Core i7 vs. Core i9: Which high-end laptop CPU should you buy?

When you’re shopping for a high-end gaming laptop, one fundamental choice is whether to buy a model with a Core i7 or a Core i9 CPU. The Core i7 CPU is powerful, but the Core i9 is supposed to be the topmost performer, the extreme machine—usually with an upcharge to match.

When you’re focused on the CPU it’s about the performance, and two major factors affect that: the megahertz or clock speed the CPU runs at, and the amount of compute cores it has. In laptops, one more very important constraint is the cooling, which can throw a monkey wrench into it all. 

We’ll help you decide which laptop CPU is best for you, with information about the Core i7 and Core i9 in the last three CPU generations from Intel, and which is likely the better choice for your laptop. Starting with the latest and working our way back…

11th Generation: Core i9 vs. Core i7

Intel’s 11th-generation Tiger Lake H marks one major milestone: Intel finally moves from the same 14nm process formula it’s used for its H-class CPUs since 2015 to its most advanced 10nm SuperFin process. We had been waiting years for this change.

Now that Intel finally has a 10nm performance chip to brag about, a slew of Tiger Lake H laptops have been announced. Some have already trickled out into stores, including the thin, light, and surprisingly affordable Acer Predator Triton 300 SE we’ve already reviewed.

You can see the lineup below. All of the Tiger Lake H chips are 8-core CPUs, another change from prior generations, where core counts helped define the performance expectations from different chips in the same family.

11th gen i9 vs i7 Intel

All of the 11th-generation Intel Tiger Lake H laptop CPUs use a 10nm manufacturing process and have 8 cores. 

The clock differences are sparse, too. The Core i7-11800H tops out at 4.6GHz, while the Core i9-11980HK can hit 5GHz, about an 8.6-percent increase in clock speeds. That’s not bad, but when you consider that both are 8-core CPUs, Core i9 isn’t compelling for most users.

There’s one more case to be made for Core i9, though. The Core i9-11980HK does offer the optional thermal design power (TDP) of 65 watts. That higher TDP is available only on the top-end Core i9, which means in a laptop that can handle the power requirements and cooling, it may indeed offer greater sustained higher clock speeds than a Core i7 version.

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