Intel Tiger Lake hands-on: A solid GPU upgrade for ultraportables

We put the latest silicon through its paces.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Intel is making some big promises with its new Tiger Lake CPUs. The company claims you'll see CPU speeds around 20 percent faster than the previous generation. And in some cases, its graphics performance is twice as fast. But until we get our hands on an actual Tiger Lake system, it's hard to tell if Intel’s promises will play out in the real world.

So, as we wait for PC makers to ready their new notebooks, Intel sent along the next best thing: A pre-production reference laptop equipped with the fastest Tiger Lake CPU, the quad-core i7-1185G7. It also has the company's most powerful Xe graphics with 96 EUs (execution units), along with 32GB of RAM and a speedy 1TB NVMe SSD.

Reference device aside, these are the sorts of specs we will eventually see in popular ultraportables like the XPS 13 and ASUS ZenBook lineup, so I figured it was worth taking an early look. While I was encouraged to benchmark the reference notebook, it's still a very early model, so I couldn't run any battery tests or take any photos of the interior. The system didn't feel like a prototype though, with a sleek metal case and fetching design accents. It weighs around 3 pounds and features a (very bright) 14-inch 1080p touchscreen.

Geekbench 5 CPU

PC Mark 10

3DMark (Sky Diver)

ATTO (top reads/writes)

Intel Tiger Lake Reference PC (Core i7-1185G7, Intel Xe)




3.2 GB/s / 2.7 GB/s

Dell XPS 15 (2020, Core i7-10875H, NVIDA GTX 1650 Ti)




3 GB/s / 2.4 GB/s

ASUS ZenBook Duo (Core i7-10510U, NVIDIA GeForce MX250)




1.6 GB/s / 1.62 GB/s

Dell XPS 13 (2020, Core i7-1065G7, Iris Plus)




2.7 GB/s / 1 GB/s

I booted up the 3DMark benchmark first because I was eager to see Intel's most powerful Xe graphics in action. And it didn't waste any time impressing me. In the Sky Diver benchmark, it scored 14,684, which was over 2,000 points faster than Dell's XPS 15 running the Core i7-8750H CPU and NVIDIA's GTX 1650 Ti dedicated GPU. Not bad Intel!

If this reference laptop were actually shipping, it'd compete directly against a system like the XPS 13, which it also trounced in Skydiver. The XPS 13 clocked in at 9,502 points while running last year's Core i7-1065G7 CPU with Iris Plus integrated graphics. Once I saw that 5,000 point difference with Intel's Tiger Lake system, I actually re-ran the 3DMark benchmark several times to confirm the high score. Every result was well over 14,000. On the graphics front, Tiger Lake is clearly a beast.

I also noticed that while playing Overwatch in 1080p, with low graphics settings, I saw between 50 and 70 frames per second. That's more than fast enough for smooth (and dare I say, enjoyable) gameplay. In comparison, last year's fastest Ice Lake CPUs -- which were already a big leap over Intel's previous integrated graphics -- typically saw around 40 to 50 FPS. The Tiger Lake system even managed 45 to 70 FPS with medium graphics settings. Personally, I'd take the slight hit there for a more lush environment. On the high setting, it eked out 30 to 60FPS -- an impressive feat, but a bit too choppy to be playable. The big takeaway? You can expect to play plenty of demanding games without the need for a dedicated GPU.

Intel Tiger Lake reference PC

I was similarly impressed by how well the Tiger Lake system handled PCMark 10. It scored 5,316 points, whereas this year's XPS 13 benched 4,005. That's a notable improvement, and it's the sort of speed increase you may actually notice during everyday computing. I was also surprised that the Tiger Lake system also had a 1,000 point lead over the XPS 15, which was running a powerful six-core H-series CPU. Those processors typically wallop chips meant for slim ultraportables, let alone a quad-core model.

I don't want to throw too much praise on a reference system, especially since it’s not something the public will ever see. But it's hard not to get excited after seeing scores like these. Geekbench 5 also showed some significant gains over the XPS 13, and the Tiger Lake notebook even managed to outdo the XPS 15's single-core result. And thanks to the strength of its Xe graphics, it scored around three times higher than the XPS 13 in the Geekbench 5 OpenCL Compute benchmark.

Still, the Tiger Lake system couldn't hold a candle to dedicated GPUs on that test: the XPS 15 scored 44,586 with its GTX 1650 Ti. I wouldn't say this battle is over though, as Intel is still polishing its software for these new CPUs.

After spending a few days testing this reference system, I'm even more excited to see what PC makers do with Intel's newest CPUs. Sure, not every new notebook will see the same sort of performance. But it’s certainly a good sign for this entire family of CPUs.