Intel's 11th-gen H-series CPUs are made for ultraportable gaming laptops

They're finally 10nm and come with a slew of new features.

Intel's Tiger Lake prototype notebook. (Devindra Hardawar/Engadget)

Historically, Intel’s H-series laptop chips have been meant for beefy gaming and workhorse PCs. That’s in contrast to its U-series CPUs, which are aimed at efficient ultraportables. Putting an H-series chip into a thin and light notebook would normally be a thermal nightmare. But this year, Intel is taking a different approach with its 11th-gen H-series laptop CPUs. The first batch of chips we’re seeing are actually meant for ultraportable gaming laptops that dip below four pounds. Even better, they can hit up to 5GHz and offer a 15 percent speed bump over the 10th-gen i7 H-series, all while squeezing into cases measuring as thin as 16mm.

And unlike last year’s chips, which were stuck on an aging 14nm process, the 11th-gen H-series feature Intel’s new 10nm SuperFin architecture. That’s likely a major reason why the company is able to get them into thin computers, since a smaller manufacturing process is inherently more efficient. In comparison, AMD’s Ryzen 4000 chips from last year feature a similar 7nm architecture, allowing them to fit into thin and light gaming notebooks like the ASUS Zephyrus G14. As much as Intel wants to highlight ultraportable gaming laptops this year, AMD made them happen first in 2020.

AMD still also has a lead too, as it was able to produce eight-core 7nm laptop chips last year, whereas this first batch of 11th-gen H-series CPUs will top out at just four cores. While that’s disappointing for multi-threaded performance, that matters less for games, which benefit more from stronger single-threaded speeds. These H-series chips — referred to as H35 by Intel due to their 35-watt thermal design profile —will be led by the Special Edition Core i7-11375H, which the company claims offers its fastest single-threaded performance yet. It matches the previous generation H-series chip, which ran at a higher 45-watt TDP. If true, that’s a striking example of how much Intel has accomplished by finally delivering more powerful 10nm laptop CPUs.

Intel also claims the i7-11375H is 30 percent faster than AMD’s 45-watt 4900H 35-watt 4800HS when it comes to single-threaded speeds. But of course, it’s also trying to make you forget how much faster those AMD chips will be for multithreaded tasks, since they have twice as many CPU cores. Intel is also stepping up its graphics tech, as the new H-series hardware will come with the company’s Xe-LP graphics. Last year’s H-series chips were stuck with slow Intel UHD graphics. Intel claims the new GPUs will be able to run 1080p games beyond 70fps and 4K titles “smoothly” (I’d wager that just means they were above 30fps).

Sure, these CPUs will most likely be paired up with dedicated graphics cards, but it’s still useful to have some decently capable integrated graphics. The less your laptop needs to use a dedicated GPU, the more battery life you’ll have. Additionally, the new H-series will also feature PCIe 4.0, allowing for faster storage speeds, as well as speedier DDR4 3200 and LPDDR4/x 4266 memory.

While it’s disappointing that these H-series chips will top out at four cores, Intel says faster eight-core offerings are coming later this quarter with “desktop caliber” performance. You’ll probably want to wait for those CPUs if you need stronger multithreaded performance for things like video encoding and 3D rendering. But of course, those machines will likely be as chunky as previous H-series hardware. For many, a quad-core chip may work out just fine if they just want to play games on an ultraportable notebook.