We Benchmarked Tiger Lake – Core i7-1185G7 Performance Preview

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We are taking a bit of a break from our wall-to-wall RTX 3080 content to bring you something a little bit different. A few weeks ago Intel announced their upcoming Tiger Lake processor designs that will be rolled into thin-and-light notebooks a bit later this year. Many things used in Tiger Lake will eventually make their way into desktops too, for example a Willow Cove cores will provide a foundation for future desktop CPU designs, and the XE graphics engine will be expanded into a discrete graphics card. We have actually done a ‘explain’ article, so if you’re interested you can check that out right here.

Pre-Production Sample

Anyways when Intel announced Tiger Lake to the world, they ended up making a whole lot of big claims about how it lined up with AMD’s Ryzen 4000 series. Considering how far behind Ice Lake was this suggested that Intel might have fixed a lot of its performance issues in a single generation. The only thing left was to prove it. After seeing what they said during the live stream we had a lot of questions, concerns, a lot of skepticism. Basically, we wanted them to back up those claims with hard numbers that we could validate firsthand. And guess what? They responded by giving us an early pre-production notebook from one of Intel’s partners that has a Tiger Lake CPU installed. And if you look close enough, I’m pretty sure you can tell which one partner this unit is from. The only big change is some Intel branding on the lid, so the actual manufacturer isn’t so obvious. To be honest with you, when this thing showed up I was almost tempted to send it back because usually this sort of stuff comes with a bunch of restrictions that you are not allowed to show or share with your audience. The last thing that we want is to come up with a content piece that is just an Intel fluff material with limited tests run on it.

Thankfully that didn’t happen because Intel told us to run any benchmark, any game, any application, basically the sky is the limit, which is awesome. However, there were a few other restrictions. The first thing is that we can’t show you what’s inside this notebook, because it’s a partner pre-production sample and they just don’t want to get give away any engineering secrets. The second thing is that battery life can’t be tested, because as I mentioned earlier this is a pre-production unit and the battery capacity is smaller than the usual size that you get with other thin-and-light notebooks. Other than that, no strings attached, and I’m pretty cool with that.

Another thing I need to mention is the drivers for the platform and GPU are still in beta phase, and so are the BIOS optimizations as well. A lot of companies try to avoid setting poor expectations early on, so they tend to keep the early samples under wrap until final devices roll out. But this time Intel and their partner had the courage and the confidence to send this out now, a few weeks before it even hits the market. Now for complete transparency this machine was preloaded with a bunch of handy scripts that run real world workloads in applications like a Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, Gigapixel, and a few others. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to validate their accuracy, so we just ended up using our usual benchmark suite and a few others that we are currently on working on as well.

The Specs

That brings us to specs, but first a quick refresh on the Tiger Lake lineup. Basically it looks a lot like Ice Lake did with CPU starting at 2 cores and 4 threads all the way up to the Core i7-1185G7, which has 4 cores and 8 threads. That means AMD will still have the edge in raw core counts would be Ryzen 4800U. Meanwhile, the 4700U will probably have a slight performance edge when operating in a similar power envelope, since its 8 physical course will scale better than Intel’s hyper-threaded ones. Three things that have improved on the processor side are frequency ranges and supported memory, which is now up to 4266 MT/s if a notebook uses LPDDR4X. The last thing is the Xe graphics engine, which is completely new from the previous generation, and it now features up to 50% more execution units (EUs).

Those higher clock speeds are exactly what last gen processors needed since in most situations they just couldn’t compete all that well. Now there is a leap forward that should take performance to another level versus Ice Lake, but given how poorly those CPU performed that isn’t much of a compliment. One thing I wanted to focus a bit more is on the power range. One of the main challenges with benchmarking notebook processors is the way they are implemented in devices. Unlike desktop parts where you could have it installed in any system and expect pretty similar performance. In the mobile market companies actually choose a CPU and then determine its power limit based on a bunch of different design factors like cooling, surface temperatures, and even the notebook size. A CPU that has access to wattage will obviously perform slower, while one running at a higher wattage will be able to sustain higher clock speeds. What this means is that if you have an identical processor installed on two different notebooks, they are going to perform very differently from one another.

In Tiger Lake’s case, there are two ranges depending on the processor, either 15W to 28W or 7W to 15W. The notebook that we have comes with a Core i7-1185G7, 16GB of LPDDR4X memory operating at DDR4-4266, and a 1TB Samsung PM981a NVMe SSD. This is basically what you would expect to find in a high-end ultrabook. We are also able to test different wattages since the power plans on this notebook have been set to run at about 28W when in balanced mode while, battery saver limits the CPU to just 15W. This should give you an idea of how the i7-1185G7 performs in a lot of different designs. There is another mode called high performance that enables Intel’s Dynamic Tuning algorithm, and what this does is push the power to 35W in certain usage scenarios provided the CPU has enough temperature headroom.

The Competition

Before I get into the benchmarks, I do want to emphasize one more time that you need to take all these numbers with a grain of salt. The results will be accurate for this very early production sample, but just like the production units performance will be different from one design to another. So take this as more of a rough guidance of where the i7-1185G7 at 28W and 15W will probably stand once production notebooks are launched with the final drivers and BIOSes. We are also comparing it to a few other notebooks like the Dell XPS 13 (2020) that has a previous gen Ice Lake Core i7-1065G7 operating at 25W, the ASUS Zenbook 14 that has a Ryzen 4700U, and finally there is the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7 with a Ryzen 4800U that operates at 35W in extreme performance mode. It just arrived a few days ago, so that should be an interesting comparison to Intel’s 35W mode. You can also expect a review of that notebook in the future.

Synthetic Benchmarks

We are starting off with Cinebench, and right away it’s evident that Tiger Lake is a huge generational leap forward compared to Ice Lake. Also, there is just no way Tiger Lake would have beat AMD in a purely multi-threaded workload, so that was a foregone conclusion. Then again, the 35W setting does give it an extra boost. Single core and lightly threaded benchmarks are where the i7-1185G7 likes to play, and considering Ice Lake was a step back in this regard Intel needed to nail this metric. Based on our results that is what they did. That is the last set of synthetic results because the main focus of our notebook reviews lately has become real world testing.

Real World Benchmarks

Starting with Blender, and again the performance improvements versus Ice Lake are really evident here. We are talking about a good 30% improvement and even the 15W setting nets results are equal to a 25W Ice Lake CPU. Photo editing is pretty equal across the board, but the 15W setting does cause the i7-1185G7 to fall behind, while the 28W and 35W specs are the fastest ULV processors we have seen in this program so far. Meanwhile, WinRAR sees the new Tiger Lake CPU beating the 16 thread Ryzen 7 4800U by a really slim margin. The performance of that 15W spec shows just how far behind Ice Lake really was, even at 25W.

In more general usage cases, the i7-1185G7 really starts to shine since it can take advantage of high clock speeds in lightly threaded scenarios. Excel is a great example of that, and at both wattage settings it really puts the screws to everything else in this test. The same thing goes for Microsoft Word where our chart pasting test of a large Excel chart represents a real world scenario that a lot of you could probably relate to. Tiger Lake’s dominance is pretty clear in this situation, though all of Intel CPUs tend to do well here. In the PowerPoint test we take a document with 20 Hardware Canucks sales kits, which are loaded with images, and then export them from PowerPoint to a PDF document at a compressed resolution. And yes, you probably guessed the results before seeing them. One thing that was really surprising was how poorly Ice Lake did here, but that’s likely due to its really low clock speeds. Overall though, it’s clear that Tiger Lake is a winner in the productivity department.

MatLab’s is a program that is widely used in science and engineering fields, along with classrooms all over the world. That means ultraportable notebooks need to deliver a good performance in that application. Once again the i7-1185G7 does really, really well here, which is likely due to a combination of clock speeds and optimizations built into this app. Transcoding is another multi-core test and Tiger Lake actually falls really far behind, even far behind the 4700U. We are not sure what’s going on here, but AMD is pretty dominant. On the other hand, this doesn’t take into account the hardware acceleration AMD has through VCE or Intel does through QuickSync or Handbrake. We are going to add that in upcoming reviews, but the test wasn’t ready in time for this one.

Now the chances of someone using Adobe Premiere on an ultrabook notebook is pretty slim, but it’s still nice to have the option if you need to do some quick video editing on-the-fly. In this workload Intel’s QuickSync is able to step in and really accelerate render times. AMD on the other hand has shockingly bad results since even with the new Premiere 14.2 and later updates the integrated graphics never really kicks in on the U-series chips during any of the H.264 or H.265 renders we test. AMD is aware of the issue and they are supposedly looking into it.

Gaming Benchmarks

Now onto gaming performance, and a lot of you might be thinking who games on a thin-and-light notebook? Fair enough, but I think a better question is why not? Because if a super portable notebook can provide decent frame rates in some basic games that’s great and we should be celebrating that. Remember that these new Tiger Lake CPUs feature the brand new Xe GPU architecture, and the performance it gives even with super early drivers is pretty mind blowing for an ultrabook. The Iris XE with 96 execution units (EUs) actually manages to either beat or match the AMD 4000U new series, even though it’s 1% lows are a bit all over the place right now. Not only that, but it blows Ice Lake out of the water. The only real hiccup came in with Rainbow 6 Siege, where it used to run pretty well but something in the latest game update caused crashing. Intel says that they know what the problem is and they expect to fix it before these systems launch.

Conclusion

Well based on the above results it looks like Tiger Lake is two steps forward for Intel, because Ice Lake caused them to take a step back. Intel has now placed themselves in a much more competitive position in the thin-and-light market. Now of course there are tons of questions swirling around how final devices will perform and most importantly battery life, but it looks like Tiger Lake can spank Ice Lake pretty good. It also performs way better than the Ryzen U-series, especially when it comes to lightly thread applications. This is important considering those apps are the ones that are being used by the majority of users. Now on the professional side, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but there is lots of progress too. A 35W Tiger Lake still has trouble matching a Ryzen 4700U set to 25W in heavy multithread applications. That shows how well AMD has done with their 7nm architecture, and if they ever get around to fixing their drivers for Premiere acceleration Intel will have a battle on their hands there as well.

There are some warnings for AMD though, specifically on the GPU side since they are now getting beat in an area where they dominated. Intel sunk a ton of money into their graphics architecture, and it’s starting to show even with very early drivers. While Zen 3 may have Navi graphics, their slow rollout of new GPU architectures has allowed Intel to catch up. I guess I will be waiting for the final notebooks to start showing up, but until that point I’m pretty excited about what Intel has revealed with Tiger Lake in this performance preview. Honestly, it’s going to be an interesting rest of the year, especially in the notebook side. Let me know what you think about Tiger Lake, and are you impressed with its performance? I’m really curious to know.