10210U being about 10 percent slower than the Core i7-8565U. This is one of the larger margins we've seen so far. Part of this will be due to CPU performance, the rest will be due to the GPU's slight clocking down, as this benchmark really benefits from a faster GPU. We can see that the 10210U completes rendering three times faster by adding an MX250, so those editing Premiere want to get a laptop with a discrete GPU.
In Adobe Photoshop Smart Sharpen there is no real difference between CPUs with Intel UHD 620 GPU. This is a GPU limited test. Without achieving an improvement in the GPU from the 8th to the 10th generation, we are stuck here with poor performance.
Blender is another benchmark where the Core i5-10210U comes close to the Core i7-8565U, but is ultimately scarce and about 3 percent slower. However, it is much faster than the Intel Core i5-8250U from two generations ago, and Adaptix offers an additional 7 percent in this test when it is enabled.
It is no surprise that MATLAB does not experience a large increase in performance unless we compare this generation with a few generations before.
Finally, let's take another look at GPU performance with CompuBench Optical Flow, which again shows the limitations of Intel's integrated graphics. You want something with an MX250 inside to get a much better GPU and processing power, or maybe a Ryzen APU is tempting.
Breakdown of benefits
Core i5-10210U vs. Core i7-8565U
As you may have noticed from our numerous mentions throughout the review, the most meaningful comparison for us is between the Core i5-10210U and the Core i7-8565U. They offer consistent performance on average. If both CPUs are configured for 15 W, the 10th generation Intel Core i5 can be used like an 8th generation Whiskey Lake Core i7.
With the opening of a new product category by Intel for Comet Lake Core i7s, which now offers six cores, the previous Core i7 performance seems to have dropped to the Core i5 level. We're excited to see these types of improvements year on year, and faster CPUs hit more mid-range products. Unfortunately we have not yet tested a Whiskey Lake Core i5. The best Core i5 comparison we have is the Kaby Lake-R Core i5-8250U two years ago. However, this remains an extremely relevant comparison since only a minority will upgrade their machine after one year of use.
Core i5-10210U vs. Core i5-8250U
In this case, we see an average improvement of 20 percent, which is impressive after just two years. Most of this is related to clock speeds and process improvements, but again, the bottom line is basically getting the Core i7 performance from a Core i5. If you find a laptop that supports Adaptix technology, you can further increase these profits.
Core i5-10210U: Adaptix on vs. out
With this function, we achieved an average increase in performance of 5 to 6 percent, although this depends on the workload. If we compare an Adaptix-enabled i5-10210U with one of the 8th generation Intel models of the U series, we see a small but significant gain in performance, since it is a mainstream-oriented Core i5 CPU.
Core i5-10210U vs. Core i7-10710U
Compared to the new 6-core i7 with this quad-core i5. The i5 is 17 percent slower on average. This is a similar gap as when comparing Core i5 with Core i7 with Kaby Lake Refresh. At that time, the difference was due to the clock rates, now it is due to the core numbers, i.e. a change in thinking by Intel so that they can continue the lifespan of 14 nm.
Core i5-10210U vs. Ryzen 5 2500U
If you throw Core i5 up against Ryzen 5, CPU-limited tasks for the 10th generation Intel CPU offer a huge performance advantage. Yes, this is the 2500U, not the newer 3500U, but the 3500U is only clocked 100 MHz higher, which does not close the performance gap. The Ryzen 2500U has a much faster integrated GPU.
However, if you find a Core i5-10210U in combination with an MX250, it is generally all around faster than a Ryzen 5 system, especially with workloads like Premiere, where the CPU and GPU are loaded depending on the effects you use . The MX250 is more than twice the speed of Intel's integrated graphics, and we expect most flagship ultraportables to consider this type of GPU for their Core i5 offerings as well.
This is another impressive offering from the 10th generation of the U series from Intel. Whiskey Lake didn't offer much of a win over Kaby Lake Refresh as both were stuck with four core designs and there wasn't much room to increase clock speeds. But when Intel unlocks six cores with this generation, the entire stack can suddenly be moved up and we see that the Core i5-10210U now works like an old Core i7.
Intel's new Adaptix algorithm also offers a decent performance boost, especially for shorter workloads that, when enabled, can achieve double-digit gains in some scenarios. The only downside is that Adaptix is an optional feature that laptop manufacturers may need to implement and optimize for each model. And it remains to be seen whether it is a function for which they advertise or even list on the data sheet.
Finally, it will be interesting to see how these CPUs compete with AMD's next generation Ryzen Mobile with 7nm technology and how Ice Lake can stack up there as well.