Should You Buy a Kaby Lake G Computer? Here Are the Pros and Cons

The most unlikely crossover since Mr. Spock defeated Wolverine with a Vulcan nerve pinch, the new Kaby Lake G processors promise the best of both worlds: a powerful Intel CPU with integrated AMD Radeon graphics. We just reviewed the first two devices with Kaby Lake G inside — the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the Intel "Hades Canyon" NUC (8i7HVK) mini PC, and found that both provide a mix of strong overall performance and graphics might.

However, these systems do have a couple of drawbacks. The battery life on the XPS 15 2-in-1 (at least for the model with the 4K screen we tested is quite poor, suggesting that Kaby Lake G isn't much more power-efficient than a 2-in-1 with discrete graphics. And both models are quite expensive relative to the competition.

So what are you paying for with Kaby Lake G computers? In a word: size. You can potentially get thinner and lighter laptops with this processor than with the combination of an Intel H series CPU and a discrete GPU, because having both functions on one chip takes up less space.

We haven't heard of any gaming laptops with this CPU, and we probably never will.

Thinner and sleeker

The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is just 0.6 inches thick, which is really slim for any 15-inch laptop, particularly one that has this much power and bends back into tent and tablet modes. Equipped with a powerful, Intel H Series CPU and discrete Nvidia GTX 1050 graphics, Lenovo's Yoga 720 (15-inch) is another 2-in-1 with plenty of graphics might, but it is 0.15 inches thicker, and weighs 0.2 pounds more than, the XPS.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 SizeWeight
XPS 15 2-in-113.9 x 9.2 x 0.6 inches4.35 pounds
Surface Book 213.5 x 9.87 x 0.90 inches4.18 pounds
Yoga 720 15-inch14.3 x 9.5 x 0.75 inches4.55 pounds
MacBook Pro 15-inch13.75 x 9.48 x 0.61 inches4 pounds
Dell XPS 1514.1 x 9.3 x 0.64.6 pounds

The 15-inch Microsoft Surface Book 2, a detachable with much-faster GTX 1060 graphics, weighs 0.17 pounds less than Dell's laptop, but it's also 30-percent thicker. However, you can get a clamshell laptop with discrete graphics that's about as thin as the XPS 15 2-in-1. The XPS 15 clamshell (GTX 1050 graphics) is just 0.66 inches thick, while the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro (Radeon Pro 560 GPU) is just 0.61 inches thick.

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When it comes to desktops, the NUC is in a class by itself. Most mini PCs have integrated graphics, and the few that have discrete chips are larger. At 8.7 x 5.6 x 1.5 inches, Intel's system is much more compact than both the Alienware Alpha (7.9 x 7.9 x 2.2 inches) and the Zotac Magnus ZBox-EN51050U (7.99 x 8.27 x 2.45 inches). Lenovo's Legion Y720 Cube (15.5 x 12.4 x 9.9 inches), which is one of the smallest non-mini PCs around, dwarfs the NUC.

Dell's 2-in-1 even managed to keep pace with a budget gaming laptop that has GTX 1050 Ti graphics.

Great performance for the size

We found that the graphics performance on the XPS 15 2-in-1 was noticeably better than that of a competing laptop with Nvidia GTX 1050 graphics, as it scored 150,257 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark. That's better than the Yoga 720's mark of 119,006 and the XPS 15's score of 134,459. However, the Surface Book 2 and its GTX 1060 card fared even better (162,361).

Dell's 2-in-1 even managed to keep pace with a budget gaming laptop that has GTX 1050 Ti graphics. The Dell Inspiron 15 7567 Gaming scored 123,197 on the same 3DMark test and returned a rate of 49 frames per second on our budget-gaming benchmark, where we run Rise of the Tomb Raider on High settings. The XPS 15 2-in-1 ran the gaming test at a slightly-lower rate of 44 fps. When we pumped the settings up to Very High, both systems choked, but the Inspiron did better, with 22 fps compared with 18 fps for the XPS.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 3DMark Ice Storm UnlimitedBudget Gaming
Surface Book 2 (GTX 1060)162,361(not tested)
XPS 15 2-in-1 (Kaby Lake G)150,25744 fps
Insprion 15 7000 (GTX 1050Ti)123,19749 fps
Yoga 720 15-inch (GTX 1050)119,00639 fps
Category Average82,12239 fps

The NUC also stacks up well against GTX 1050 Ti-powered computers. Intel's mini PC played Hitman (1080p, max settings) at 59 fps, which is about 10-percent faster than the GTX 1050 Ti-powered Legion Y720 Cube (52 fps). Both desktops hit 33 fps on our Grand Theft Auto V test (1080p, max settings).

The Kaby Lake G computers also bested their competitors on a number of processor-intensive tasks. For example, the XPS 15 2-in-1 took just 14 minutes and 20 seconds to transcode a video from 4K to 1080p in HandBrake. That's the fourth-fastest laptop time we've seen, with only the high-end Asus ROG Strix GL702ZC performing significantly better. The Surface Book 2 took about 9 minutes longer to complete this task.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Video Transcoding Time
XPS 15 2-in-114:20
Surface Book 223:00
Category Average22:05

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The NUC scored 17,683 on the Geekbench 4.1 performance test, which is way ahead of the Core i3-7100 powered Legion Y720 (8,110) and the Core i5-7400 powered CyberPowerPC Gamer Xtreme VR (11,791), both of which cost less than $1,000, and even slightly ahead of the $1,599 Zotac Mek1 and its Core i7-7700 CPU (16,599).

You'll pay for that

If all you want is raw performance with any size chassis, you can get it for less than the cost of a Kaby Lake G-powered computer. You won't find a more powerful 2-in-1 for less money than the XPS 15 2-in-1, but you can get graphics performance that's almost as strong from the Lenovo Yoga 720, which starts at just $999 and costs $1,499 when configured with a 4K display, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.

If you're willing to consider a gaming laptop, you can get a lot more graphics performance for well under $1,500. The PowerSpec 1510 comes with a screaming-fast GTX 1070 GPU and costs just $1,299, but it weighs 2.2 pounds more than Dell's convertible and doesn't have the same stunning screen or gorgeous design.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Starting PriceGPU
Lenovo Yoga 720$999Nvidia GTX 1050
Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming (7567)$799Nvidia GTX 1050Ti
PowerSpec 1510$1,299Nvidia GTX 1070
Dell XPS 15 2-in-1$1,499Kaby Lake G (integrated Radeon)
Microsoft Surface Book 2$2,499Nvidia GTX 1060

The XPS 15 2-in-1 starts at $1,499 with a 1080p screen, 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM, and jumps all the way up to $2,549 when you get the 4K display and 1TB SSD. If you're willing to spend $2,500 or more, you'll get better performance from the 15-inch Surface Book 2, which starts at $2,499 with a 256GB SSD but jumps to $3,299 if you want 1TB of storage.

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With the NUC, you're paying a hefty premium for its small size. Withs its overclockable Core i7-8009G CPU, Intel's mini PC costs $999 and comes without a storage drive, RAM or an operating system. By the time you pay for all those things, the price jumps to around $1,400. By comparison, you can get the Legion Y720 Cube with a more powerful GTX 1060 card and a Core i7 GPU for $1,249.

Running short

We expected better battery life from Kaby Lake G than we saw on the XPS 15 2-in-1. Running the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi, the laptop died after just 6 hours and 28 minutes, more than 2 hours below the premium-laptop category average and 5 hours less than the Surface Book 2 (11:34).

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Battery Life
XPS 15 2-in-16:28
Surface Book 211:34
Category Average8:48

In theory, a laptop with Kaby Lake G has a battery-life advantage, because integrated graphics are more power-efficient than discrete cards. In addition, Kaby Lake G is programmed to switch back and forth between its Radeon graphics and a separate Intel HD GPU that uses even less power. Apparently, this did not help the XPS 15 2-in-1 much.

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To be fair, our XPS 15 review unit had a 4K screen, which probably gulps a lot more juice than the 1080p panel you get on the base model. But the Surface Book 2 also has a high-res screen (3240 x 2160), and it weighs 0.2 pounds less than the XPS.

What are you paying for with Kaby Lake G computers? In a word: size.

Bottom line

There's a reason the only two laptops thus far with Kaby Lake G are the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the upcoming HP Spectre x360 (15-inch). They are premium 2-in-1s targeted at consumers with deep pockets and a thirst for thinness.

We haven't heard of any gaming laptops with this CPU, and we probably never will. Manufacturers are waiting for Intel's next-generation "Coffee Lake" processors before they release their next-gen mobile gaming rigs. We'll see these chips paired with discrete graphics from Nvidia and AMD, and combined, those should offer stronger performance than Kaby Lake G.

The real strength of Kaby Lake G is its ability to fit into narrow spaces. If manufacturers can find a way to use it in sub-$1,000 laptops, then you may see much larger adoption, but for now, the platform remains limited to a handful of expensive systems.

"[Kaby Lake G] seems more focused on [the] premium and early-adopter market," Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD, told me.  

Creative professionals who want more performance can get it from other devices with discrete graphics, including the Surface Book 2. Gamers will be looking for a laptop with stronger graphics and the kind of keyboard and screen they need to play high-end titles. And business travelers will want longer battery life.

That leaves a small niche of people who can spend more than $1,000 but don't need top performance for work or play. However, if you're in that niche, Kaby Lake G has a lot to offer.

Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag

Avram Piltch
Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.