A few weeks ago, Intel launched a new collection of 9th generation H-series processors for games and high-performance laptops. This means that if we revisit laptops to see how these new chips are stacking up, we'll see some of them in the latest models.
The latest product lines from Intel were a bit confusing as several code names and architectures were spread across different series. Current U-series chips for ultra-portable laptops are still labeled 8th generation Whiskey Lake and are code-named Whiskey Lake, while newer H-series chips have 9th generation improvements and are part of Coffee Lake Refresh, just like current desktop CPUs.
Most Intel 9th generation laptop parts aren't particularly exciting and don't bring much on the table. The Core i5s are still quad-core parts with eight threads and the Core i7s are still models with six cores and 12 threads. We're still at 14nm with the number of pluses we have. The iGPU is also the same if you care a lot about it in this type of form factor.
Where the improvements come from depends on the CPU. With the Core i5 models, we get very modest clock jumps. The 9300H is only 100 MHz higher for the base and boost clock, while the 9400H does not even get an increase in the base clock, but only an additional increase in the boost by 100 MHz. The 8 MB L3 cache remains the same.
For the Core i7s, we get a cache increase from 9 MB to 12 MB, and the 9750H has the biggest clock jump compared to the popular 8750H: it is based on a 2.2 GHz base and a 4.1 GHz Boost to a 2.6 GHz base and a 4.5 GHz boost. So that's a 400 MHz increase across the board. The 9850H is again more modest, without base clock gain and an additional 300 MHz when boosted.
Given that the 8750H and now the 9750H are the most commonly used H-series processors, especially for most gaming notebooks, we find this specification breakdown interesting. The 9750H is much closer to the 9850H than the equivalent 8th generation parts, and the 9750H is the only chip that achieves a 10 to 20 percent increase in clock speed. It looks like Intel has targeted profits on this CPU, knowing how popular it is, to make sure that at least some parts of the 9th generation deliver real performance gains.
While the 9750H has gained a foothold in the field of the 9850H, the 9850H has a new function that only applies to this processor, which Intel calls partial overclocking. This just means that, depending on the device and cooling performance, OEMs can set a turbo frequency of 5.0 GHz if they want.
And then of course the new Core i9 models, which bring 8 cores and 16 threads to laptops to match the top Core i9 desktop models. Like the 9900K, the i9-9980HK can even reach 5.0 GHz within a 45 W TDP. These Core i9 with eight cores replace the single Core i9 of the 8th generation, which was still a part with six cores and higher clocks.
While it is interesting to see 8-core CPUs with an alleged 45 W TDP on laptops, Intel states that these chips are aimed at “muscle books”. Intel has just invented Musclebooks as a product category, but essentially they refer to these super chunky, animal gaming laptops and equally powerful workstation models that come with a big price tag. This makes the Core i9 a niche CPU rather than an accessible 8-core laptop CPU.
Intel Coffee Lake Core i7 H-series
The focus of this test is on the Core i7-9750H, the new mainstream laptop CPU of the H series, which will be seen in many gaming laptops in the future. In particular, we want to examine the difference between the 9750H and the 8750H, which will be a replacement or upgrade for the same laptop models. With the staggered versions between Nvidia on the GPU side and Intel on the CPU side, many laptops with the same GPU are available inside, but you can choose between 9750H and 8750H.
We can assume that this does not quite correspond to the jump from the Core i7-7700HQ to the i7-8750H, in which we switched from four to six cores. Therefore, the performance improvements should be more modest.
Intel is a final word in terms of specifications before Intel goes into some of the features. It lists the maximum turbo clock for the 9750H at 4.5 GHz, although this only applies to a single core. If two cores are active, it drops to 4.4 GHz and then follows in steps of 100 MHz for every further active core to 4.0 GHz for six cores.
This in turn differs from the 8750H, which allows 4.1 GHz on up to two cores, 4.0 GHz on up to four cores and 3.9 GHz on six cores. So when the 9750H is fully loaded on six cores, its maximum turbo clock is only 100 MHz higher than 8750H. This should be noted and shows that a large part of Intel's improvements are aimed at using single or low core numbers.
We got two laptops from Gigabyte and MSI to test the Core i7-9750H. The Gigabyte model is the Aorus 15, which also has a new 240 Hz display, but is a bit loud with a somewhat annoying cooler noise profile. The second machine is the MSI GE75 Raider, a larger 17-inch laptop. Both use this medium-sized, medium-sized option on the market. So it is nice and refreshing not to test any cooling-restricting Slim and Light the first time.
Both laptops are equipped with GeForce RTX 2070 laptop GPUs, the full laptop variant not Max-Q. We also get 16 GB dual-channel DDR4-2666. This is the maximum speed that the 9750H supports. With these new CPUs, nothing changes in the support of higher frequencies. Both also have 1080p displays and fast NVMe SSDs.
The first thing we want to examine, and this is crucial for the rest of the performance section, is performance limits and clock speeds. Laptops are a very limited form factor. Even if Intel gives a CPU the ability to work at up to 4.0 GHz across six cores, performance limits almost always prevent the CPU from actually reaching these clocks on long-term workloads, unlike fully triggered desktop systems.
What we've seen with Intel H-Series products in recent years is that OEMs are ignoring actual TDP values in favor of higher PL1 and PL2 limits, which increases clock speeds. With quad-core Core i7-7700HQ laptops, we usually saw PL1 or the longer-term turbo limit at around 45 W. With the i7-8750H in many laptops that jumped up to 52 W or so, which was significantly higher than the actual 45 W is TDP, with no time limits.
We're not going to go over the whole TDP argument, whether it's behavior out of specification or out of specification, but ultimately OEMs felt that they were designing the new six-core CPUs with higher performance could handle limit, and to perform better, they allowed it. And with the i7-9750H we again see a PL2 limit of 52 W, although it is somewhat higher in the MSI model with 54 W.
The PL2 limits have also increased slightly to allow for the higher short-term turbo frequencies. The i7-9750H test laptops were configured for 80 W, compared to 70 W for the 8750H. However, the real story here is the PL1 limit: Since the 9750H is basically the same architecture, based on the same process node with the same core configuration, we can't expect higher real-world clock speeds within the same performance limit.
Cinebench R20 MT CPU clock speed average
And that's exactly what we get in terms of actual clock speeds. The Core i7-8750H in the Gigabyte Aero 15 X9 is long-term 3.1 GHz in a Cinebench R20 run after it initially reached 3.3 GHz. The newer Core i7-9750H in the Gigabyte Aorus 15 is long-term 3.1 GHz in a Cinebench R20 run after it initially reached 3.3 GHz. In other words, identical behavior.
So if we look at the performance of Cinebench R20, you can see that both systems perform approximately the same in the multithread test. The MSI model clocks a bit higher and therefore works a little better, but not significantly. The simple fact is that more than just clock speeds on paper need to be increased to achieve a real performance improvement if all other aspects of the CPU, including its performance limitations, remain the same. And we'll see that in these performance graphs.
Here's another one for Cinebench R15 with a much wider range of systems in the diagrams. The MSI model performs well in the multithread test, but is not the fastest system and is beaten by an Asus laptop with the i7-8750H. The gigabyte model is more in the middle of the package, it's not slow, but nothing special.
It is slightly cheaper for the MSI model in the single-threaded test, where it clocks 13% faster than the average Core i7-8750H result. This is where these higher single-core watches come into play.
With x264 coding, the Core i7-9750H laptops performed well in round 1, while the gigabyte system used the package in round 2. The MSI model is the fastest, but is one percent ahead of the powerful Asus models. Not exactly the upgrade that some would want.
Handbrake is similar. This is a long test that falls almost entirely below the PL1 limit. Even if the MSI model performs well, it is not the absolutely fastest system and is beaten by two Asus models. The Aorus 15 is no faster than the Aero 15 X9 from Gigabyte.
Our Premiere benchmark with Lumetri effects uses the GPU, but is CPU-limited after running a GTX 1060 or so. So we're back in a situation where the MSI model isn't the fastest, but performs well while the Gigabyte model is no different from most Core i7-8750H laptops.
You've probably seen a diagram like this in recent years: Adobe Photoshop with the CPU-limited iris blur effect is a good representation for the 9750H, but ultimately not faster than the 8750H.
Finally, we see something different in 7-Zip. The two Core i7-9750H laptops are at the top of the charts, but only barely: The Gigabyte model is 1% faster than the fastest 8750H notebook, while the MSI model does slightly better with 4%. This will hardly move anyone to a 9th generation system.
MATLAB does not benefit from the Core i7-9750H compared to the Core i7-8750H. Same performance, depending on which two systems you compare directly.
Here are a few final diagrams to summarize this whole situation well. Here we have the Gigabyte Aorus 15 with its Core i7-9750H compared to the average Core i7-8750H result. We see a tiny 2.8 percent performance gain on average, which is a performance deficit compared to one of the fastest Core i7-8750H laptops we've tested (Asus Strix Scar II).
The results are slightly cheaper for the MSI model: 8 percent faster than the average Core i7-8750H laptop is a strong result, and there are particularly good results with Cinebench single-thread and 7-Zip compression. However, compare this to a fast Core i7-8750H variant (depends on the specific configuration and cooling profile of a laptop), and this margin is reduced to only 4 percent.
We haven't talked about how the 9750H beats the quad core yet Core i7-7700HQ, a common upgrade path for many buyers of previous-generation gaming laptops. Since the Core i7-9750H is very similar to the 8750H, we expect growth of up to 50% or more for some workloads, with the average being 42 percent for this selection.
Unfortunately, we did not have an 8750H laptop for games, which was also equipped with an RTX 2070 to enable a correct comparison of apples to apples. So far, however, we have the impression that, as with productivity workloads, no progress has been made if you are CPU-limited. CPU-heavy games like Hitman 2 are not faster than expected and the 9750H has no noticeably higher clock speed than the 8750H in games. At best, we expect ~ 5% improvement depending on the laptop model, but there are many other variables at stake here. For example, if you only have a single-channel memory, this has a greater impact than the 8750H compared to the 9750H.
If we look at the data sheet, we cannot be surprised by this result. The basics for the new Core i7-9750H are identical to those of the Core i7-8750H, but Intel shows up to 400 MHz increase in base clocks and boost clocks – which admittedly drop to 100 MHz when looking at the full clock table – we have a little more expected. And we believe that many buyers are expecting more, hence the point of this review. The reality is that we haven't found that the Core i7-9750H is definitely faster in real implementations than the Core i7-8750H. The two CPUs are roughly the same, and the 9750H is a little faster at best if you get a good match between two laptops. But it could also be a little slower, as our benchmarks show.
The bottom line is there is no big difference between the 8750H and the 9750H. So if an 8750H system with otherwise identical specifications is cheaper than a new 9750H system, you should choose the model of the previous generation. You could say it's a pointless product, and we would have fixed the same performance as the trusted old 8750H.
But that doesn't make it a bad product. If you find a Core i7-9750H laptop at a good price, it should be as good as the typical 8750H system and definitely offer a huge leap in performance over 7th generation or older laptops. However, it's not something you would upgrade from an 8th generation Core i7 to, and you really shouldn't believe it's faster, just based on the spec sheet. At least with the way OEMs are implementing these processors these days.
- Intel Core i7-9750H laptops at Amazon
- Gigabyte Aorus 15 on Amazon
- MSI GE75 Raider on Amazon
- Intel Core i7-8750H laptops at Amazon