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Exclusive: Intel’s 12th-gen Core i9 laptop CPU is the fastest in our early tests

Intel’s Core i9-12900HK indeed fulfills the company’s proclamation of being the “The fastest mobile processor. Ever,” based on the results of our early, exclusive hands-on performance testing of several 12th-gen laptops. Intel, which unveiled its 12th-gen Alder Lake laptop CPUs just last week at CES, let PCWorld take four nearly identical laptops outfitted with the…

Intel’s Core i9-12900HK indeed fulfills the company’s proclamation of being the “The fastest mobile processor. Ever,” based on the results of our early, exclusive hands-on performance testing of several 12th-gen laptops.

Intel, which unveiled its 12th-gen Alder Lake laptop CPUs just last week at CES, let PCWorld take four nearly identical laptops outfitted with the Core i9-12900HK for a spin during a live stream of our Full Nerd podcast. You can see us running the benchmarks live on the recording of our live stream. Or, you can check out the video version of our performance analysis.

While the four preproduction laptops aren’t quite final units, they’re based on MSI’s GE76 Raider with final drivers, firmware and tuning still to come. The laptops were outfitted with the 14-core Core i9-12900HK CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Laptop GPU, 32GB of DDR5/4800 RAM, and Windows 11. The updated GE76 remains the same externally as the previous-gen model, but there have been some upgrades to it, including a new MSI “phase-change liquid metal” thermal pad that boosts the CPU’s performance. MSI has also tweaked the 12th-gen laptop’s GPU to 175 watts, versus the 11th-gen version’s 165 watt TGP GPU.

We ran all but the gaming benchmarks using laptops with MSI’s balanced performance profile. Also, we set up hybrid GPU mode instead of discrete mode. This is how Intel set up the laptops in its lab. We left it intact. We would normally choose the highest performance profile for best performance. However, we did not do so and wanted to highlight it to dispel any rumors that Intel may have “rigged” the performance preview by choosing the highest cooling settings.

We picked the tests we wanted to run, and ran them ourselves live on The Full Nerd (subscribe to PCWorld’s YouTube channel if you aren’t already), but make no mistake–these are laptops from Intel’s own testing labs so you should always read the results with some modicum of salt until independent reviews are performed. We do believe the CPU performance you see here is likely be fairly representative of performance the production laptop reaches. There are no exact laptops–not even among the same model and make–so there will be some variation in the performance of high-end Alder Lake gaming laptops but not too much.

It is important to understand that the performance of a CPU or GPU is not static. Performance can be affected by the magic that each PC manufacturer brings to it with cooling, tuning, or other parts. There is no way to isolate the CPU of a laptop. Performance must be evaluated based on the entire platform and not just the CPU/GPU.

To give you an idea of the range, we have included two additional laptops:

  • The previous-generation MSI GE76 Raider outfitted with an 8-core 11th-gen Core i9-11980HK, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Laptop GPU with a TGP of 165 watts, and 32GB of DDR4/3200. This laptop was set to Extreme performance.
  • An Asus Strix Scar G17 outfitted with AMD’s 8-core Ryzen 9 5900HX, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Laptop GPU with a TGP of 130 watts, and 32GB of DDR4/3200. Turbo was set on this laptop.

Unfortunately, due to our time constraints we were unable to update the 11th-gen Core and Ryzen 9 laptops to Windows 11. For many CPU benchmarks, the OS differences can be very minimal.

Intel Core i9-12900HK performance preview

We’ll kick off our preview with Maxon’s popular Cinbench R20 using its default multi-threaded test. Cinebench is built on the Cinema4D 3D modeling and rendering engine. It can be used as a standalone application or as part of Adobe’s After Effects. It huggs cores to its body. More cores equals more speed. The results we see aren’t much of a surprise when you remember that Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake H processors feature a hybrid design, using six improved “performance cores” coupled with eight “efficiency cores” in this flagship Core i9-12900HK. That means 14-cores (even if eight of them are lighter weight than the Ryzen’s and 11th gen cores) nets more performance in Cinebench R20.

Still, you’re looking at the 12th-gen Core i9 outpacing the Ryzen 9 5900HX and the Core i9-11980HK by roughly 30 percent.

Benchmark chart comparing 12th gen to 11th gen and Ryzen 5000.

Longer bars indicate better performance. To see the original image, right click on your mouse and choose “open in a new tab”.

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The vast majority of applications that people use do not tap into all cores. In fact, single-core performance may matter what for what you do everyday more than multi-core performance, so we also ran Cinebench R20 using a single-thread to gauge performance there.

Intel’s 12th-gen “Alder Lake” cores greatly boost efficiency per clock and we see that manifest itself here, where the 12th gen Core i9-12900HK is roughly 16 percent faster than the Ryzen 9 5900HX and 9.3 percent faster than the 11th gen Core i9-11980HK. Both of these rival CPUs are not slow. Last summer, in fact, it felt like AMD’s newly released Ryzen 9 5900HX was a monster compared to all previously released CPUs, which was then itself somewhat eclipsed by the equally impressive 11th Core i9-11980HK. There’s a new king in town.

Benchmark chart comparing 12th gen to 11th gen and Ryzen 5000.

Longer bars indicate better performance. To see the original image, right click on your mouse and choose “Open in new tab”.

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Up next is the very similar Cinebench R23, which unlike Cinebench R20, takes about 10 minutes to run. This is because modern CPUs generate heat and can be cooled by the pedal. While Cinebench R20 takes maybe a minute or so to run, the 10 minutes of Cinebench R23 is likely to depress performance. The good news for 12th-gen is it’s still the winner, since 14 cores is still more than 8 cores. The performance difference between the CPUs close up a little but the Core i9-12900HK still offers a commanding 23 percent advantage over the Ryzen 9 5900HX and 16 percent over the 11th-gen Core i9.

One other advantage to running Cinebench R23 is Mac fans can also compare performance directly, since Maxon’s Cinebench R23 has native version for Apples new M1 line. While we have not directly tested the MacBook Pro 14, our sister publication Macworld has, and recorded a score of 12,381 for the MacBook Pro 14 with its 10-core M1 Pro CPU. That would give the 12th gen Core i9-12900HK a 21 percent advantage over a MacBook Pro 14. Macworld didn’t review the M1 Max, but others outlets have outlets have reported performance to range from 12,300 to 12,700 for the faster M1 Max.

Benchmark chart comparing 12th gen to 11th gen and Ryzen 5000.

Longer bars indicate better performance. To see the original image, right click on your mouse and choose “open in a new tab”.

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Like Cinebench R20, we also record a score in Cinebench R23 using a single thread. Interestingly, we actually see the gap open up a little here, with the 12th gen Core i9-12900HK outpacing the Ryzen 9 5900HX by about 26.5 percent and the 11th gen Core i9-11980HK by 16.6 percent. For the M1 Pro in the MacBook Pro 14, Macworld recorded a score of 1,531. That’s an advantage of 23.6 percent for the 12th-gen CPU over the M1 Pro.

Benchmark chart comparing 12th gen to 11th gen and Ryzen 5000.

Longer bars indicate better performance. To see the original image, right click on your mouse and choose “open in a new tab”.

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Next up is BAPCo’s CrossMark benchmark. It is essentially a simplified version of the SYSMark test that uses real applications to measure performance. CrossMark, however, is not based on commercial applications. It’s built with open-source software and intended to measure productivity, creativity (photo and video) and responsiveness. This refers to switching between programs or opening an application. It is compatible with Windows, MacOS and Android. On the Windows PCs, the 12th-gen Core i9 is a beefy 36 percent faster than the Ryzen 9 5900HX and also impressive 21.5 percent faster than the 11th-gen Intel chip.

Again, we didn’t have a score for CrossMark for MacOS, but the public database BAPCo publishes puts the fastest M1 Max laptop at 1,670, which lands the Core i9-12900HK at about 18 percent faster. It’s difficult to determine the source of results from public benchmark databases. We’ll try our best. Looking into the details, M1 Max does slightly outpace the 12th-gen Core i9 in the Creativity portion, with a score of 2,254 vs. the 12th gen’s 2,132, but the newest Intel CPU beats it in productivity by 25 percent with a score of 1,874. Interestingly the Alder Lake H system also crushes the M1 Max in CrossMark’s “Responsive” test to the tune of 59.9 percent, with a score of 1,836 for the Core i9.

Benchmark chart comparing 12th gen to 11th gen and Ryzen 5000.

Longer bars indicate better performance. To see the original image, right click on your mouse and choose “open in a new tab”.

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All-in-one software like CrossMark attempts to measure all you do on your computer. However, the vast majority of people in the world bring home the turkey bacon by using Microsoft’s Office suite. To keep Bill Lumberg happy we ran UL’s Procyon Office Test, which used Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel to simulate the daily activities of most people while they wait for 5 p.m. The 12th gen Core i9-12900HK wins, but it’s really just a meh, with Intel’s new chip outpacing the 11th-gen Core and Ryzen 9 systems by only 5 percent. Frankly, if you’re using a Core i9 or Ryzen 9 with a GeForce RTX 3080 to primarily pound out a PowerPoint, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Benchmark chart comparing 12th gen to 11th gen and Ryzen 5000.

Longer bars indicate better performance. To see the original image, right click on your mouse and choose “open in a new tab”.

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Our next result is Principled Technologies WebXprt3. It is a web-based benchmark that measures browser performance in photo enhancement, album organization using AI, stock options pricing, OCR scans and sales graphs. These are very advanced features for a browser test. All of our results were generated using Edge on the Chromium 97.

The Core i9-12900HK again leads the field, turning in a score about 9.5 percent faster than the 11th-gen chip and 16.2 percent faster than the Ryzen 9.

Benchmark chart comparing 12th gen to 11th gen and Ryzen 5000.

Longer bars indicate better performance. To see the original image, right click on your mouse and choose “open in a new tab”.

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We did manage to run games on the 12th gen Core i9-12900HK, but there are a lot of caveats with our comparison that we really want to highlight in yellow. Although all of the laptops feature GeForce RTX 3080 Laptop GPUs, their power ratings weren’t the same, which can make any comparison in gaming really sketchy. That’s especially true for the Ryzen 9 system, which was paired with a GPU rated at 130 watts vs. the 11th-gen’s 165 watts, and the 12th-gen’s 175 watts. That’s basically a 27 percent larger thermal and power budget for the 11th-gen laptop and 35 percent for the Core i9-12900HK laptop. Between the 11th-gen and the 12th-gen, there’s only about a 6 percent difference in GPU power.

However, we also noted that last year’s problem was the difficulty in finding gaming laptops with high wattage GPUs. So if most 165 watt GPUs were only in Intel machines, then maybe it’s actually a fair comparison?

Gaming performance isn’t always about GPU wattage though and we see that below in our first result from Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation. We ran this benchmark at 1080p using the Crazy preset for graphics and opt for the CPU-focused benchmark run. The CPU-focused benchmark places more units on the screen which should push the CPU harder that the regular GPU-focused test. You can see the Ryzen 9 and 11th-gen systems are dead-even despite have a sizeable GPU thermal budget difference. That actually makes us even more impressed by the Core i9-12900HK’s 11.7 percent lead over the others. Although the test doesn’t care about GPU wattage, Intel’s new chip has a double-digit advantage in the CPU test.

Benchmark chart comparing 12th gen to 11th gen and Ryzen 5000.

Longer bars indicate better performance. To see the original image, right click on your mouse and choose “open in a new tab”.

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Our next game result is Far Cry New Dawn run at 1080p using the ultra preset. The caveat here is this game series has long given AMD’s chips the raspberry, but that changed with the Ryzen 5000-series of desktop chips, which saw AMD actually eclipse Intel’s best 10th-gen desktop chip at last. The laptop Ryzen 5000, however, features less cache, which may not give it the same boost. Still, given the 35 percent larger GPU thermal budget in the Core i9-12900HK laptop, we don’t think it’s necessarily fair to make direct comparisons with the Ryzen 9 system, so consider it there for reference.

We do think it’s fair to compare performance against the 11th-gen GE76 Raider, however, since both GPUs are separated by just 10 watts of power. The 12th-gen GE76 with a Core i9-12900HK inside pulls up

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