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Intel unveils Alder Lake laptop chips — with power to rival Apple M1 Max

Intel Alder Lake mobile CPU promo image
(Image credit: Intel)

Intel unveiled its first batch of Alder Lake mobile CPUs at CES 2022 this week, and the company claims at least one of them can deliver performance to rival Apple's M1 Max chip.

That's a significant claim because Intel's long reign as top dog of the CPU market (fiercely contested by AMD) was undercut last year by the remarkable performance and efficiency of Apple's bespoke silicon. The M1 Max (and its smaller sibling the M1 Pro) helped Apple's 2021 MacBook Pro outperform the lion's share of Windows laptops we've tested, most of which were packing Intel's 11th Gen Tiger Lake CPUs. 

Intel released a handful of Alder Lake CPUs late last year, but they were desktop chips; we've had to wait until now to get an idea of the power Alder Lake mobile CPUs will deliver when they start showing up in laptops this year. 

These chips are especially exciting because they're built on a hybrid architecture. That means they have a set of high-powered performance cores and a group of weaker, high-efficiency cores on each chip, governed by a new embedded microcontroller called the Intel Thread Director which aims to intelligently manage workflows across all cores for optimal performance.

Apple silicon like the M1 Pro and M1 Max rely on a similar hybrid architecture of high-performance and high-efficiency CPU cores on a single chip. In fact, Apple takes things a step further by putting a multi-core GPU on the same chip, and letting both CPU and GPU access the same shared unified memory pool.

Intel Alder Lake laptop CPU specs
ProcessorCoresThreadsL3 CacheMax Intel Turbo Boost clock speed (all cores) Base Power
Core i9-12900HK14 (6P + 8E)2024MB5.0 GHz45W
Core i9-12900H14 (6P + 8E)2024MB5.0 GHz45W
Core i7-12800H14 (6P + 8E)2024MB4.8 GHz45W
Core i7-12700H14 (6P + 8E)2024MB4.7 GHz45W
Core i7-12650K10 (6P + 4E)1624MB4.7 GHz45W
Core i5-12600H12 (4P + 8E)1618MB4.5 GHz45W
Core i5-12500H12 (4P + 8E)1618MB4.5 GHz45W
Core i5-12450H8 (4P + 4E)1212MB4.4 GHz45W

The star of Intel's showing today is the Core i9-12900HK CPU. With 14 cores (6 performance and 8 efficiency) capable of achieving max clock speeds of 5.0 GHz, it's the most performant laptop chip in the Alder Lake lineup. According to Intel it delivers up to 28% better gaming performance and up to 40% faster speeds overall than its Tiger Lake predecessor, the Intel Core i9-11980HK.

Intel also makes the more provocative claim that the Core i9-12900HK is faster than Apple's M1 Max, the current top dog in the world of Apple silicon. The company is basing that on both Apple's public statements and internal performance benchmarks conducted using a 16-inch 2021 MacBook Pro sporting an M1 Max chip and 64GB of RAM, though it's unclear which model of M1 Max (and therefore, how many cores it has) was tested.

(Image credit: Intel)

If that claim proves true, it will mean Intel is really back in the fight to be top dog of the laptop CPU market after being shown up by the performance of Apple silicon in 2021. When we tested the 2021 MacBook Pros packing M1 Pro and M1 Max chips we were blown away by their speed and battery efficiency, so these new Intel Alder Lake laptop CPUs have some stiff competition.

Of course, we'll have to wait until we get some Alder Lake Windows laptops in for testing before we can say whether Intel delivers on its claim. We won't have to wait long: the first Alder Lake laptops are slated to start hitting the market next month (February 2022) from companies like Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo. So keep an eye out for our reviews of those products, and stay tuned to our CES 2022 live blog for all the most important news out of this year's show!

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. He currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.