With Intel rolling out its Core i9 processors in more and more systems, how necessary is it for you to splurge on this top-of-the-line CPU? If you're shopping for a new laptop, how do you choose between a laptop with a Core i9 and one with a Core i7? And most importantly, is the price difference worth the performance boost?
To help you better understand the differences, we called in two nearly identical MSI GT75 Titan 8RG laptops (1080p | 16GB | 1TB HDD) to test. The only difference between them was their processors, an Intel Core i7-8850H and Core i9-8950HK. These are both 8th Gen CPUs from Intel's Coffee Lake series, which basically means they're the most recent iterations at the time of publication.
Core i7 vs. Core i9: Benchmark Results
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Core i7||Core i9||Core i9 Overclocked||Premium Gaming Laptop Average|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider||71 fps||80 fps||71 fps||60 fps|
|Hitman||95 fps||107 fps||107 fps||89 fps|
|Grand Theft Auto V||83.6 fps||84 fps||84 fps||74 fps|
The Differences and Price Delta
There isn't huge gap between the Intel Core i7-8850H and Core i9-8950HK, as they're both hexa-core processors that can process 12 threads at a time. However, the Core i9's clock speed is slightly faster, and it's overclockable (indicated by the "HK"), at 2.9 GHz or 4.8 GHz with Max Turbo, as opposed to the Core i7's 2.6 GHz or 4.3 GHz with Max Turbo. The Core i7 can store only 9MB of cache, whereas the Core i9 can hold 12MB. The SmartCache basically allows the processor to remember certain functions that you use regularly and execute them at a faster speed.
While there isn't that much change on the surface, the cost difference is considerable. The current prices for our two test models are $2,799 for the Core i7 and $3,299 for the Core i9, which is a $500 difference. When configuring an Alienware 15 R4, the cost to upgrade from a Core i7-8750H to an i9-8950HK is a staggering $600, but on Origin PC's newest EVO17-S, the same upgrade costs $390.
On the Geekbench 4 test, which is a synthetic benchmark that measures the overall performance of each of the core's speeds as well as the memory, the GT75 Titan 8RG's Core i7 scored a 17,639, which is under the 18,709 premium gaming laptop average. Meanwhile, the Core i9 version nailed a 19,516, making it 9.4 percent faster than the Core i7. And when you overclock the Core i9, it outputs 21,204, which is a 16.8 percent increase over the Core i7.
The HandBrake benchmark tests how long it takes a machine to transcode a 6.27GB, 12-minute and 30-second 4K video to 1080p. The Core i7 took a solid 9 minutes and 6 seconds, beating the 9:58 category average, but the Core i9 did the task in 8 minutes and 31 seconds. That's a 35-second gap from the Core i7, or a 6.4 percent difference. But when we overclocked the Core i9, the notebook finished the test in 8:23, widening the gap to 9.2 percent from the Core i7.
Our Excel test requires each laptop to match 65,000 names to their corresponding addresses. The MSI laptop with the Core i7 CPU surpassed the 0:43 category average, at 36 seconds, and the Core i9 was slightly faster, at 33 seconds. That 3-second difference equates to an 8.3 percent improvement. The overclocked Core i9 does the task even 1 second faster than that, at 0:32, which is an 11.1 percent increase.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
With both of our GT75 Titan 8RG laptops packing Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPUs with 8GB of VRAM, we were surprised to see some differences when we put each machine through some gaming benchmarks. On the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark on Very High and 1080p, the Core i7 averaged 71 frames per second, surpassing the 60-fps premium gaming laptop average.
Meanwhile, the Core i9 model hit 80 fps, essentially running 10.1 percent better on a Core i9. However, when we overclocked the Core i9, we found frame rates similar to those of the Core i7, at 71 fps.
On the Hitman benchmark, which we tested on Ultra and 1080p settings with DirectX 12 enabled (which allows for more visual effects), the Core i7 registered a smooth 95 fps, slightly passing the 89-fps category average. Meanwhile, the Core i9's performance was faster by 11.2 percent, with an output of 107 fps, and overclocking it produced the same frame rates.
Grand Theft Auto V
The Grand Theft Auto V benchmark (Very High, 1080p) told a different story, however, as the Core i7 and Core i9 were practically indistinguishable. Technically, the Core i9 (84 fps) ran this benchmark better than the Core i7 (83.6 fps) by 0.4 frames, but that's a mere 0.5 percent difference. Overclocking the Core i9 made no difference, with the machine also outputting 84 fps at that setting. However, they all beat the 74-fps category average.
Which One to Get?
The Core i9-8950HK is quite the beast, dominating every test laid before it. And overclocking this chip makes the gap even more impressive, with the CPU surpassing the Core i7-8850H by 17 percent on raw performance and nearly 10 percent in video-editing performance. However, we didn't see a dramatic difference in gaming frame rates, especially between standard Core i9 and overclocking.
If you work in an industry in which you're constantly working on 3D modeling, video editing or other highly taxing programs, spending more on a Core i9 may be worth it, because that will bring a quality-of-life improvement for your livelihood. However, if you're a casual user or even a serious gamer, you could better spend that $500 upgrading your graphics card or storage or opting for a vivid 4K display.
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Rami Tabari is an Editor for Laptop Mag. He reviews every shape and form of a laptop as well as all sorts of cool tech. You can find him sitting at his desk surrounded by a hoarder's dream of laptops, and when he navigates his way out to civilization, you can catch him watching really bad anime or playing some kind of painfully difficult game. He’s the best at every game and he just doesn’t lose. That’s why you’ll occasionally catch his byline attached to the latest Souls-like challenge.