Intel’s Core i9 for laptops is great, but it’s not a true Core i9

Alienware 17 R5 review
Jayce Wagner/Digital Trends

Intel’s new Core i9 processors are unbelievably fast. During our time with the Alienware 17 R5 laptop, and the Alienware Area-51 R5 desktop, we were very impressed with both the mobile and desktop Core i9, and their ability to handle complex workloads in record time. But there’s an important distinction between the mobile and desktop versions of these processors. They’re not really in the same league.

The desktop version of the Core i9 is an 18-core behemoth, while the mobile version is a six-core processor, like its Core i7 brethren. So why isn’t it just called a Core i7? There’s a reason, but it’s not a good one.

Understanding the naming scheme

When you’re shopping for a processor, desktop or laptop, the designation — Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 — serves as a shorthand for performance.

Intel’s latest 8th-generation Core i3 processors feature four cores, but no hyperthreading — so you’ll only get a max of four processing threads instead of the eight you’d get if it had hyperthreading support. Similarly, Core i5 chips come in at six cores, six threads. At the top, the Core i7 chips now pack six cores and 12 threads.

The Intel Core i9-8950HK has more in common with a top-end Core i7 processor than it does with other chips in the i9 range.

These figures vary a bit between individual chips, but for the most part they’re consistent across product lines — mobile and desktop versions are typically within striking distance of each other. It’s a roadmap that’s easy to navigate, and the product names clearly communicate where they stand in relation to each other.

The introduction of the new mobile Core i9 short circuits that simplicity.

Here’s the problem: The Core i9-8950HK has the exact same number of cores and threads as the Core i7-8750H, making its name feel a little disingenuous. Every other naming jump is associated with an increase in cores or threads (or both), but here — it’s not. The Core i9 is certainly a faster chip, with a base clock speed of 2.90Ghz and a max speed of 4.80Ghz, but it’s got the same number of cores and threads.

Calling it a Core i9 feels like a misnomer

Comparing it to the desktop Core i9, which features a whopping 18 processor cores, makes that disparity even more apparent. Now obviously an 18-core mobile processor would obliterate all but the largest batteries in a laptop — and would probably require an unreasonable amount of cooling. The problem here isn’t the processor, it’s the marketing. The mobile Core i9 is good, great even. But why call it an i9?

We fell for the marketing ourselves when we saw the Alienware 17 R5 featured an 8th-generation Intel Core i9 processor. We had high expectations after reviewing the Alienware Area-51, a gaming machine that used the desktop Core i9. Despite the Alienware 17 R5 ending up being our favorite gaming laptop, we were disappointed to find out that it wasn’t a true Core i9. Again — it’s still an incredibly impressive chip — but we couldn’t help but feel a bit misled.

Coffee Lake

The truth is the Intel Core i9-8950HK has more in common with a top-end Core i7 processor than it does with other chips in the i9 range. Putting a Core i9 sticker on something doesn’t make it a faster processor any more than slapping a Bugatti bumper sticker on your Honda Civic makes it a supercar.

It’s unfortunate because otherwise the mobile Core i9 is an excellent processor. It doesn’t need the crutch that this kind of marketing trickery provides, it stands on its own and performs exceptionally well. Giving it a name that isn’t in line with its performance or capabilities undermines confidence in Intel’s other product lines, and it’s just not necessary.

Computing

Yes, Apple’s new iMacs look great, but they do have one glaring problem

With processors ranging up to the eight-core Core i9, the 2019 iMac update looks like a pretty solid upgrade to Apple's classic all-in-one. But hidden in the details of the product page, there's one outdated component Apple is holding onto.
Computing

Intel teases mobile 9th-generation Core i9 mobile processors at GDC 2019

Intel teased its new 9th-generation Intel Core i9 processors at GDC 2019. The company offered few specifics about the hardware, but a leak from late February provides insight into what the new processors might offer.
Buying Guides

Apple has powered up its iMac lineup, but which one should you opt for?

With new processors and graphics cards for both the 4K and 5K models, the iMac feels like a good option for creatives again. But which should you buy? Here's our guide to choosing the right Apple all-in-one for your needs.
Computing

Intel’s next-gen Comet Lake processors will reportedly arrive with 10 cores

Intel may give its next-generation desktop processor, known by its Comet Lake code name, a maximum of 10 cores, according to code found within the company's Linux drivers. Laptop CPUs will reportedly top out with six cores.
Computing

Changing a PDF into an EPUB file is easier than you might think

If you like to read on a tablet or ebook reader, you'll find that ePUB files offer a number of advantages over PDFs. With this guide, we'll show you how to convert a PDF to EPUB in a few quick steps.
Computing

Confused about RSS? Don't be. Here's what it is and how to use it

What is an RSS feed, anyway? This traditional method of following online news is still plenty useful. Let's take a look at what RSS means, and what advantages it has in today's busy world.
Computing

This limited-time Dell deal cuts $330 off the price of the XPS 15

Dell is currently running a limited-time sale that is cutting the pricing on the XPS 15 down by $330, but only through Thursday, March 21, and with the use of a special coupon code. 
Computing

Here are the best affordable monitors for your budget desktop

Looking for the best budget monitors? These monitors are affordable, but still provide the features you need for gaming, work, home or other plans! Take a look at the displays and your wallet will thank you.
Mobile

Google hit with another fine by the EU, this time for $1.7 billion

Google has been fined for the third time by the EU, this time for breaching antitrust laws by requiring third-party websites using its search function to prioritize its ads over competitors.
Computing

If you have $5,200, Apple has 256GB of RAM for your iMac Pro

Professionals looking to run intensive applications will be able to push their work a bit further with Apple's latest iMac Pro, which holds 256GB of DD4 ECC RAM for $5,200. Here's why it costs so much to upgrade your iMac Pro to the top.
Computing

Don’t be fooled! Study exposes most popular phishing email subject lines

Phishing emails are on the rise and a new study out by the cybersecurity company Barracuda has exposed some of the most common phishing email subject lines used to exploit businesses. 
Deals

From Air to Pro, here are the best MacBook deals for March 2019

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.
Product Review

The Lenovo Legion Y740 brings RTX 2080 graphics power for under $2,500

Coming with the Intel Core i7-8750H processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD, the Legion Y740 one big beast. But priced at under $2,500 how does Lenovo’s Legion stand up against the crowd?
Computing

Oculus shows off the Rift S, plans to phase out its original VR headset

Oculus plans to phase out its flagship Rift VR headset for its newly created Rift S. The Rift S made its debut this week at the 2019 Game Developers Conference and is expected to be released in spring 2019.