Intel's Flagship Alder Lake Chip Beats Apple's M1 Max, But There's a Catch

Alder Lake
Alder Lake (Image credit: Intel)

Intel's latest Core i9-12900HK processor may just have won the mobile x86 vs. Arm performance war, but it comes at a cost. The mobile 14-core Alder Lake chip has bested Apple's M1 Max in multiple workloads, including a 30% win in a multi-threaded test, but the former is far more power-hungry than the latter.

We've already seen what the M1 Max can do in the latest 16-inch MacBook Pro, and the Core i9-12900HK, which powers MSI's latest GE76 Raider gaming laptop, isn't a slacker, either. Both processors leverage different architectures, with the Arm-based M1 Max residing exclusively inside Apple's closed ecosystem, so an apples-to-apples comparison isn't always straightforward. However, some benchmarks do work on both types of hardware, including Geekbench 5, HandBrake, and Cinebench R23, so we charted out a few comparisons from the tests we ran in our lab.

To be clear, the comparison between the two devices isn't ideal: The Core i9-12900HK resides inside the GE76 Raider, a device that's designed for maximum performance and has a beefy cooling subsystem to deliver on the goal of performance at (nearly) all costs. In contrast, the M1 Max rides in the Macbook Pro that's designed for creatives, developers, and the productivity-minded. We'll need to wait to see how Alder Lake performs in devices like a Dell XPS or Lenovo ThinkPad to see a more apples-to-apples comparison. There's also a pricing difference between the ~$3,999 GE76 Raider and $4,299 16-inch MacBook Pro we used for testing, but the pricing delta can vary based on the respective configurations. However, the comparisons below show us what Alder Lake is capable of in a mostly unconstrained environment, giving us some indication of the broader performance picture. 

In our Geekbench 5 testing, the Core i9-12900HK outperformed the M1 Max by 3% in the single-core test and 6% on the multi-core test, so it wasn't a landslide. The performance delta in the HandBrake test was more negligible, though, as the Alder Lake chip only bested the M1 Max by four seconds, representing a 1% margin in the video transcoding workload.

In Cinebench R23, the Core i9-12900HK delivered up to 30% more performance in the multi-core workload than the M1 Max. The M1 Max scored between 12,261 and 12,313 points in 20 runs with a geometric mean of 12,300 points. The Core i9-12900HK, on the other hand, logged scores between 14,840 and 16,481 points, resulting in a geometric mean of 16,009 points. Again, we have to take the GE76 Raider's beefy cooling subsystem, which unlocks higher performance in sustained workloads, and its tuning into account here. It's possible that the M1 Max could deliver higher performance results with similar accommodations, though that would also come with some tradeoffs in power consumption.

Power consumption is just as important as pure performance, particularly when comparing mobile processors. Apple's M1 Max is the undisputed champ in that area, though. While Apple doesn't advertise a TDP value for the M1 Max, the Core i9-12900HK has a 45W base power and 115W maximum turbo power rating.

In Anandtech's review of the M1 Max, our sister publication registered a package power of 34W during the Cinebench R23 multi-core test. The reading from the wall was 39.7W. In our tests, the Core i9-12900HK consumed up to 94W in the same benchmark. 

For comparison, the MacBook Pro 2021 lasted 15 hours and 31 minutes in our battery test, whereas the MSI GE76 Raider survived for 4 hours and 5 minutes under the same environment. Admittedly, it's not the fairest comparison due to the hardware differences ) between the two devices, primarily in terms of battery capacity and the Alder Lake system's onboard GPU. Still, with the M1 Max exclusive to Apple's devices and the tech giant abandoning Intel chips, the comparison may be the best that we can do for now.

It's noteworthy that this Alder Lake-powered device is tuned for maximum performance, and there's a vast diminishing point of returns as the chip is tuned higher up the frequency/voltage curve. That means that more conservatively-tuned Alder Lake laptops could yield higher power efficiency, and thus longer battery life, but they obviously won't be able to close the massive gulf between the two chips.

Intel made great strides with Alder Lake, and the Core i9-12900HK was faster than the M1 Max. That, coupled with its broader compatibility with games, makes the Alder Lake chips more attractive to the gaming crowd. However, Apple's SoC was still more power efficient with almost 3X less power consumption than Alder Lake, giving the newcomer a massive advantage in battery life and the other side effects of reduced power consumption, like being a cooler and quieter device.

Zhiye Liu
RAM Reviewer and News Editor

Zhiye Liu is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Although he loves everything that’s hardware, he has a soft spot for CPUs, GPUs, and RAM.