Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

After Intel’s very bad last few months and AMD’s very good last few months, it seemed awfully confusing that the two rival CPU makers would team up for a new chip. Sure, it was all good for AMD—which is riding high on the success of its new Ryzen CPUs and Vega GPUs—but Intel has spent the last few months in the hot seat courtesy of the Meltdown and Spectre security fiasco. Every CPU the company makes, including the one reviewed here, is vulnerable without patch. Fortunately, the new Intel 8th-gen CPU with integrated AMD Vega graphics is so fast you can almost forgive the fact it had to be patched to be secure.

I’ll be honest when I say I was surprised at the speed of this new CPU with integrated graphics. Intel has been providing its own graphics on the CPU for eight years now, meaning it has built-in processing so you don’t need a separate graphics card. The integrated graphics Intel provides has previously been extremely adequate, but not necessarily good. While reasonable for a round of Gwent or Hearthstone, Intel’s integrated graphics have struggled to handle more complex rendering demands like Rise of the Tomb Raider. Heck, they’ve even choked on less demanding games like Overwatch and Civilization VI. But the new 8th Generation Intel Core mobile processor with Radeon RX Vega M is a whole other story.

That official name is a mouthful though. So let’s call it by its other name: The i7-8809G. The i7-8809G is one of the two new Intel processors with AMD graphics built right in. This G-series is available only with AMD graphics, so don’t go hunting for a less potent version. Both processors are 8th-gen and based on the Kaby Lake R microarchitecture. Both processors are intended for mobile devices, so you can’t just buy one and slap it in your desktop.

The slightly less awesome one is the i7-8705G. It’s less awesome primarily because it cannot be overclocked. You’re stuck with the speed you get out of the box. The i7-8809G can be overclocked. Many people avoid overclocking because it can, if you’re not careful, harm the computer’s hardware. If you are careful, or like to tinker, it also allows for much improved speeds at the cost of power and thermal efficiency. In the i7-8809G’s case the only barrier between you and crazy speeds is the temperature of the CPU itself.

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The CPU and GPU come in a pretty small package, with the CPU on the left and GPU plus memory on the right.
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

This particular CPU, because it’s intended for mobile devices, will only overclock so much in a laptop—unless you’re operating it in a freezer or directly under a few dozen fans. The i7-8809G also uses a lot more power, 100 watts versus the i7-8705G’s 65W. So they’ll be crammed into different kinds of laptops. Don’t expect to find either in something super fast and light, but the i7-8705G will at least be found in laptops as light as the 4.7-pound Dell XPS 15 2-in-1, while the i7-8809 high power demands means it will be found in something a little thicker—think hefty gaming laptops.

But both are also available in Intel NUC form, which is Intel’s lineup of tiny desktops with mobile CPUs crammed in that are intended for tinkers. Previously NUCs have been a decent deal, you have to provide your own storage and memory, but you could get one for under $500 and have a great little machine to play ROMs and watch media on your TV, or run your server, or just use as a very cute little desktop PC. But with much improved graphics comes a much higher price. The i7-8705G version is priced at $800, while the i7-8809G version tested here, the NUC8i7HVK, is priced at $1,000.

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The NUC might be pricy but it comes with plenty of ports. On the front alone you have an SD card slot, multiple USB ports, a 3.5mm audio jack and an HDMI port.
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

That’s a good amount of money to spend on a computer, particularly one that you still have to blow a few hundred dollars more to equip with memory and storage, but, remember, these processors are really intended for laptops, like the upcoming Dell XPS 15 2-in-1, and those computers will be even more expensive (the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 with the 7-8705G will go for $2,550). They’ll also be really good at gaming and the like.

The NUC with a i7-8809G performed about average when compared with laptops featuring other 8th-gen Intel mobile processors in the web browsing benchmark WebXPRT 2015, Geekbench 4, and on our Photoshop test (where we time how long it takes to resize a series of RAWs and convert to JPEG). It was neck and neck with great laptops like the Huawei Matebook X Pro, Dell XPS 13, and LG Gram 15. But when it’s integrated Radeon Vega GPU went up against the Intel Iris graphics found in those devices it thoroughly smoked them. It was four times as fast as the Matebook X Pro when rendering frames in Civilization VI and more than 7 times as fast as it when playing Overwatch at 1080p on High.

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It was also damn good with games that demand a lot more GPU. It did 53 frames per second in Rise of the Tomb Raider at 1080p on High and did 47 frames per second on Far Cry 5 at 1080p on Ultra. The Huawei Matebook X Pro couldn’t even run those games. For comparison’s sake I looked at its numbers versus the only proper gaming computer I had on hand, my desktop machine at home with an 8th-Gen i7 and Nvidia 1080. It did 116fps on Tomb Raider and 98fps on Far Cry 5. But that computer is also twice as expensive and a good four or five times bigger—in fact the Nvidia GPU is about the same size as the entire Intel NUC.

So what does this mean for Intel? It means the company actually has some integrated graphics that can finally compete with Nvidia, which essentially owns the laptop market when it comes to good GPUs. Nvidia graphics appear in nearly every laptop from major gaming laptop makers like Razer, Alienware, and MSI, not to mention many laptops intended for work, like the Microsoft Surface Book 2 and previous versions of the Dell XPS 15. It’s king, but now there’s a challenger. The Intel G-series isn’t going to blow your hair back like the Nvidia 1080 GPUs found in some super high end gaming laptops, but it’s more than enough to take on Nvidia in cheaper gaming desktops and most portable workstations. Let’s just all hope that increased competition means prices start to drop. $1,000 for a game-worthy NUC still feels a bit extreme, even if the VR-ready computer is small enough to throw in a backpack.

README

  • The CPU performance is average but the GPU performance is on par with high end Nvidia GPUs.
  • The i7-8809G is a 100 watt CPU, which means it needs a lot of juice to run. So don’t expect to find it in really tiny laptops.
  • The Intel NUC8i7HVK with i7-8809G is fast, but at $1,000 it feels pricy—especially as you still have to provide your own storage and memory.

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Correction: This story originally suggested that a desktop with an 8th-Gen i7 processor and Nvidia 1080 graphics card would fair only a little better than the i7-8809G in game benchmarks. This is incorrect and we regret the error.