Alder Lake-HX — Intel’s powerful response to Apple M2 chips for laptop CPUs

A response was necessary; perhaps expected too. Intel didn’t have to look too far with the 12th generation Core processors for portables and mobile computing devices. The Alder Lake-HX chips are variations of the processors that are already available for high-performance desktops, code-named Alder Lake-S. As is common with most Intel chip lines, the HX chips will be available in Core i5, Core i7 and Core i9 options, with the Intel Core i9-12900HX being the flagship chip (for now).

This summer’s 12-gen Core processor updates were necessary, even more so after Apple unleashed the (more powerful than the M1) chip called the Apple M2 in the new MacBook Air and the returning MacBook Pro 13. These machines are incredibly powerful, while delivering extended battery stamina, something Intel and AMD powered laptops in the Microsoft Windows ecosystem are struggling to match, in like-for-like form factors.

The simplified specifics of the HX chips — up to 16-cores, depending on which chip you select with your new laptop or portable computing device, divided into 8 performance cores and 8 efficiency cores; increased bandwidth for storage read and write performance; support for up to 128GB RAM as well as ticking off the Wi-Fi 6E capability. Intel claims up to 64% more performance in multi-threaded workloads compared to the previous generation Intel Core HX chip, the Intel Core i9-11980HX.

In fact, that’s the same level of difference that the company claims when this new HX silicon is pitted against the Apple M1 chip (this is last year’s chip) in the MacBook Pro series as well as the AMD Ryzen 9 6900HX chip. “For the first time, the 12th Gen Intel Core HX Series is bringing desktop-class performance to mobile workstations,” says Intel, in a statement shared with HT.

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The 12th gen Alder Lake-HX chips sit at the top of the mobile processor pyramid, which includes the U-series (these top out at 10-cores) and P-series chips for ultraportables as well as the more powerful H-series processors (these go up to 14-cores), the latter being the most powerful in the pre-HX era. That’s changed now.

Having said that, Intel has taken a very different approach to achieve this level of performance from the HX chips. These have 55-watt power consumption, which though would be on the spot for desktop replacing workstations and gaming laptops, is still significantly higher than how Apple managed to extract the M2’s performance at 15-watt power consumption. That’s around 70% less, which makes it more versatile for laptops designed for longer battery life.

This sort of power rating difference shouldn’t be surprising, considering these HX chips have evolved from desktop processors, which by definition are geared more towards performance with power consumption not really considered a limitation. Intel’s less powerful U-series chips (up to 15-watt) do walk down the path of sipping power, but aren’t as powerful as the Apple M2 or indeed the M1.

The Apple M2 has a more modern 5-nanometer architecture, which in turn also dictates power frugality and performance scope. The HX chips have the advantage of higher clock speeds (5GHz compared with 3.4GHz). It is unlikely that we’ll see the 12th generation Intel Core processors Alder Lake-HX chips in extremely thin and light laptops, where the focus tends to be towards extended battery life too.

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