Earlier this month, Intel announced its 11th generation “Tiger Lake” portable processors. The company has proclaimed them the new best processor for thin and light laptops – but thanks to AMD’s 7nm Ryzen 400 chips, the competition for this title is fierce. This week we finally got the chance to try one.
As a reminder: the Tiger Lake line includes nine new processors. These aren’t what you’ll find in a big gaming laptop or desktop replacement – they’re meant to power ultraportable devices. The chips support Thunderbolt 4, Wi-Fi 6, and the company’s new integrated Xe graphics card. They’re built on a 10nm node similar to their 10th generation predecessors, but Intel says they’ll run faster with lower power consumption thanks to a new “SuperFin design”.
Per Intel, you’ll see Tiger Lake chips in a slew of upcoming flagship releases, including Samsung’s Galaxy Book Flex 5G, Acer’s refreshed Swift 5, and Asus’ flagship Zenbook S. haven’t tried any of these models yet – Intel lent me a generic pre-production reference design for these tests. But it’s a good look at the kind of performance you might expect to see this fall.
I tested the headliner, the 28W-max Core i7-1185G7: four cores, eight threads, base speeds of 3.0 GHz, maximum single-core turbo boost up to 4.8 GHz, and an increase total of 4.3 GHz and Xth graphics. (The pre-production test system also included 32GB of RAM.) We can’t say for sure which upcoming laptop models will use which chips yet, but you can probably expect to see this chip in models. High-end flagships – the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and the Lenovo Yoga 9i, which are both expected to use Tiger Lake, would be good guesses.
Unsurprisingly, the 1185G7 outperformed its Ice Lake predecessor, the Core i7-1065G7 in a 25W configuration. (Ice Lake has a 28W chip, the Core i7-1068G7, but that’s basically only in the MacBook. Pro.) What’s more interesting – and could be a sign of a big change to come in the laptop market – is that it outperformed AMD’s lower performance as well. -powered poster child, the eight-core Ryzen 7 4800U, but not without a few caveats.
Intel’s biggest bet was on its new integrated Xe graphics – the company promised to double the performance of the previous generation. Meanwhile, the 4800U, along with AMD’s Radeon integrated GPU, delivered some of the best performance we’ve ever seen thanks to the integrated graphics in Lenovo’s recent IdeaPad Slim 7.These include: Intel’s work was made for that.
Good news for Intel: Xe graphics are the real deal. Overwatch was playable at 1080p on Ultra (avg 89 fps) and Epic (avg 59 fps). Let that sink in – a system with integrated graphics is running Overwatch, at its highest possible settings, at around 60 fps. This system beat the 4800U, which only handled 46 fps on Ultra, and the 1065G7, which didn’t even get 65 fps on low settings in Engadgetthe tests. Incidentally, that’s bad news for Nvidia as well – with integrated graphics like this available, there’s no reason anyone should pay for an entry-level GPU like the MX350.
Intel’s system also performed well in a video editing workflow. He finished exporting a 5 minute and 33 second 4K video in eight minutes flat. That’s jaw-dropping compared to 1065G7 systems like the Surface Laptop 3 and XPS 13 2-in-1, both of which took over 15 minutes to complete the task. I haven’t been able to run this test on the 4800U with the same settings yet due to a compatibility issue with Premiere Pro, but eight minutes is a faster export than what you’re likely to see from a comparable Ryzen system, since AMD chips do not support Intel’s fast sync. The Dell G5 15 SE, with a Ryzen 7 4800H and a Radeon RX 5600M GPU, was only 24 seconds faster.
All this with the synthetic benchmark performance of the 1185G7. The test system received a rating of 1805 on 3DMark Time Spy, which tests a system’s ability to handle modern graphics. This easily beats Ice Lake, and as you can see from 3DMark’s public rankings, it also beats the 4800U (which peaks at 1,450). But Intel is actually losing to AMD in terms of CPU score, which is not surprising since the Ryzen chip has twice as many cores and corresponding threads.
During my daily workload, I did not experience any hiccups or performance issues with the 1185G7. It handled loads of Chrome apps and tabs, in addition to standard desktop tasks like copying files, sorting and editing photos, and video calling on Zoom / Skype / Teams / Google Meet without slowdown or uncomfortable heat. Everything was crisp and the pages loaded significantly faster than on the 10th Gen Intel systems I have used in the past. Of course, that’s also the experience you’ll get with the 4800U, so benchmarks that push the boundaries of each system can help differentiate it.
In productivity benchmarks, the 1185G7 wins, but it doesn’t quite run away with competition like it did graphically. On PCMark 10, which simulates various real-world productivity use cases, it narrowly beat its competition, scoring a 5462 against 5404 from the 4800U (according to the public rating) and the 1065G7 4644 (by Notebookcheck). The 11th gen chip took the day off essential and productivity tasks, but fell slightly behind the 4800Us in content creation.
However, let’s move on to Cinebench R20, which the 1185G7 completely destroyed. It achieved an incredibly high score of 595 in single-core performance. This means Intel is solidly back at the top of single-core gaming – the 4800U got a 474, per Notebookcheck. (The i7 lost to the Ryzen chip in terms of multi-core performance, which is expected because again, the latter has twice as many cores.)
Finally, artificial intelligence is hardly the primary use case for a 28-watt chip. But AI can have its use on mainstream laptops in media editing, gaming, and background blurring in video calls, for example. Intel claims to have made improvements to its built-in artificial intelligence engine – in particular, Tiger Lake includes a new feature called DL Boost: DP4a, which leverages onboard graphics to accelerate neural network inference.
I put this to the test with a benchmark called MLPerf, using the OpenVINO Toolkit, which measures performance using image recognition neural networks. When tasked with running multiple image recognition inference tests in parallel, Intel’s system evaluated 439 fps. This is indeed a better result that Intel has seen from the 10th generation mobile processors.
So what does all this mean? Well, we can expect Tiger Lake to solidly outperform Ice Lake when it comes to multitasking and office productivity, as well as AI tasks. It beats AMD on single-core performance, but loses on multi-core performance. This means that the 4800U is still king when it comes to multithreaded processes such as code compilation and calculating numbers, whereas we can expect the more powerful i7 to prevail with workloads that don’t. not adapt to all available cores and threads. But the most exciting result is the Xe graphics – frankly, they are a game-changer (pun intended), and seem to be able to handle some demanding titles, if not quite the latest and greatest AAA games.
Of course, there is still a big question mark here: battery life. This is clearly a powerful chip, but it’s still aimed at thin laptops, not workstations, so efficiency is a big factor. Intel has claimed that Tiger Lake will offer battery life improvements for Ice Lake processors. I wasn’t able to test battery life on this pre-production system, so I can’t speak to that claim just yet. But it will be interesting to see, as the first systems start to roll out, whether Intel has chosen to prioritize raw power over efficiency here. We’ll have to keep an eye on how long this i7 will last, and whether ultraportable systems are able to cool it down.