Earlier this month, Intel announced its 11th-Gen “Tiger Lake” laptop CPUs. The company proclaimed them the new best processor for thin-and-light laptops — but thanks to AMD’s 7nm Ryzen 400 chips, competition for that title is fierce. This week, we finally got a chance to try one out.

For some background: the Tiger Lake line includes nine new processors. These aren’t what you’d find in a large gaming laptop or desktop replacement — they’re meant to power ultraportable devices. The chips feature Thunderbolt 4 support, Wi-Fi 6, and the company’s new Xe integrated graphics. They’re built on a 10nm node similar to their 10th-Gen predecessors, but Intel says that they’ll perform faster with lower power consumption thanks to a new “SuperFin design.”

Per Intel, you’ll see Tiger Lake chips in a large number of upcoming flagship releases, including Samsung’s Galaxy Book Flex 5G, Acer’s refreshed Swift 5, and Asus’s flagship Zenbook S. I haven’t gotten to try any of those models yet — Intel loaned me a generic pre-production reference design for these tests. But it’s a fair preview of the type of performance you might expect to see this fall.

Intel’s Tiger Lake reference design on an outdoor table, from the front.

Here’s the Tiger Lake reference design that Intel sent me to test. You can’t buy it, sadly.
Photo by Monica Chin / The Verge

I tested the headliner, the 28W-max Core i7-1185G7: four cores, eight threads, base speeds of 3.0GHz, maximum single-core turbo boost of up to 4.8GHz and all-core boost of up to 4.3GHz, and Xe graphics. (The pre-production test system also included 32GB of RAM.) We can’t say for sure yet which upcoming laptop models will use which chips, but you can probably expect to see this chip in higher-end flagship models — the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and the Lenovo Yoga 9i, both of which are slated 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 one 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 upcoming shift in the laptop market — is that it also outperformed AMD’s lower-powered poster child, the eight-core Ryzen 7 4800U, but not without some caveats.

Intel’s biggest bet was on its new Xe integrated graphics — the company promised they would double the performance of the previous generation. Meanwhile, the 4800U, with AMD’s Radeon integrated GPU, delivered some of the best performance we’d ever seen from integrated graphics in Lenovo’s recent IdeaPad Slim 7. Intel’s work was cut out for it.

Good news for Intel: Xe graphics are the real deal. Overwatch was playable at 1080p on Ultra (averaging 89fps) and Epic (averaging 59fps). Let that sink in — a system with integrated graphics is running Overwatch, on its highest possible settings, at almost 60fps. That system beat the 4800U, which only managed 46fps on Ultra, and the 1065G7, which didn’t even pass 65fps on low settings in Engadget’s testing. Incidentally, this is also bad news for Nvidia — with integrated graphics like this available, there’s no reason anyone needs to pay for an entry-level GPU like the MX350.

Intel’s system also fared well in a video-editing workflow. It completed an export of a 5-minute, 33-second 4K video in eight minutes flat. That’s blistering compared to 1065G7 systems like the Surface Laptop 3 and the XPS 13 2-in-1, both of which took over 15 minutes to finish the task. I haven’t been able to run this test on the 4800U with the same parameters yet because of a compatibility issue with Premiere Pro, but eight minutes is a faster export than you’re likely to see from a comparable Ryzen system, since AMD chips don’t support Intel’s Quick Sync. The Dell G5 15 SE, with a Ryzen 7 4800H and a Radeon RX 5600M GPU, was only 24 seconds faster.

That all tracks with the 1185G7’s synthetic-benchmark performance. The test system scored a 1,805 on 3DMark Time Spy, which tests a system’s ability to handle modern graphics. That handily beats Ice Lake, and as you can see on 3DMark’s public leaderboard, it also beats the 4800U (which tops out at 1,450). But Intel actually loses to AMD in CPU score, which is unsurprising since the Ryzen chip has twice the number of cores and corresponding threads.

A corner of the lid of Intel’s Tiger Lake reference design, showing the Intel logo.

MSI built this test system (but it’s Intel-branded).
Photo by Monica Chin / The Verge

During my daily workload, I didn’t encounter any hiccups or performance issues with the 1185G7. It handled heaps of apps and Chrome tabs, in addition to standard office tasks like copying files, sorting and editing photos, and video calls on Zoom / Skype / Teams / Google Meet without any slowdown or uncomfortable heat. Everything was snappy, and pages loaded noticeably more quickly than they have on 10th-Gen Intel systems that I’ve used in the past. Of course, that’s also the experience you’ll have with the 4800U, so benchmarks that push the limits of each system can help to differentiate.

In productivity benchmarks, the 1185G7 wins, but it doesn’t quite run away with the contest the way it did on the graphics front. On PCMark 10, which simulates various real-world productivity use cases, it narrowly beat its competitors, scoring a 5,462 to the 4800U’s 5,404 (per the public leaderboard) and the 1065G7’s 4,644 (per Notebookcheck). The 11th-Gen chip took the day in both essentials and productivity tasks, but lagged slightly behind the 4800U in content creation.

Let’s pop over to Cinebench R20, though, which the 1185G7 absolutely wrecked. It achieved a shockingly high score of 595 in single-core performance. That means Intel is solidly back on top of the single-core game — the 4800U got a 474, per Notebookcheck. (The i7 did lose to the Ryzen chip in multi-core performance, which is expected since 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 consumer laptops in media editing, gaming, and blurring the background in video calls, for example. Intel says it’s made improvements to its built-in AI engine — specifically, Tiger Lake includes a new feature called DL Boost: DP4a, which leverages the integrated graphics to speed up neural network inferencing.

I put that 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 images per second. That’s indeed a better result than Intel has seen from 10th-Gen mobile processors.

So what does this all 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. That means the 4800U is still king when it comes to multithreaded processes like compiling code and crunching numbers, while we can expect the higher-power i7 to prevail with workloads that don’t scale to all available cores and threads. But the most exciting result is the Xe graphics — frankly, they’re a game-changer (pun intended), and look like they can handle some demanding titles, if not quite the latest and greatest AAA games.

Of course, there’s still a big question mark here: battery life. This is clearly a powerful chip, but it’s still meant for thin laptops, not workstations, so efficiency is an important factor. Intel has claimed that Tiger Lake will feature battery life improvements from Ice Lake CPUs. I wasn’t able to test the battery life on this preproduction system, though, so I can’t speak to that claim yet. But it will be interesting to see, as the first systems start to come out, whether Intel has chosen to prioritize raw power over efficiency here. We’ll have to keep an eye on how long this i7 lasts, and whether ultraportable systems are able to cool it down.



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