Intel’s new 12th Generation (“Alder Lake”) Core HX-class laptop processors strive to narrow the performance gap between mobile and desktop CPUs more than ever before. This new silicon boasts higher core counts and power ratings than Intel’s H-class processors, as well as some more advanced technology, such as support for the nascent PCI Express 5.0 bus.
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.
What Is the Intel Core HX?
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.
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.
So, what kind of laptops will get these beastly HX-class chips? Intel is aiming 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.
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.
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 rare 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.)
It’s also notable that the HX-class chips support processor and memory overclocking like the K-series desktop chips. Professional workstation laptops probably won’t have overclocking features for stability reasons, but we have a feeling that high-end gaming-laptop makers will put it to the test.
Testing the MSI GT77 Titan: Um, Who Needs a Desktop?
The gigantic MSI GT77 Titan we were sent for testing is a prime example of the kind of laptop that can handle the high power and thermal demands of an HX-class chip. This monster measures 1.5 by 15.6 by 12.9 inches (HWD) and weighs a whopping 7.2 pounds. Its power brick—and calling it a “brick” is no exaggeration—is rated for 330 watts, which is mind-boggling considering a typical thin-and-light laptop has a 45-watt adapter. (Our full review of the GT77 Titan is forthcoming.)
(Credit: Charles Jefferies)
Cooling comes from no fewer than four fans. Throughout my testing, I noted a continuous stream of warm air coming out the entire rear edge, which is one giant vent, and the chassis’ two smaller side vents. The fans are audible across a room, though the Titan didn’t seem any louder than a typical high-end gaming laptop under load.
(Credit: Charles Jefferies)
We’ll have a more detailed analysis of the Titan in our full review. Let’s get to benchmarking, where I pitted the Titan against the Alienware x17 R2, outfitted with a Core i9-12900HK, and the Lenovo Legion 7 Gen 6, equipped with AMD’s eight-core Ryzen 9 5900HX. (We haven’t tested one of the latest AMD Ryzen 6000 series HX-class chips yet in a laptop, and yes, AMD also has what it dubs “HX”-class laptop chips.) Also in our charts: two models of the MSI GE76 Raider, an early-2022 version with a Core i9-12900HK, and a late 2021 version with the then-flagship 11th Generation (“Tiger Lake”) eight-core Core i9-11980HK.
Uncharacteristically, I’m also throwing in our Core i9-12900K lab desktop. See these platforms’ basic specifications in the table below…
First are the tests that focus exclusively (or almost exclusively) on the CPU muscle, not bringing the graphics card or storage subsystems into play.
Now, that’s some serious mobile firepower! The Titan impressed all around; its highlights include getting within 93% of the Core i9-12900K desktop in Geekbench, and nearly tying its Handbrake rendering time. Cinebench, the longest-running test of the bunch, showed more disparity between the two chips, but even that result (the Core i9-12900HX was within 80%) is impressive considering this is a laptop we’re looking at here. And the Titan did all this on the in-chassis air cooling, whereas our desktop had a huge 360mm all-in-one liquid cooler.
Perhaps the most important comparison is against the Core i9-12900HK in the Alienware and the 2022 Raider; the Titan outscored them by double-digit percentages in Cinebench (32% in the 2022 Raider’s case) and Geekbench (31% against the Alienware) and was more than a minute faster than them in the Handbrake render. Overall, it’s no question that the Core i9-12900HX’s two extra P-cores and increased power limits allow it to outclass the Core i9-12900HK on tests that can leverage the extra processing threads.
Meanwhile, the AMD Ryzen-based Lenovo and the 2021 Raider trailed all around. The Ryzen 9 5900HX isn’t AMD’s latest and greatest generation, but it was quite competitive with the 2021 Raider’s Core i9-11980HK, so this just shows you how far mobile CPU performance has evolved in barely a year.
Recommended by Our Editors
Following are a few more tests that aren’t part of our traditional review benchmarking lineup, but which shed further light on what the Core i9-12900HX has to offer. These tests include only the GT77 Titan and the late-2021 GE76 Raider with the Core i9-11980HK. The first test is 3DMark CPU Profile, which shows how CPU performance scales from one thread to as many threads as it can process. Higher numbers are better.
The Titan has twice the cores of the Raider, so it really excels at the higher thread counts. It also shows significant single-core gains, scoring nearly 9% higher in the single-thread test. The Core i9-12900HX really takes off past four threads.
Next is BAPCo’s CrossMark(Opens in a new window), a cross-platform benchmark that scores platforms across simulated real-world scenarios. Higher numbers are better.
This test isn’t 100% CPU intensive, but the Titan’s gains are undeniable.
The Titan’s 23% higher Overall Score drives home the point that the Core i9-12900HX brings in a new era of performance for top-end laptops. Again, remember: The GE76 Raider’s Core i9-11980HK was Intel’s flagship laptop processor when it was introduced barely a year ago (Q2 2021).
Graphics and Gaming Tests
Here we’re just looking at the GT77 Titan, the 2022 GE76 Raider, and the Alienware. Laptop graphics-card performance varies widely—see our primer on why GPU wattage matters—so, laptop-to-laptop comparisons inevitably involves some imprecision. Nevertheless, these laptops should be in the same ballpark since they all pack high-powered versions of the 16GB GeForce RTX 3080 Ti, Nvidia’s flagship mobile GPU. The Titan’s implementation of the RTX 3080 Ti is specifically rated for 175 watts, the highest we’ve seen from any gaming laptop.
The numbers are heavily slanted in the Titan’s favor; again, we see double-digit percentage improvements in nearly all tests. Nowhere was the Titan’s dominance more obvious than the CPU-bound Rainbow Six: Siege. At low settings, the Titan scored 1.4 times better than the Raider and more than doubled the Alienware’s score. That shows the impact of a processor like this on games that are CPU-bound at lower resolutions, as some low-impact esports titles tend to be.
Early Verdict: Big, Big HX Performance Is Coming
Intel’s Core HX-class chips are big—no, make that XXL-size—news for maximizing performance on the go. (Even if the laptops that will host them will be more luggable than portable.) The Core i9-12900HX we tested in the MSI GT77 Titan often came within 10% of the desktop Core i9-12900K, and it easily topped Intel’s previous fastest mobile processor, the Core i9-12900HK, by well into double-digit percentages in our CPU-specific testing.
These new chips show massive potential for mobile workstations and gaming laptops, where achieving as close to desktop performance as possible is the aim. Our forthcoming review of the MSI GT77 Titan will give a more complete picture, but for now, these early tests indicate the HX chips are well serving of the excitement they whipped up at their announcement.
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