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.

Product Review

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a love letter to PC geeks

Lenovo’s ThinkPad line-up is targeted at business use, but it’s long appealed to hardcore PC geeks as well. The new X1 Extreme, which combines a powerful processor and high-resolution screen with Nvidia graphics, seems built for them…
Computing

Qualcomm’s ‘Snapdragon 1000’ could bring octa-cores to Windows laptops

The rumored Qualcomm Snapdragon 1000 CPU may bring the octa-core design of mobiles and tablets to Windows laptops, offering four powerful cores for high performance, and four low-power cores for efficiency.
Computing

Intel stands by Core i9 benchmarks, testing company to seek more data

Benchmarking company Principle Technologies will be retesting the AMD Ryzen 7 2700X and Intel's latest ninth-generation chipset processors and will address earlier issues which skewed the benchmark results toward Intel.
Computing

Intel's 9th-gen chips could power your next rig. Here's what you must know

The Intel Core i9-9900K processor was the star of the show for consumers, but a powerful 28-core Xeon processor also led announcements. Here's everything you need to know about the latest Intel chipsets.
Computing

Personal info of 30,000-plus Pentagon employees compromised in contractor breach

The Pentagon is facing another security problem after it was discovered that a contractor was responsible for a leak of data that affected more than 30,000 Pentagon employees, both civilian and military.
Computing

Did your Windows 10 audio stop working after the update? Microsoft has a fix

Microsoft has released a small patch for its October 2018 Update build of Windows 10 following some users facing audio issues that resulted in no sound output at all. After this fix, that problem should disappear for good.
Photography

Adobe’s Premiere Rush is a video-editing app designed for social media projects

At Adobe MAX 2018, Adobe unveiled updates across the board for all of its Creative Cloud apps, from the release of Premiere Rush CC, a social-focused video editor, to Project Gemini, a digital drawing and painting tool.
Computing

World’s first 49-inch, dual QHD curved monitor tops Dell’s new line of displays

Dell's world's first 49-inch dual QHD curved monitor and other new displays come packed with innovative design features and technologies aimed at meeting demands of workflows everywhere.
Computing

Updated Intel processor benchmarks still beat AMD Ryzen competitor, but by less

After some controversy, updated Principled Technologies testing shows the Intel i9-9900K with a reduced lead over the AMD Ryzen 2700X in benchmarks, and with the AMD Ryzen 2700 X seeing better performance. 
Home Theater

HDMI 2.0b is a whole lot more than just a connection to your TV

HDMI 2.0b is the backbone for many of the latest updates in 4K UHD technology. And while a new cable standard can often involve a bunch of changes for consumers, that is not the case this time around.
Computing

Memory is still expensive, but Intel’s 9th-gen CPU lets you have 128GB of it

Intel's 9-series CPUs have a few exciting things going for them but for some, new support for double height memory modules with a maximum system capacity of 128GB could be one of them.
Computing

Your ‘Do Not Track’ tool might be helping websites track you, study says

New research from the "Do Not Track" features embedded in popular browsers are being ignored, opening up the possibility of consumers having their information targeted by specific ads based on their web histories and cookies. 
Computing

Which is best: The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme or the 15-inch MacBook Pro?

To try and help nail down the best 15-inch laptops in the world, we compared the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme vs. MacBook Pro 15 in a head to head that looked at their power, design, and portability.
Computing

Microsoft co-founder, Seahawks owner Paul Allen dies at 65

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen died on October 15 of complications from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The cancer survivor was best known for his entrepreneurial spirit and his frequent contributions to charities.