Intel’s Flagship Laptop Processors Put Up a Fighting Retreat Against Apple’s M1

Flexibility is Intel’s secret weapon

Key Takeaways

  • Intel’s 11th-gen H-Series supports better connectivity and more storage than the competition.
  • Laptops with Intel inside retain an edge in wireless with Wi-Fi 6E support.
  • Apple’s M1 is more efficient, but Intel’s best mobile processors retain a lead in many workloads.
A gaming laptop on a desk with headphones, a mouse, and a game controller nearby.

Intel

Intel’s 11th-gen H-Series mobile processors claim a performance gain of up to 19% over the prior generation, but flexibility, not raw power, takes the spotlight.

The H-Series is Intel’s flagship mobile processor line. But it’s clear that Intel, feeling pressure from AMD and Apple, isn’t confident you’ll buy the H-Series for its performance. The company has shifted its pitch to focus on flexibility, connectivity, and support for the latest Wi-Fi standards.

"Our positioning against Apple’s M1 is very focused on what the PC ecosystem provides, what the H-Series systems provide, that Apple MacBooks based on the M1 can’t provide, from the software ecosystem to system choice, to system diversity," Ryan Shrout, Intel’s chief performance strategist, said during a press Q&A session.

A Port For Every Professional

Intel’s H-Series will offer up to 20 PCIe Gen 4 lanes, up to 44 total PCIe lanes, and Thunderbolt 4. This is somewhat technical, so here’s the short-and-simple: Intel 11th-gen H-Series laptops support more ports and more storage than Apple and AMD systems.

Apple offers just two Thunderbolt ports on the MacBook Air and Pro with the new M1 chip. Connecting an external display, which many professionals and gamers will do, leaves one Thunderbolt port. The 11th-gen H-Series can handle gobs of displays (at least four), while Apple’s M1-powered Macs support one external display.

Dell’s XPS 17 is among 80 new laptops equipped with Intel 11th-gen H-Series.
Dell’s XPS 17 is among 80 new laptops equipped with Intel 11th-gen H-Series.

Dell

"It’s very hard for me to have a professional device with one open port," Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said during a Zoom interview. "That doesn’t work for me, and it doesn’t work for other professionals out there."

You can split a M1 MacBook’s Thunderbolt port with a hub or dock, of course, but not everyone loves dongle life.

Intel Takes the Lead on Wi-Fi 6E

The new H-Series line will have Intel Killer Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi 6E connectivity. This tacks a new 6GHz wireless spectrum to the 2.4GHz and 5GHz options you may already be familiar with. It has an insane theoretical maximum speed of 9.6 Gbps, nearly 10 times quicker than a wired Gigabit Ethernet connection.

Real-world results will be more mundane; few households have an Internet connection with even a fraction of this speed. Still, a laptop with Wi-Fi 6E will offer a boost when connecting to a compatible router.

"Here’s the short-and-simple: Intel 11th-gen H-Series laptops support more ports and more storage than the competition."

I noted in my review of Acer’s Predator Triton 300 SE (which had Intel’s older Killer Wi-Fi AX1650) that the laptop’s Wi-Fi performance was the best I’ve tested in 2021. I’ll have to test the new Killer Wi-Fi in Intel’s 11th-gen H-Series to be sure it lives up to this standard, but I’m bullish on its potential.

AMD offers Wi-Fi 6E compatibility through a module called the AMD RZ608, but it’s so far only found in the Ayaneo, a crowdfunded handheld gaming PC. Apple’s M1-powered laptops don’t support Wi-Fi 6E. Intel is likely to retain an edge in Wi-Fi performance through the remainder of 2021.

What About Performance? It’s Complex

Apple’s M1 chip’s incredible efficiency and the excellent multi-core performance of AMD’s Ryzen 5000 mobile processors have Intel in retreat. Its defense? Flexibility.

Intel has developed a long list of niche performance enhancements. "We’re taking advantage of all the technologies that existed in [prior Intel processors]," said Shrout.

Someone gaming on a laptop powered by an H-Series Intel chip.

Intel

"Some of the deep learning boost capabilities, the GPGPU stuff. All that is applied across content creation workloads." This includes Intel’s Quick Sync video encoder and the bundled AI co-processor, which give Intel hardware a kick in the pants if you’re using software that supports them.

Moorhead thinks Intel has an opposite take on Intel’s strength: raw grunt in a broad range of software. Apple’s M1 performs best when it can use its own encoder enhancements and AI co-processor. When it can’t, Intel H-Series laptops pull ahead thanks to higher core and thread counts.

"What a lot of people don’t understand is that some of the magic to Apple’s prowess in video transcoding is that it’s limited to certain codecs and certain resolutions," said Moorhead. "That’s why professionals use the CPU to do the heavy lifting, to get the highest-level quality in the format that they want, or their customers want."

That may change if Apple releases the rumored M1X or M2 chip, expected later this year with 12 to 16 cores and an optional discrete graphics solution. Until then, shoppers looking for top-tier mobile connectivity and performance will likely stick with Intel’s H-Series.

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