Intel Core i7-12700H Review: Alder Lake on the Go

  • 2022-02-08 06:00
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Alder Lake is Intel's first serious foray into the world of hybrid architecture, combining a new high-performance CPU (P-Cores) architecture, with smaller efficient cores also known as E-cores,  for better performance and enhanced performance per watt. This is our first look at 12th-gen Core mobile processors, starting with the Core i7-12700H.

As we discussed in our Alder Lake desktop review, this hybrid approach has worked quite well on the desktop, but the dual architecture approach will really come to life in limited form factors like laptops, where power consumption and efficiency are key.

The Alder Lake H series targets high-performance laptops, while delivering a host of new platform advantages, including support for DDR5, a more powerful Xe integrated GPU, and other connectivity enhancements. Intel claims these new processors will be the fastest processors ever for mobile computing, and we'll explore that later in our benchmarks.

We expect the Core i7-12700H we're reviewing today to become the most widely used chip in Intel's lineup, like the Core i7-11800H and Core i7-10750H before it, slotting right into a huge range of mid and upper-mid range gaming and productivity systems.

The 12700H packs 6P cores and 8E cores for a total of 20 processing threads, along with 24MB of L3 cache and a 96 execution unit GPU.

The P cores have a base speed of 2.3 GHz and a boost clock of 4.7 GHz, while the E cores have a base speed of 1.7 GHz and a boost clock of 3.5 GHz. Like previous Intel products, the default TDP for this chip is 45W, although many laptop OEMs will have modes that allow higher power limits in the long run.

The Core i7-12700H is the lowest chip in the stack that still offers the full range of CPU cores found in Intel's H-series die, making it an attractive choice. The 12800H, 12900H, and 12900HK that sit above it are essentially just clock speed improvements, and in previous generations, simple clock speed knobs were not a great value proposition for buyer.

We'll be testing the 12900HK soon, but the 12700H can hit that worthwhile mark.

Our test platforms for today are provided by XMG and their partner Uniwill. The two designs that we have on hand will be widely used across different OEMs. We can't tell if these specific ones will turn out to be XMG products, but other companies like Eluktronics use these types of laptops and you'll soon see them on sale.

The 17-inch GM7AG8M chassis includes a Core i7-12700H and a new GeForce RTX 3080 Ti laptop GPU running at 150W. The smaller 15-inch GM5AG7Y also has a Core i7-12700H, but runs an RTX 3070 Ti laptop GPU with 125W of power.

We will test both of these GPUs later. Both models feature 1440p high-refresh displays and 32GB of DDR5-4800 memory in a dual-stick configuration.

For testing the i7-12700H we've run two power configurations: a long-term PL1 power limit of 45W, Intel’s default spec for these chips, as well as 75W, which is a common boosted power level seen across many laptop vendors.

These will be compared apples to apples with other laptop chips running at the same configuration, which gives us the best look at how these CPUs compare in a fair benchmark battle.

If we compared one chip at 75W to another at 60W, we’d really only be comparing which specific laptop design can send the most power to the CPU, not which CPU actually performs better, which is why we test like this. Boost PL2 power is set to Intel’s default of 115W in both instances.

Conducting a benchmark review in this way will give you the most useful information that is applicable to a wide range of laptops. If you're buying a thinner and lighter system, the 45W figure will matter most, while the numbers after a more powerful system with more cooling capacity will be 75W.

About the results!

We'll start with everyone's favorite Cinebench R23 multithreading. The Core i7-12700H is the fastest laptop CPU we've tested to date, beating all other competitors including the Ryzen 9 5900HX and Apple's M1 Pro, even when running at just 45W.

This represents a 27% performance improvement over the Core i7-11800H, a 21% improvement on the Ryzen 7 5800H, and a 12% increase on the Ryzen 9 5900HX. It's also 8% faster than Apple Silicon, although the M1 Pro uses slightly less power in this workload. But among the x86 packages, the 12700H seems to be the best processor in terms of performance-per-watt in this workload.

Intel is able to extend its lead when looking in the 75W power class. The 12700H is 36% faster than the 11800H here, and is now beating the Ryzen 7 5800H by 33%, up from a mid-20s improvement in the lower power class.

We’ll look at power scaling in more depth later, but these early results show the 12700H is able to produce a decent amount more performance when allowed to run beyond 45W in longer term workloads.

I should note that the M1 Pro is included in our 75W charts for reference, but one limitation of Apple Silicon is that it can’t be run above default power spec, so it’s a roughly a 40W part up against 75W configurations. It is possible the M1 Max version will be faster and scale power further, but we haven't tested that chip.

It's a slam dunk win for Intel in the single-threaded workload. The P-cores running at up to 4.7 GHz crush Cinebench R23, beating everything in the field by a significant margin: 22% faster than the 11800H, 26% faster than the 5800H, 20% faster than the 5900HX and a very solid 18% faster than Apple’s M1 Pro.

This is achieved without consuming more single-thread power than other x86 processors, though the Arm-based M1 Pro is significantly more efficient.

Handbrake isn’t as favorable for the 12700H when looking at x265 encoding, but the performance gain relative to older Intel parts is still impressive. This new CPU is 15% faster than the Core i7-11800H and holds a narrow lead on the 5800H from AMD, but can’t quite match the 5900HX, losing by 4%. This is one of the tougher workloads for Alder Lake but it still holds its own.

However at 75W, the 12700H is able to pull ahead of the field. While just 3% faster than the 5800H at 45W, it’s now a very solid 22% faster, owing to Alder Lake’s great scalability up to higher power levels. So if you do get a laptop with the cooling power to handle higher long term power, the 12700H is the way to go.

Blender  CPU rendering is similar to the Handbrake results, in that the Core i7-12700H at 45W sits among the pack that includes the 5900HX, 5800H and M1 Pro, while delivering a 25% performance gain over the Core i7-11800H. That’s a great generation on generation improvement, however in this workload it’s only able to close the existing gap between Intel, AMD and Apple.

But like in Handbrake, when the 12700H is given 75W of juice to work with, it can accelerate beyond the other processors we’ve looked at to post quite an impressive score that makes this new generation well suited to CPU rendering.

Code compilation is a strong point for the Core i7-12700H, enhanced through the upgrade to DDR5 memory, which we expect to be used across the majority of 2022’s gaming laptops (Alder Lake also supports DDR4).

The 12700H ends up 37% faster than the Core i7-11800H in this workload, as well as 36% faster than the Ryzen 7 5800H. So if you have a lot of compiling work to be done on the go, the 12700H is clearly superior to previous generation products and it’s not that close.

At 75W it’s not even close, the extra power shaved off 20 minutes from the compile time on the 12700H which leaves previous generation parts in the dust. Another great example of Alder Lake shining particularly well at high power limits.

Matlab  is a short, burst workload that’s sensitive to things like cache and memory. Intel was already the fastest in this benchmark with 11th-gen, so 12th-gen only pushes their lead further ahead.

The 12700H clocks in 15% faster than the 11800H and delivers the first sub-1 second time in the chart, so that’s an excellent outcome.

Our Microsoft Excel test is another one that’s run primarily in the CPU’s 115W boost state, so 45W vs 75W numbers aren’t relevant. Once again Alder Lake crushes it here, delivering one of the highest performance gains we’ve seen, it’s over 60% faster than the Core i7-11800H and a lot of that comes down to cache and memory again. This is well and truly desktop-level performance, basically matching the Ryzen 7 5800X.

For basic tasks like app loading, video conferencing and so on, the Core i7-12700H is a great option and it’s able to outperform the Ryzen 9 5900HX, though only by a single digit margin. Most of today's laptops are fast enough for these sorts of workloads.

When it comes to the PCMark Applications test which measures Microsoft Office performance, the Core i7-12700H is able to put up a decent lead on other mobile processors thanks to its excellent single-threaded performance – and Office is mostly a lightly-threaded workload.

We’re seeing a 15% performance improvement compared to the best previous generation chips which is a handy boost year on year.

Next up is 7-Zip compression. This workload loves the Alder Lake design and the architectural benefits it brings, including powerful P-cores. The 12700H dominates the 11800H with a 39 percent performance uplift, and we see similar margins to AMD processors like the Ryzen 7 5800H.

It also ends up beating Apple’s M1 Pro by 8 percent, however the 12700H is using over twice the power of the Apple processor, so while it’s a performance victory, it’s not an efficiency victory by any means.

Decompression has typically been a strong suit for Ryzen processors, however the Core i7-12700H holds its own here, slightly outperforming the Ryzen 9 5900HX. This is thanks to a 21 percent gain on the Core i7-11800H, closing the generational gap that existed in 2021.

Acrobat PDF exporting benefits from improved single-thread performance on the P-cores, coming in 11 percent faster than the 11800H. This keeps Intel in the lead over AMD in this workload, however both chips are still beaten by the Apple M1 Pro which is excellent in this test despite using emulation.

The 12700H is an absolute beast in Adobe Photoshop. Combinations of higher lightly-threaded performance, faster integrated graphics, faster memory and better cache systems allows the 12700H to destroy the 11800H: it’s 45% faster, the second highest margin recorded between these parts after Excel. This gives Intel a dominant lead over AMD as well, 33% faster than the Ryzen 9 5900HX, so if you’re a heavy Photoshop user you’ll want Alder Lake.

On the other hand, Alder Lake doesn’t outperform older processors in FL Studio. While the CPU still performs well exporting a track and does utilize both P-cores and E-cores, I suspect the E-cores are a bit of a hindrance here given the performance difference vs the P-cores (and audio workloads are highly sensitive, so this could be an explanation for what we’re seeing).

In Adobe Premiere Pro, the Core i7-12700H is the fastest CPU that we’ve tested to date. The overall score puts both the RTX 3080 Ti and RTX 3070 Ti configurations above the Apple M1 Pro, and well above previous generation processors. In particular, it dominates Ryzen and while the GPU is also faster than previous configurations, it’s still a very impressive result.

Part of that comes down to the export score. The full performance available with these new laptop configurations is 25% faster than a previous-gen configuration, comparing 12700H + 3070 Ti, to 11800H + 3070.

While the GPU might be playing a small role, the majority of this performance uplift is coming from the CPU which as seen previously is much faster for encoding and multi-threaded workloads.

The other thing I wanted to show your is the Effects score, not as much of a dominant lead here, but when using effects in Premiere, the 12700H configurations are the best you can get right now.

Adobe After Effects is another mixed CPU and GPU workload. The 12700H acts like a beast significantly outperforming previous generation setups. We’re looking at a 25% performance uplift compared to 11800H and 5900HX systems using RTX 3070 graphics, which isn’t unusual compared to previous charts but it’s a great result nonetheless.

The final compute workload we'll look at is Agisoft Metashape’s photogrammetry benchmark, where Alder Lake is again the chart topping configuration. Performance gains here aren’t as strong as previous Adobe suite tests, but we’re still seeing at least a 10 percent performance gain over the next best configuration tested which is a respectable result.

Before we look at some gaming benchmarks, here are the CPU power scaling results. The Alder Lake Core i7-12700H shows much the same power scaling behavior as the Core i7-11800H, which is probably due to both parts using a similar family of process technology.

The Tiger Lake 11800H was built using 10nm SuperFin, while Alder Lake was 10nm Enhanced SuperFin before it was renamed to the Intel 7 process node. Clearly Intel 7 in conjunction with the new architecture is a lot more efficient, but it has the same characteristics of scaling very well into higher power levels.

When compared to AMD processors like the 5900HX and 5800H, the 12700H is more efficient at low power levels to a small to moderate degree. But this margin grows substantially around 65W and 75W where Ryzen tapers off. So while the 12700H is faster at all power levels, it’s especially good in the upper range where the biggest, beefiest laptops will be able to run.

Then compared to the Apple M1 Pro, the 12700H is similar in its performance per watt for multi-thread workloads. Where Intel benefits though is the ability to scale much higher than the M1 Pro, so again in those larger gaming laptops the multi-thread performance far outstrips what Apple can provide and this is seen in some of the 75W benchmarks shown previously.

When it comes to actual power draw from the wall, when the x86 CPUs are limited to 45W the 12700H has among the highest actual power usage, a few watts higher than the 11800H.

Intel also raised default boost power limits this generation, which is why peak power consumption is also higher with the 12700H. This doesn’t paint a favorable efficiency picture versus the M1 in burst workloads like 7-Zip, where the M1 can keep up with the 12700H at less than half the power.

Part of that comes down to what we see in this chart which is single-thread power usage using the P-cores. The 12700H is decently faster than the M1 Pro, but it does so at three times the power usage. This suggests the 12700H at 4.7 GHz is running well outside the efficiency window to achieve the absolute fastest performance. It would have been interesting to see where this chip would have landed had the single-core clock been capped to say, 4 GHz or less, but Intel didn’t do that.

We don’t show any battery life numbers in our laptop CPU reviews because that's highly dependent on the specific laptop maker and model. The battery life is ultimately dictated by battery size, power configurations, and other system components which are all at the mercy of the laptop vendors.

Next up is PC gaming performance, however running a direct comparison is complicated because this new generation of Alder Lake laptops uses different GPUs -- the new Ti models from Nvidia. So this section won’t be very long or comprehensive as it’s hard to separate the gains from the CPU versus gains from the GPU.

As best as we can gather from this title which is CPU limited to some degree using these settings, the Core i7-12700H and Ryzen 9 5900HX perform similarly when paired with powerful laptop GPUs. The 12700H does appear to be faster than prior Intel CPUs, but to what degree is hard to say given GPU differences.

For this generation we’ve altered our CS: Go benchmark to use pro-level gameplay which is more representative of actually playing the game. This is a definitely CPU bound title using the lowest settings, and what we’re seeing here is a decent performance uplift comparing the 12700H with the 11800H: a 20 percent increase to average frame rates. That’s right in line with previous productivity results in single-thread and, to some degree, multi-thread as well.

Rainbow Six Siege running using Medium settings is also highly CPU bound. Here the 12700H is capable of a big performance gain compared to prior generation parts, especially for 1% lows which are well up on older models. Specifically comparing the 12700H to 11800H we’re seeing a 25% jump in average FPS, though a smaller 6% increase on the highly clocked 11980HK. The performance lead on Ryzen is also in the 25% range.

Hitman 3’s Dartmoor benchmark is very demanding on the CPU and the 12700H here has a clear lead on other processors, again up around the 25% mark compared to the best Ryzen result and even higher on past Intel models.

For the most part, your laptop benchmark charts are going to look like this. Even though we’re benchmarking Gears 5 on Medium settings, the game is still relatively GPU bound, so the gains we see here are not attributable to the CPU, but to differences in the GPU.

It’s nice to talk about whether the 12700H is faster than other CPUs for laptop gaming, but the reality is that unless you are playing competitive games on low quality settings, you’re most likely going to be GPU bound in today’s games with laptop-class graphics.

The Core i7-12700H is an impressive laptop processor that's set to bring a sizable performance upgrade to many mid-range and high-end laptops.

The Core i7 line has been widely used across countless laptop models, but over the past two generations has lagged a bit behind similar price or class Ryzen models, especially in multi-thread workloads. That’s no longer the case, Intel has been able to do more than just close the performance gap, instead the 12700H is truly a class leading processor in all areas.

Compared to Intel’s previous Core i7 model, the 11800H, we’re looking at 20-30% higher performance at the default 45W power level in productivity apps, and 30-40% better performance in the higher 75W power configuration that some OEMs use.

That’s a big generational leap that’s been achieved through the new hybrid architecture with more processing cores, the upgraded Intel 7 process node, and other features like DDR5 memory. This is one of the most impressive performance generational leaps we’ve seen from Intel laptop CPUs in some time.

With this big boost in the bag, the 12700H is anywhere from slightly faster, to significantly faster than AMD’s Ryzen 5000 line-up – especially if OEMs boost the power up to a high level, where Intel scales particularly well and is able to crush parts like the 5800H.

This lead stretches from multi-thread performance through to strong results in single-thread, and even gaming as well, so it’s a nicely rounded package. I just don’t see why you’d buy a laptop with 11th-gen or Ryzen 5000 CPUs inside anymore unless you’re getting a decent discount; the Core i7-12700H is stomping its foot down as the clear best available option.

While these are excellent results, these comparisons are mostly pitting Alder Lake against older architectures. Later in 2022, Intel will be competing with AMD’s Ryzen 6000, and we’re expecting to get hands on time with those laptops soon. So I’d want to at least wait until we see how AMD stacks up before buying a new laptop.

Based on what AMD is saying, we don’t expect Ryzen 6000 to necessarily beat Alder Lake, but we can't know for sure where the performance or value equation will lie.

We also don’t have a firm grasp on laptop pricing yet, although we’re expecting 12700H models to be similarly priced to previous 11800H laptops, which would make the 12700H a good deal pending discounts on last-gen designs.

There’s not a lot of weaknesses to bring up here to be honest. The toughest battle is between the 12700H and Apple’s M1 Pro, but in many instances the 12700H is faster (especially at high power levels) and even has the capability to be similar in terms of sustained performance per watt.

Where Alder Lake seems to struggle is in power consumption for single-thread and burst workloads, where the M1 is clearly more efficient, but that’s down to Intel operating these parts well outside the efficiency window. I think the tools are there for Alder Lake to shine in low power laptop designs, it just needs an OEM to complement this with an efficiency-optimized product with great tuning, rather than a brute force performance system like the majority of H-series laptops.