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CheckMag | Forget the Ultra 7: MSI Claw will be best with the Core Ultra 5 135H

The MSI Claw A1M will be the first gaming handheld may be at its best with a mid-tier Intel Core Ultra processor. (Image source: Notebookcheck Reviews on YouTube)
The MSI Claw A1M will be the first gaming handheld may be at its best with a mid-tier Intel Core Ultra processor. (Image source: Notebookcheck Reviews on YouTube)
MSI was right to go to Intel for the Claw A1M, but the Core Ultra 7 155H isn't the right move. The Core Ultra 5 135H has a trick up its sleeve — a top-end iGPU combined with a more efficient mid-range CPU.
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The gaming handheld scene has largely been dominated by AMD, thanks to CPUs like the AMD Ryzen 7 7840U, and AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme with their Radeon 780M iGPUs. With the release of Meteor Lake, however, Intel looks to be shaking things up in the handheld space, starting with the MSI Claw A1M

While devices like the Asus ROG Ally (curr. $699.99 at Best Buy) and Lenovo Legion Go (curr. $699.99 on Amazon) are only at their best with the top-end Ryzen Z1 Extreme CPU with its Radeon 780M iGPU, Intel's Core Ultra CPU line-up gives handheld makers and gamers a bit more flexibility. Now, you can get the most capable graphics processor — the 8-Core Intel Arc iGPU — paired with a mid-range CPU. Mid-range gaming rigs have long opted for mid-tier processors instead of the more expensive flagship tier because of how little performance gain there is in a more powerful CPU. For a device like the MSI Claw A1M, however, there is the added benefit of increased efficiency, and potentially battery life, over the higher core count and higher performance Core Ultra 7 CPU.

Compared to the Intel Core Ultra 7 155H, the Core Ultra 5 135H has two fewer performance cores — four P-cores on the Ultra 5 and six P-cores on the Ultra 7 — but the same eight Efficient-cores and two Low Power Efficient-cores. Despite lacking two P-cores, the Ultra 5 and Ultra 7 are not that different, after all.

For starters, both CPUs have identical power specifications, at up to 65 W with a 155 W maximum, while the P-cores in the Core Ultra 5 only top out 200 MHz less than its Core Ultra 7 stable-mate. That said, the P-cores in the Ultra 5 also have a 300 MHz higher base frequency than those of the Ultra 7, clocking in at 1.7 GHz instead of 1.4 GHz. This means that, when power-constrained, the Core Ultra 5 135H should be just as capable, if not more capable, than the Core Ultra 7 155H in single- or lightly-threaded applications — gaming often falls under this umbrella.

Having the same iGPU and power envelope as the Core Ultra 7 155H with fewer CPU cores makes the Core Ultra 5 135H an ideal candidate for graphics-heavy workloads, like gaming — especially in a handheld device where high frame rates are unlikely to cause a CPU bottleneck. In a handheld form factor, though, neither CPU will likely ever reach that 65 W peak. That's where the lower core count of the Core Ultra 5 135H comes in handy. Having fewer cores means that each core can theoretically run at higher clock speeds with lower power consumption.

In addition, with fewer cores active, more of the CPUs overall power budget can be dedicated to the iGPU. This can theoretically even be forced on the Core Ultra 7 155H by using a tool like CoreDirector to disable E-cores, but doing so in silicon is likely more effective. Running fewer cores should result in higher efficiency and perhaps even an up-tick in graphical performance, thanks to the higher power budget. 

A four-core CPU with Hyper-Threading is also closer to the efficient CPU package found in the Steam Deck, but the 8-Core Arc iGPU found in the Core Ultra 5 135H is leaps and bounds ahead of the custom GPU in the Steam Deck. The Arc iGPU even out-performs the Radeon 780M in most of our tests, so letting the iGPU run unconstrained will likely yield impressive results.

What remains to be seen, though, is how Intel and MSI manage the power consumption of the Intel Core Ultra CPUs and their punchy iGPUs. As long as the pair give users tools and freedom to adjust settings, like TPD, on-the-fly, the Claw A1M with the Intel Core Ultra 5 135H could be the best bang-for-the-buck version of MSI's handheld with a solid balance between battery life and performance.


Intel (1, 2), MSI

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> Expert Reviews and News on Laptops, Smartphones and Tech Innovations > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2024 02 > Forget the Ultra 7: MSI Claw will be best with the Core Ultra 5 135H
Julian van der Merwe, 2024-02- 9 (Update: 2024-02-10)