Intel’s 10th generation Ice Lake mobile CPUs were the company’s long-awaited foray into 10nm processor development, but they were just the start. Tiger Lake is the name of the 11th-gen replacement architecture for Ice Lake, and it brings with it major improvements in processor and graphics performance, as well as some baked-in features like new-generation wireless connectivity and much-improved A.I. performance.
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Pricing and availability
Originally expected to debut in 2021, Intel’s Tiger Lake CPUs were eventually released in the final days of September 2020. Intel debuted the new-generation chips with faster and more efficient CPU and GPU cores, highlighting performance improvements on the new architecture and the final introduction of its long-awaited Xe graphics engine.
Intel took the unusual step of providing a small number of Tiger Lake laptops to reviewers in mid-September, before the launch, where we were allowed to post benchmark results to show the performance of the new CPU and GPU combo. We were not, however, allowed to benchmark battery life as these laptops were not fully configured for retail sale.
The rollout of 10th gen Ice Lake CPUs was slow and steady and the same is true for 11th gen. Tiger Lake. At present you can find very similarand laptops on sale side-by-side. While we expect a continuous release of new models throughout the first half of 2021, you still need to take a certain amount of care to ensure you are buying the latest technology, rather than last year’s model.
Intel Tiger Lake offers significant performance enhancements over Ice Lake, both in terms of CPU and GPU, though pricing has held steady, with cost largely the same for individual CPUs in both generations. That may change in the future, however, as there is a healthy indication that Intel is responding to competition from AMD in the mobile sector.
Tiger Lake is based on an enhanced 10nm process node named 10nm SuperFIN. While there are some improvements over Ice Lake at an architectural level, the key to Tiger Lake lies in its Willow Cove cores which use SuperFIN transistors to power clock speeds that were out of reach for the Sunny Cove cores found in Ice Lake CPUs.
The new SuperFIN transistors allow Willow Cove and hence Tiger Lake to run at the sort of clock speeds we have been accustomed to seeing in gaming laptops where Ice Lake was around 1GHz below par. As an illustration, the Ice Lake Core i7-1065G7 has a Max Turbo Frequency of 3.90GHz while the comparable Tiger Lake Core i7-1165G7 runs as fast as 4.70GHz.
This bump in clock speed has some fascinating consequences. When Digital Trends covered rumors about Tiger Lake before its launch we reported that an early engineering sample of the Tiger Lake Core i7-1185G7 was clocked at 3GHz (via TUM APISAK). The CPU scored 1,414 points on UL’s 3DMark Time Spy benchmark, and the breakdown showed that the quad-core chipset earned 1,296 points on the graphics test and 2,922 points on the processor test.
That was an exciting early indicator of its capabilities, but it turned out that Tiger Lake could go a lot further, too.
As this screengrab shows, those preview numbers understate the performance you are likely to see from Intel Tiger Lake. The explanation is that Tiger Lake can run at 3.6GHz on all cores under sustained load, provided you feed it enough power. This adds a significant variable to any performance figures you see for Tiger Lake, as you need to understand the power settings before the test results make much sense.
In post-release testing, Tiger Lake CPUs demonstrated solid Single-Core test results in Cinebench R20. In it, Intel Ice Lake and AMD Ryzen 7 4800U CPUs are crushed by the new Intel Tiger Lake while in the multi-core test AMD recovers to take the win. You will note that AMD has eight cores against Intel’s four cores so it is no surprise that AMD wins, however Intel Tiger Lake is using slightly more power than AMD to close the gap.
In the preview laptop, the Intel Tiger was set at 28W in Balanced Mode and 41.5W in High Performance Mode which is bold when you consider the Core i7-1185G7 has a specified TDP-up of 28W and TDP-down of 12W. In other words, you might buy a new thin and light Tiger Lake laptop with the TDP configured at a fraction of the power used in the benchmarks shown above and the consequence would be raw performance that was very similar to Intel Ice Lake.
On the other hand, if you are running workloads that use new features in Tiger Lake such as the newly supported AVX-512 instruction set, then you can expect specific tasks will see a speed bump. This instruction set was previously only available in Intel’s Xeon and Skylake-X processors so we are in new territory when it comes to thin and light laptops. Intel’s Tiger Lake demos at CES 2020 showed faster photo enhancement, with upscaled resolution and detail thanks to the power of machine learning however this clearly relies on software support and is a situation that will develop throughout 2021.
Tiger Lake brings significant improvements in CPU performance over its predecessors, however the more impactful generational leap comes in the form of its 12th-generation Xe graphics. Tiger Lake is the first generation of Intel CPUs to take advantage of Intel’s new Xe graphics architecture, the grander version of which will power Intel’s upcoming dedicated graphics cards.
Intel is delivering huge performance improvements with Xe, but this is dependent on the model of processor in your new laptop and the configuration that has been set by the laptop manufacturer. The best-case scenario is an 11th gen Core i7 with G7 graphics that sport 96 Execution Units as that gives a 50% bump over the best graphics in Intel’s Ice Lake line-up. The integrated graphics rely on system memory so Intel has pushed the limits with memory support for Tiger Lake. The fastest Tiger Lake laptops use LPDDR4x-4266 memory, which helps the CPU and also gives a significant boost to the graphics.
Intel Iris Xe graphics deliver sufficient performance for 1080p gaming at 60 fps in e-sports titles and older AAA games however discrete Nvidia graphics such as GeForce MX350 put up a reasonable fight and we have every expectation the new Nvidia GeForce MX450 will be a good match for Tiger Lake.
Intel graphics have generally been considered rather weak and of little use for gamers. The new Xe graphics are certainly a step forward for gamers, however Intel is painting a bigger picture with its CES claims of the “most disruptive and advanced architecture yet.” In September we saw a number of stories about new features such as Display State Buffer that reportedly reduce loading times and CPU usage, thereby freeing up the CPU for other activities and greater overall performance. We shall be interested to see how this feature plays when it lands in Windows 10 but right now Xe delivers up to 50% more Execution Units running at higher clock speeds and with much faster memory, and that is a winning formula.
Wi-Fi, A.I., and more
Two big enhancements that Intel has been keen to talk about with Tiger Lake are how it will affect wireless networking and A.I. development. We will have to wait and see how A.I. delivers benefits, as this will clearly take time. While we may well see faster performance in certain workloads, we know of no way to disable the A.I. features so it may prove impossible to divine the exact benefits of A.I. in Tiger Lake.
As for Wi-Fi, the 6th generation (802.11.ax) is natively supported by Tiger Lake, giving users access to high-speed data transfers, better performance on busy networks, improved latency, and a reduction in power draw. That equates to better connection speeds and longer battery life for Tiger Lake devices, as we have already seen with Ice Lake. What is new is the “latest generations of display technology,” so you can expect both HDMI 2.1 and Thunderbolt 4 on premium Tiger Lake laptops.
Intel’s Ice Lake CPUs included the greatest collection of hardware fixes for mainstream processors yet seen from Intel, and we fully expected that Tiger Lake would improve upon that with added security features. It is clear that Intel has made changes, however, the details have not been made public. The takeaway seems to be that Tiger Lake is more resilient than earlier CPUs and that disabling these changes actually hurts performance. In other words, you don’t have to choose between security or performance but instead simply run Tiger Lake on default as it is delivered.
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