We have concerns about the 9th gen Intel Core i9-9880H and i9-9980HK
Intel 9th gen CPUs are finally here for gaming laptops to succeed the 8th gen Coffee Lake-H series. Whereas the last generation included just a single unlocked Core i9-8950HK option, this latest generation splits the mobile Core i9 series to include the locked Core i9-9880H and unlocked Core i9-9980HK.
The problem with this approach isn't the gen-to-gen performance upgrade over Coffee Lake-H as these 9th gen Core i9 CPUs will have eight physical cores compared to "only" six on the i9-8950HK. We're expecting a reasonable multi-thread performance boost when compared to Coffee Lake-H as a result. Instead, we're concerned about the inevitably narrow performance delta between the i9-9880H and i9-9980HK. The base/boost clock rates for these two CPUs sit at 2.3/4.8 GHz and 2.4/5.0 GHz, respectively, to suggest a raw performance benefit of just a few percentage points on average. The unlocked i9-9980HK can potentially run faster after end-user tinkering, but we find this to be very unlikely based on our experience with 8th gen Coffee Lake-H Core i9 laptops. These processors were already running at well over 90 C when under heavy utilization and so the unlocked multiplier had almost no headroom for squeezing out additional performance.
Since the 9th gen Core i9 series will operate under the same 45 W TDP envelope and at the same 14 nm manufacturing node as its Coffee Lake-H Core i9 predecessor, offering two 9th gen Core i9 options seems unnecessary and ultimately confusing for consumers especially when current trends suggest a very narrow performance gap between them.
Of course, we hope we'll be wrong and perhaps the Core i9-9980HK can surprise us with a very large performance benefit over the i9-9880H. We'll be putting this to the test on a variety of flagship laptops with 9th gen Core i9 CPUs in the coming months before formulating a fair conclusion. The large Asus ROG G703, for example, will be one of the first laptops shipping with the unlocked Core i9-9980HK.