Should you buy a laptop with Intel's 8th-gen or 9th-gen CPU? We run the benchmarks
What's the best CPU for your gaming laptop right now? We understand if you're confused. We're currently in an unprecedented state where new laptops based on Intel's 9th-gen CPUs are on sale next to new laptops based on Intel's 8th-gen and even 7th-gen CPUs.
The reason is likely Intel's infamous CPU shortages, which jammed up the pipeline for laptop makers. After all, selling a laptop with a slightly older CPU is better than not having any laptop to sell at all. Unfortunately, for consumers, you're now looking at similarly priced laptops with different "generations" of Intel CPU.
We've already gone into the spec-by-spec differences between Intel's 8th-gen and 9th-gen mobile CPUs. Now that we've tested a number of laptops in both generations, we can add benchmark data, compiling results from 8th-gen and 9th-gen H-class laptops we've seen ('H' denotes higher performance). We've also thrown in 7th-gen H CPUs. While fairly elderly now, we're still seeing stocks of 7th-gen-based gaming laptop options on shelves.
The short answer is, when choosing between equal core-count chips, such as a 6-core Core i7-8750H or a 6-core Core i7-9750H, don't sweat it. If you're looking at a Core i9-level of performance, then yes, it matters.
Oh, and don't worry too much about the 10th-generation laptop CPUs coming later this year. We looked at the reasons to wait for 10th gen (or not). While the new architecture brings some notable improvements, based on very early preview benchmarks we anticipate the performance uptick will be incremental.
Keep reading for all the details.
Here's what we ran
The test results we're showing are almost entirely CPU-focused and mostly aren't moved by storage, graphics, or RAM differences.
The first chart is Maxon's Cinebench R15. It's a popular benchmark that measures how well a CPU will perform when rendering a 3D scene. This task doesn't always translate into all use cases, but it gives you a general idea of how a CPU will perform in a very efficient multi-threading environment.
In the chart below we see the newest 9th gen in red, the previous 8th gen in yellow, the even older 7th gen in green, and desktop CPUs jammed into laptops in purple.
From a performance take in multi-core apps, you can see that the red 9th-gen 6-core laptops generally do well, are slightly faster than most of the yellow 8th-gen laptops. The two 8th-gen laptops that slightly outperform them are the fastest Core i9 6-core laptops in larger 17-inch, thicker-bodied shells. Frankly, we'd say this matches what we said months ago when Intel first introduced these: Yawn. There is a slight performance bump for 9th-gen 6-core CPUs, but not enough to get excited about it.
If you want excitement and you do multi-threaded tasks, the one area of interest is the bottom. The 7th-gen laptops all in green feature "only" four cores, so you'll see a significant performance difference.
Let's not forget single-core performance, which encompasses the web-browsing, Office productivity, and even photo editing that most of us do every day. We again use Cinebench R15, but we set it to use only a single CPU thread or core. While Cinebench is a 3D rendering application, which means it won't necessarily translate to what you'll get in another task, we think it gives you a very good approximation.
The results are similar to what we saw above, but the gap has closed. The main differentiator is what megahertz each laptop is running at. Generally we'd say 9th-gen laptops are slightly faster, and 7th-gen laptops look slightly better. In short, if you mostly stick to single-threaded tasks, even a 7th-gen CPU will do just fine, and some of the newer chips would be overkill.
Our last set of results measures how long each laptop took to convert a 30GB video using HandBrake. The free and popular app loves CPU cores, but also can use GPUs for encoding. In this test, we stick with CPU encoding.
Unlike Cinebench, which takes about a minute to run, our HandBrake encode typically takes 30 minutes on a 6-core CPU. The extended run helps us identify the CPUs that throttle performance to manage their thermals.
We see three distinct bands of performance: The 8-core CPUs have the advantage, finishing the work in 23 minutes or less. The 6-core laptops mostly line up around the 30-minute mark. The 4-core laptops come in dead last around the 45-minute mark.
The takeaway: If you a lot of video encoding, you'll want a 9th-gen 8-core CPU. If you're looking at 8th-gen vs 9th-gen with 6 cores? Don't even worry about the CPU generation-concentrate on other features of the laptop that matter to you.
As for 4-core laptops? You're paying a pretty hefty performance penalty in multi-core workloads. Keep in mind, that if the laptop is primarily a traditional gaming model, it's perfectly acceptable-but that doesn't mean you should get soaked on one when an 8th-gen or 9th-gen laptop is available.
The benchmarks show that you needn't sweat the CPU differences on Core i7-level laptops between 8th-gen and 9th-gen. The performance differences are very slight and depend more on the cooling design of each laptop. Instead, focus your choice on the differences between graphics cards, the amount of RAM, the SSD capacity, or the screen.
If, however, you are buying this laptop for multi-core performance, the 8-core 9th-gen Core i9 laptops give you real performance benefits.