You’ve probably seen that most gaming laptops feature the Core i7 8750H or 8850H, and outright ignore the more powerful Core i9 8950HK. The Core i9 8950HK is indeed the most powerful laptop processor available right now, so why the discrepancy? Should you opt to go on the search for a Core i9 laptop so you have the best gaming performance from the CPU perspective?
Intel Core i9 vs Core i7 Laptop Performance
The Core i9 vs Core i7 for laptop battle isn’t as simple as it may seem, and we’re here to show you why.
|Core i9-8950HK||Core i7-8850H||Core i7-8750H|
|Base Frequency||2.9 GHz||2.6 GHz||2.2 GHz|
|Turbo Boost||4.8 GHz||4.3 GHz||4.1 GHz|
The Intel Core i9 8950HK is the only overclockable laptop processor available in the market right now. The Core i7 8850H and 8750H are mildly overclockable by 400 MHz, but that doesn’t really count for much, and often the laptop thermal solution with these Core i7 processors aren’t designed for overclocking.
On paper, the specs make the Core i9 8950HK look like a runaway winner right from scratch. Higher clock speeds often result directly in increased frame-rates, and the Core i9 8950HK has superior Turbo Boost as well to push the speeds all the way up to 4.8 GHz.
Core i9 Turbo Boost and Overclock
However, the actual story is quite different. The problem with the Turbo Boost of the Core i9 8950HK (and the overclocking headroom) is that it is heavily dependent on the laptop design. This means that, across the admittedly small number of laptops that do use the Core i9 8950HK, only a small percent of laptops can extract the full power of this processor.
As a result, the consistency and reliability of the Core i9 8950HK are not uniform across all products. The two laptops that make the best use of the Core i9’s high Turbo Boost frequencies and overclock headroom are the Gigabyte AORUS X9 and the MSI GT75. Some of the slimmer laptops like the Dell XPS 15 9570 and the ASUS Chimera G703 don’t quite reach the same heights, but they still offer more consistent performance.
The reason for this massive inconsistency is Intel’s Thermal Velocity Boost. Thermal Velocity Boost pushes the turbo speed by an additional 200 MHz. There’s a caveat though: it does so only if there is “enough turbo power budget available” and if the temperatures are low enough. Low enough temperature here typically means 50 Celsius, and that’s where the problems come in.
Most of the laptops featuring the Core i9 8950H simply don’t have the thermal design to keep temperatures so low as to consistently get the highest Turbo Boost speeds. For this reason, for the majority of the laptops out there, the Core i9 8950H simply never hits the stated Turbo Boost frequency of 4.8 GHz, and instead peaks at 4.6 GHz. 4.6 GHz is still considerably superior to what the Core i7 8850H and 8750H offer, but once again the higher temperatures of the Core i9 8950H come into play, often preventing it from reaching even the 4.6 GHz mark if the laptop’s cooling system doesn’t support it.
Core i9 8950HK vs Core i7 8850H Benchmarks
Now, on to the real stuff. We’ve skipped synthetic gaming benchmarks altogether here because they don’t translate well to real-world performance in actual videogames. Benchmark tests have been conducted by LaptopMag, pitting the Core i9 8950HK against the Core i7 8850H in three videogames: Rise of the Tomb Raider, Hitman, and GTA V. The overclocked Core i9 8950HK is running at 4.3 GHz, which is the most stable overclock on the MSI GT75 Titan 8RG without running into thermal throttling.
There is certainly a difference in frame-rates on 1080p, but the gain is marginal. Interestingly, the overclocked Core i9 8950H performs almost identical to one running at base clock speeds, and in case of Rise of the Tomb Raider actually loses frame-rates, possibly due to some kind of throttling (we’re not exactly sure why).
Which One to Choose?
Still, for those wanting some future-proofing for their laptop and willing to get the best of the best, even the small gain in fps should be enough to warrant buying the Core i9 8950HK over the Core i7 8850H, right?
Well, not quite. The difference is so small that it simply does not warrant even considering the price delta between the two. For the MSI GT75 Titan 8RG laptop, the price difference between the Core i9 8950HK model and the Core i7 8850H one is a staggering $500. Companies like Alienware demand an even steeper price delta.
The amount you’ll have to spend for such a marginal gain is simply not worth it. Furthermore, your choice will be extremely limited, as only a handful of laptops with the Core i9 can actually extract the best performance from it. The Core i7 8850H and 8750H (particularly the latter) don’t suffer from this problem, as they are far more widely used in gaming laptops than the Core i9.
For the marginal gain in performance and the small set of Core i9 laptop options available, there’s absolutely no reason to opt for the Core i9 8950HK over the Core i7 8850H or 8750H. It’s important to remember that the Core i9 8950HK isn’t even a true Core i9 since it offers no additional threads to benefit from for multi-core processing tasks either.
Higher base clock speeds certainly mean the laptop Core i9 can outperform the two Core i7 models in videogames, but the price you’ll have to pay for that makes it an unreasonable purchase. Furthermore, the Core i9 fails to hit its peak Turbo Boost speeds consistently on most laptop models, in some cases performing worse than the Core i7 models due to throttling.