Core i9-11980HK review: Intel's flagship CPU slugs it out with Ryzen laptops

11th-gen vs. 10th-gen vs. Ryzen 5000 vs. Ryzen 4000: Fight!

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Encoding performance

Most everyday consumers don’t really use 3D modeling applications, but they might convert video files. We use the popular and free Handbrake 1.3.3 to convert the 4K open-source Tears of Steel video to the advanced H.265/HEVC codec at 1080p resolution. We report the only thing that we think matters: How long it took to finish the encode. 

Having access to more cores increases Handbrake performance and the Ryzen 9 5900HX again flexes much muscle in the thick Strix Scar G17 laptop. For the 11th-gen Core i9 in Intel’s slim laptop, we really think the showdown is against the thin Flex 13 with the Ryzen 9 5980HS inside, and there it’s a tie. Also worth noting: The Dell XPS 17 9700 with the 10th-gen Core i7-10875H weighs the same. Intel has said to expect about a 19 percent efficiency increase in its latest chips, and we see the that with the 11th-gen Core i9 finishing the encode 19 percent faster.

11980hk handbrake 1.3.3 cpu IDG

Shorter bars indicate better performance.

Not everyone uses the CPU for encoding though. Modern laptop CPUs typically have dedicated hardware for converting advanced CODECs, so we tasked the laptops with converting the same file using either Intel’s QuickSync or AMD’s VCE. The 11th-gen Core i7 in a larger laptop finishes the job slightly faster than the 11th-gen Core i9, but the surprise results come from Team Red. We’re not certain why. We would have expected the three Ryzen notebooks to be fairly similar considering all three have the same media engines. But there are key differences in size, weight, and even memory. The Flow X13, for example, uses LPDDR4X instead of DDR4. Nevertheless, this looks like a solid win for Intel.

11980hk handbrake 1.3.3 qs vce IDG

Shorter bars indicate better performance.

Application performance

Many of the previous tests can be boring and difficult to relate to for some people, since all of the chores—though valuable to benchmark—are fairly niche. Adobe is probably a name you’ve heard of though so we looked at the performance of the laptops using the company’s immensely popular Creative Cloud applications. One snag in trying to compare CPUs is Adobe’s reliance on graphics performance. A faster GPU can immensely help some actions in Adobe applications. And since we have different GPUs and at different power settings, it can really make it difficult to judge raw CPU performance. 

To remove the discrete GPUs in each laptop from the equation, we simply disabled them and ran the test using each CPU’s integrated graphics. This introduces some variability of its own however as the integrated graphics in these CPUs also differ quite a bit. In fact, the performance of Ryzen’s graphics cores give it a nice advantage.

To give you an idea of how big a difference there is between the visual firepower in our tested CPUs, here’s Geekbench 5.4.1 and its OpenCL test, which measures compute performance of the integrated graphics. Even though the Tiger Lake H chips use Intel’s newest Xe graphics cores, Intel decided to step back from the 96 execution units in the 4-core lower power version that goes into thin and light laptops like the Acer Swift 3X. Tiger Lake H comes with 32 execution units. AMD, however, uses the same die in both thin and light notebooks as well as thicker and heavier laptops. 

11980hk geekbench opencl IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance.

UL’s Procyon benchmark uses Adobe Premiere Pro. It basically measures how fast each PC exports two 1080p and two 4K files with various filters and color adjustments applied to the videos. 

Both of the Ryzen 5000 laptops cross the finish line first, which is a victory for AMD, but both of the 11th-gen laptops are right there as well. It’s an especially good result for Intel when you compare it the older 10th-gen laptops. The thinner 11th-gen Core i9 laptop, for example, offers up an actual whopping 37 percent higher score than the thinner 10th Core i7 in the older XPS 17 9700.

11980hk procyon video dgpu disabled IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance.

You can argue the results really above really only show two losers for Premiere Pro: The older 10th-gen CPUs indicated by the two light-blue bars. In a world where you would turn off your discrete GPU that’s certainly true, but for a lot of people, the star attraction of a laptop is that Nvidia GeForce GPU inside. Few people who buy powerful notebooks turn off the components. That also plays into Intel’s decision to drastically cut the graphics cores in its Tiger Lake H chips. The company knows most of these chips will be paired with discrete GeForce graphics in laptops so why waste the space?

So to leave you with the full picture, we also ran Procyon’s Video test with the GeForce GPUs enabled, as you can see in the chart below. The result actually pushes the two 11th-gen laptops ahead of the pack despite the Ryzen 9 5900HX being paired with a higher wattage GPU. Both 10th-gen laptops also see a sizeable Premiere Pro encode boost thanks to their GPUs. Where the 10th-gen Core i7-10875H was 37 percent slower than than the 11th-gen Core i9-11980HK with their GPUs disabled, the gap closes significantly to 16 percent with the GPU performance factored in.

11980hk procyon video dgpu enabled IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance.

We used Procyon’s Photo test for still photography performance. It measures Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom Classic speed in various photo-based tasks. It’s mostly a wash, but the 11th-gen and Ryzen 9 5900HX slightly lead the pack. The 11th-gen laptops also finish roughly 20 percent faster than the older 10th laptops as well.

This test was also performed with the discrete GPU disabled. We’ll mention that both of the 11th-gen laptops actually move out front by a small margin when you turn it back on. 

11980hk procyon photo IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance.

Moving on to applications that get used by millions of people every day, we use UL’s PCMark 10 Application test to measure Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint performance in tasks you do at work. It normally also measures browser performance using Edge but the test failed on all of the laptops. We were still able to measure the individual scores though and the overall win goes to the mighty Ryzen 9 5900HX once again. But once again, 11th-gen Core i9 is right there with it. In a win for Intel, the Core i9-11980HK also outpaces the Ryzen 9 5980HS in the thinner laptop category. 

11980hk pcmark 10 subcores IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance.

Since our Edge score bombed out, we wanted to at least get a look at browser performance. To do that we installed Chrome 90 and ran several web-based benchmarks. Browsing is generally a very light task, so we see the 11th-gen Core i9 slightly outpace the 11th-gen Core i7 in WebXprt 3, which measures HTML5 and Javascript performance using simulated common browsing tasks.

We’d call it a stalemate between the Ryzen 5000 and 11th-gen Core chips. The older Ryzen 4000 and Intel 10th-gen chips aren’t slow, but definitely off the pace to the tune of 15 to 16 percent.

11980hk webxprt IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance.

We also ran JetStream 2, which measures JavaScript and WebAssembly performance. We’d again consider this a stalemate, but the technical winner is still the Core i9-11980HK.

11980hk jetstream IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance.

We’ll cap this off with Speedometer, which is designed to measure how responsive web applications are. This time, the 11th-gen Core i9 actually chalks up a real win over the 11th-gen Core i7 by 6 percent and the Ryzen 9 5900HX to the tune of 10 percent. There’s also that giant 27 percent over the 10th-gen Core i7-10875H too.

11980hk speedometer IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance.

AI performance

Our last category is AI Performance. We’ll understand if you just don’t care because “AI” is the buzzword you hear when a CEO gets excited about creating more intelligent chat-bots so the company can lay off even more people. But consumers are finally seeing application of advanced AI techniques to make far more nuanced and intelligent decisions than before. Intel dominates in this area for now thanks to a strong focus on boosting performance in tasks that deploy deep learning.

Our first benchmark is Nero’s Score 1.08, which a new free test that attempts to measure CPU performance at recognizing and tagging your photos for you. Your smartphone might offer AI image sorting but that doesn’t help you if you’ve got 50,000 photos on your PC. Nero Score is based on its commercial AI Photo Tagger that we’ve used to measure AI performance before, but this benchmark uses a smaller photo set and at lower resolution than tests we’ve done. That makes it better as a CPU test.

The 11th-gen Core i9 is a stunning 45 percent faster than Ryzen 9 5900HX. It’s also 73 to 90 percent faster than the older 10th-gen chips as well. Whoa.

11980hk nero score IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance.

Our next test uses Topaz Lab’s Gigapixel AI 5.5.2 to increase the resolution of a 10MP DSLR photo taken a decade ago. The results are generally very impressive and beyond what’s capable with simpler algorithms you’re probably used to. It’s also quite compute intensive. The Core i9-11980HK finishes the job in 47 percent less time than the Ryzen 9 5900HX and 68 percent faster than the 10th-gen Core i7-10875H. 

To show you how fast this field is moving: Between our Intel 11th-gen Core i7 testing late last week and now, Topaz Labs has already released a newer version with newer models. Our testing reflects that.

11980hk topaz gigapixel 5.5.2 IDG

Shorter bars indicate better performance.

The massive speed gains are due to Intel’s push to support AVX512 in its CPUs. With Tiger Lake H, the company now offers CPUs with AVX512 or its Deep Learning Boost technology in everything from ultra-light laptops to heavy-duty servers. Applications that use it get massive performance benefits.

AMD has argued that yes, that’s neat, but very few applications support AVX512 right today so who cares? That’s a fair point as probably fewer than a dozen consumer applications play nice with it for now. At the same time, these practical applications that yield very tangible benefits indicates that this field will only continue to grow, so consider that before you buy your next laptop.

What, no gaming?

We aren’t covering gaming performance today. While the Intel reference laptop has a 65 watt GeForce RTX 3060 Laptop GPU, we’re not entirely comfortable making comparisons to the other laptops and any attempt at this point feels premature. 

Ideally, we’d put similar-sized laptops with with the same model GPUs and very close power ratings against each other to determine the better CPU for gaming. That isn’t here today but if you want our forecast: Tiger Lake H-based laptops will either be faster or so competitive with Ryzen, it just won’t matter.

The truth is most gaming is still largely driven by the GPU performance. For example, you’ve seen the 11th-gen Core i9 offer 20 percent to 50 percent more performance than the older 10th-gen in CPU tasks, but in gaming with the same GPUs they’ll probably be a lot closer than you expect.

If you’re looking for buying advice today for gaming: Pick the biggest, fattest GPU you can afford and don’t sweat too much whether it’s a 10th-gen, 11th-gen, or Ryzen 5000 chip. We’d take a 10th-gen Core laptop with an RTX 3080 over an 11th-gen (or Ryzen) laptop with an RTX 3060.

Conclusion

Let’s close things out by running the older Cinebench R15 benchmark on everything from a single thread all the way up to 16-threads. We perform this task in CPU evaluations because it helps us visualize the overall performance of a CPU on both very lightly-threaded tasks and very heavily-threaded tasks, as well as anything in between. You can see the results of all the laptops tested in the graph below.

h parts 2 IDG

Intel’s problem with its 10th-gen CPUs began when the Ryzen 4000 appeared and offered as good (or even better) multi-threaded performance on much thinner laptops. Ryzen 5000 twisted the screws by offering even more multi-threaded performance while greatly increasing its lightly threaded performance.

The first two Tiger Lake H laptops we’ve tested change that narrative. What we’ve seen so far doesn’t make the Tiger Lake H the clear-cut winner against Ryzen 5000 notebooks, but performance between the rivals is close enough now that it’s not really that big of a deal.

11980hk vs 5980hs percent IDG

For example, here’s how the Intel laptop performs in Cinebench R15 compared to the Asus Flow X13, showing performance as a percentage difference from one to 16 threads. And yes, we think here it’s fair to make the comparison even though the Intel laptop is 4.6 pounds while the Asus ROG Flow X13 is three pounds. That’s because both laptops are almost the same thickness measured from the keyboard to the base. (The Flow X13 also features a 35-watt GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q vs. the 65 watt GeForce RTX 3060 Laptop in the Intel laptop.)

With that said, we’re pretty certain the Core i9-11980HK uses more power than the Ryzen 9 5980HS (which we’ll visit at a later date) but both CPUs are practically in lock step from very light loads to very heavy loads.

11980hk vs 10875h percent IDG

The big win for Intel is clearly over its aging 10th-gen CPUs, as shown in the graph above. Although AMD’s Ryzen 9 battles the 11th-gen Core i9 to a standstill, when we perform the same comparison against a similarly sized laptop with the 10th-gen Core i7-10875H in it, it’s an absolute slaughter. You may scoff because the 10th-gen isn’t a Core i9 model, but we’ve done enough testing of the 10th-gen Core i9 to tell us it wouldn’t have changed the results by much at all. That’s because the 10th-gen CPUs were at the end of the road for Intel’s long-in-the-tooth 14nm manufacturing process.

Clearly, Intel’s 11th-gen Tiger Lake H is a force to be reckoned with. Does it defeat its dreaded foe, AMD’s Ryzen 5000? No. But it deserves to be in the conversation at least. We couldn’t say that about the 10th-gen chips. And once that conversation gets started, Intel can throw out its advantage in having PCIe gen 4 lane GPUs, PCIe gen 4 SSDs and Thunderbolt.

So no, Intel and AMD’s raging battle for laptop supremacy isn’t over yet—but at least it’s interesting again.

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