Intel's 9th-gen mobile Core chips aim for the high end, rocking 8 cores at up to 5GHz speeds

This is Intel's power play for gamers and content creators. Mainstream 9th-gen mobile Core chips are still a few months down the road.

Intel debuted six new 9th-gen mobile H-series Core chips on Tuesday—with its fastest, the Core i9-9980HK, soaring to a new high-water mark: 8 cores, 16 threads, and a whopping 5GHz clock speed, after boost. After launching its 9th-generation Core chips for desktop PCs last October, Intel has now brought that same capability to notebooks. Intel executives said systems based upon the 9th-gen chips are expected to debut shortly.

All the chips are based on the “Coffee Lake Refresh” (Coffee Lake-R) architecture, and all are fabricated on a 14nm process. Last year’s 8th-gen mobile Core chips topped out at 4.8GHz, and offered only 6 cores.   

Though theoretically anyone can benefit from the increased performance, Intel is aiming at two particular segments: professional content creators and gamers. Intel said it expects its 9th-gen Core i9-9980HK (8 cores/16 threads, 2.4GHz/5GHz turbo) to deliver up to 18 percent higher frames per second in games and 28 percent faster 4K video editing than the 8th-gen Core i9-8950HK (6 cores/12 threads, 2.9GHz/4.8GHz turbo). When performing general office tasks and web browsing, the chips can run in a low-power mode, with an “aspirational goal” of ten hours of battery life, or just an hour while gaming, executives said.

Price, performance, and power are the old battlefronts, though. The new way to win is via a platform, which is why you’ll hear notebook makers touting related technologies supported by the Intel 300-series chipsets, such as the H10 Optane Memory with SSD, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) communications, and support for up to 128GB of DDR4 memory.

What this means to you: For now, Intel’s 9th-gen mobile chips are targeting the sort of dazzing, high-end gaming notebooks most of us unfortunately can’t afford or can’t bear to lug around. If that’s the case, be patient: Separately, Intel announced a metric ton of new 9th-gen desktop processors, about six months after it announced its own Core i9-9900K. Many of the more mainstream mobile 9th-gen Core chips will likely debut in late summer or fall. Until then, read on to get an idea of what to expect.

intel 9th gen mobile core speeds and feeds Intel

Intel’s new 9th-gen mobile Core chips.

Intel 9th-gen mobile Core: The speeds

Intel is selling six new 9th-gen Core chips, two apiece within the Core i5, Core i7, and Core i9 families. All are 45-watt parts that support Optane Memory and two channels of 2,666MHz DDR4 memory. Intel didn’t release prices, as Intel’s mobile Core chips are sold directly to notebook PC makers.

  • Intel Core i9-9980HK: 2.4GHz base/5.0GHz turbo; 8 cores, 16 threads
  • Intel Core i9-9880H: 2.3GHz base/4.8GHz turbo; 8 cores, 16 threads
  • Intel Core i7-9850H: 2.6GHz base/4.6GHz turbo; 6 cores, 12 threads
  • Intel Core i7-9750H: 2.6GHz base/4.5GHz turbo; 6 cores, 12 threads
  • Intel Core i5-9400H: 2.5GHz base/4.3GHz turbo; 4 cores, 8 threads
  • Intel Core i5-9300H: 2.4GHz base/4.1GHz turbo; 4 cores, 8 threads

“If I want the fastest single-threaded performance or if I want to reach multi-threaded performance, this system can deliver the capability to do both,” Fredrik Hamberger, the general manager of premium and gaming laptops for Intel, told reporters.

It’s important to note that both of the Core i9 chips include Intel’s Thermal Velocity Boost, used to help elevate both chips to stratospheric speeds. TVB was first introduced with the 8th-gen mobile Core chips in 2018. It’s described as the ability to “opportunistically and automatically increase clock frequency above single-core and multi-core Intel Turbo Boost Technology frequencies based on how much the processor is operating below its maximum temperature and whether turbo power budget is available.”

Intel mobile 9th gen Core gen over gen performance Intel

Here’s how the new 9th-gen mobile Core chips compare to Intel’s 8th-gen mobile parts.

In other words, take the 5GHz speed with a grain of salt. If your notebook has both the available power budget and the cooling resources to hit 5GHz, it will, but there’s no saying for how long it will sustain such speeds. 

As far as the specs go, normally, the “turbo boost” number refers to the ability of a single core to reach a sustained overclocked rate, as it does for both the Core i5 and Core i7 chips. In the case of both Core i9 processors, the boost number includes both the standard boost and the Thermal Velocity Boost (TVB) potential.

Intel mobile 9th gen Core 3 year pc performance Intel

Intel typically compares the performance of its latest chips to three- or five-year old PCs.

Typically, most mobile processors ship “locked,” with no way for the user to adjust voltage or frequency to allow sustained overclocking. One exception is the new Core i9-9980HK, which ships unlocked, as well as the Core i7-9850H, which is “partially” unlocked. (In this case, “partially unlocked” means you can overclock up to a maximum of 400MHz above the fused single-core turbo ratio, an Intel representative said.) 

The new 9th-gen Core chips are designed with Intel’s “300-series” mobile chipsets in mind: the Intel CM246, Intel QM370, or Intel HM370 chipsets. A key performance advantage are the x16 channels of PCI Express 3.0 directly off of the CPU, which provide enough bandwidth for an upcoming generation of third-party discrete GPUs. A full 128GB of DDR4 memory isn’t anything to sneeze at, either.

The new 9th-gen mobile Core chips also ship with integrated graphics, part of what Intel calls “Generation 9.5.” The integrated cores are exactly the same as in the prior generation, and most noteworthy for their hardware support for the 4K HEVC/VP9 video codecs used by Netflix and YouTube.

All of the new chips also support Intel’s virtualization technology, known as Intel VT-x. That’s significant, if only because the Windows 10 May 2019 Update includes a technology called Windows Sandbox which can create a small virtual PC within Windows that's designed for testing untrusted software and websites. Sandbox requires virtualization-enabled hardware, either from Intel or rival AMD.

Battery life won’t necessarily take a back seat to performance. Most H-series customers are expected to take breaks from gaming and graphics-intensive applications to browse the web or run mainstream productivity tasks. For those lighter loads, Intel said the new Core chips will operate in a low-power mode.

Intel executives said the “aspirational goal” is to achieve about ten hours of battery life while performing productivity tasks, versus just an hour or two for gaming, undocked, with all options cranked up. Yes, an hour or two of battery-powered gaming seems paltry, but that’s acceptable to gamers, executives said.

Platform technologies go beyond performance

Intel has also built in support for a laundry list of platform technologies. The most notable is the H10 Optane Memory with Solid State Storage, a hybrid Optane-SSD M.2 card that Intel launched at CES. There’s also support for the Intel SSD 660p, a cheap ($200 for 1TB!) quad-level cell or 4-bit SSD, and Intel’s updated Rapid Storage Technology 17.x driver. Finally, the chipset will support Thunderbolt 3, which began to win out two years ago and is now one of the pillars of USB4.

Intel mobile 9th gen Core chipset platform Intel

A summary of the platform technologies accompanying Intel’s 9th-gen Core chips.

Intel is also leaning heavily on Wi-Fi 6, the shorthand for the 802.11ax standard that began rolling out last year. Several techniques in 802.11ax will reduce the effects of interference and increase throughput in congested environments, more so than just an increase in raw bandwidth. Intel is touting an overall 75-percent reduction in latency, though you’ll also need a router that supports the same technology.

Finally, Intel’s touting software partnerships and optimizations, including companies such as Adobe, Blender, Magix Software, and the developers of such games as Call of Duty: Black Ops, Sid Meier’s Civilization 6, and Total War: Three Kingdoms.

We’ll have to see what notebooks using the new 9th-gen mobile chips look like. But Intel’s convinced, as it usually is, that it’s time to upgrade. “It’s perfect timing for end users to come in and refresh,” Hamberger said.

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Mark Hachman

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
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