Intel announced the 11th generation Rocket Lake-S CPUs- worst kept secret anything from a PC chipmaker. While the technical reviews and its retail availability is still under lock and key until March 30th, Intel did release press updates including a list of SKUs and every information out there. This is the breakup and my thoughts about the Intel CPU variations.
The State of CPUs: Intel Vs AMD so far…
intel Rocket Lake series is lifting off 5 months after the Ryzen 5000 series CPUs which bulldozed through the Comet Lake series. But due to the availability of the Ryzen chips and the price increase, together with price cuts on the 10th series, many variants offer a pretty good value.
While is caught up with AMD with PCIe 4.0, DDR4-3200 support and Resizable BAR supporting platform it lags behind the fabrication process. AMD Ryzen 5000 series is doing just fine with the 7nm process. Intel? What should have been the 10nm process (Which was Sunny Cove) took a backseat on 14nm (viz. Cypress Cove) because of which many architectural changes had to be done.
Apart from that, it is not exactly far gone. It does have IPC improvements over Comet Lake. There’s also the pricing and availability situation with AMD Ryzen 5000 series.
The series of unfortunate events
The Cypress Cove architecture was supposed to be on the 10nm but due to complications and production inability, it had to switch back to 14nm. Like everything in life where a plan doesn’t come together. The result can be seen in Core i9 CPUs. But not so much in Core i7 (apart from power consumption on the Core i7-11700K based on the reviews) and Core i5 series.
The core i9-11900K being two cores/ four threads less than its predecessor. The CPU alone draws more power, the other part of the controversy. This particular variant has a reduced cache of 16MB, against 20MB on the Core i9-10900K. But the core/ thread count on the core I7 and Core i5 variants are just fine. They’re still 8C/ 16T Core i7 and Core i5 series. But still, we would like to see how the Core i7 and Core i5 series compete with eachother and then also compare with certain Ryzen variants, add up the CPU and motherboard cost, see how it plays out, depending on local availability and pricing.
There’s really nothing out of the ordinary to talk about the packaging- except that the 11th Gen Core i9 doesn’t have that packaging which reminds me of an old British game show called The Crystal Show.
The Support with the Intel 400 series
Both the 10th generation Comet Lake-S and 11th generation Rocket Lake-S are LGA 1200 based, and support some level of compatibility with 400 series motherboards. Keep in mind, the Rocket Lake support on the Intel 400 series is limited to Z490, H470 and Q470. It does not support B460 and H410 motherboards. You’ll have to check up on the VRM quality of the motherboard depending on the SKU you choose to pair it with. The PCIe 4.0 support from the motherboard depends on the motherboard itself.
When a CPU maker completes a Full Circle
The situation 11th Generation Rocket Lake-S is facing reminds me of the AMD FX series where certain combinations were a pretty good deal compared to its competitor choice- AMD- whose some of the mid-end chips are more expensive. These CPUs are launched on retail yet, but based on how things are, if Intel wants to compete with AMD from day one, they can reduce the pricing of its high-end variants. Had there been compatibility with the B460 chipset, there is some scope of value combos depending on the BIOS support and quality of the VRMs. But as said previously, there’s no Rocket Lake-S support on it.
Something else to look forward to?
It does bring something with it that should make most end users anticipate Alder Lake. Yes, it does have 20 lanes PCIe 4.0 which is more useful for heavy workload-specific PCIe 4.0 SSDs rather than for x16 GPUs since we haven’t reached the time where graphics card will take full advantage of it… yet. Still, 20 PCIe 4.0 lanes is a pretty good implementation. In comparison, the Ryzen 5000 series CPUs have 16x PCIe 4.0 lanes. What it means is that Intel 11th gen provides full PCIe 4.0 bandwidth on the PCIe x16 and x4 lanes for the PCIe 4.0 M.2 SSDs from the CPU. the earlier 400 series chipset provided M.2 SSD support from the chipset.
The 11th generation Rocket Lake-S also brings Gen 12 on-chip graphics using the Xe Architecture. Of course, this includes better encode- decode abilities and discrete Thunderbolt 4 provision, discrete Wi-Fi 6E, Optane Memory H20 and USB 3.2 2X2. There’s also support for Resizable BAR, something that Intel and Nvidia are onboard with and something AMD is already supporting with Ryzen 5000 series CPU and Radeon 6000 series GPUs. It is not clear if the compatible Intel 400 series will support Resizable BAR, even if paired with Intel 11th gen CPUs.
Overclocking is also something talked about, emphasizing memory overclocking through its Intel Extreme Tuning Utility. The changes can be implemented without a system restart. Memory overclocking is provided on the B560 and H570 chipsets.
If things would have been if it should’ve been…
If 10nm Rocket Lake-S happened, this would have been an exciting chip. Assuming it also resolves the issue where cutting off cores, processing threads and L3 cache is necessary. All hopes are on the Alder Lake which is expected to come later this year. But the upcoming series is said to use a new socket design- the LGA 1700- and hence- A new platform. Intel really needs to work on atleast providing three generations in a socket, especially when the third generation is releasing in the same year as the first generation.
The Story with the Core-i9 11900 variants
Core i9 11900 SKU’s talking point is bizarre starting with the reduced core/ thread count from its Core i9-10900 offerings of 8 core/ 16-thread. To beat a dead horse, further, Ryzen 9 5900X is a 12-core/ 24-thread CPU. The RCP $539 on the Core i9-11900K feels wrong, even though that’s the only way it can keep itself away from other Core i9-11900 variants.
There’s also the thermal velocity boost which would have been good to see in locked Core i5 and maybe the Core i7 series. This kicks in when the CPU is under 70° c. But we see them in the Core i9 series except for the 11900T. Turbo 3.0 is excluded in the Core i5 series.
Should Intel have skipped Rocket Lake-S?
It is an extremely unrealistic thought process based on Core i9 and some Core i7 series. Yes, power consumption is an issue. Yes, Core i9 should have had some if not more CPU core counts while being energy efficient and maybe going toe-to-toe with Ryzen 9 series. But there some CPUs that hold a good value against the Ryzen 5000 series because of AMD Ryzen’s pricing. Besides, We also don’t know if anything below Core i7-11700K has better power efficiency. And what about the Core-i5 series?
You have to ask at best, why is Core i9 11th generation even a thing?
Intel 11th Generation SKUs- Difference between Core i9, Core i7 and Core i5
Intel released multiple SKUs in the market within the Core i9, Core i7 and Core i5 under unlocked K, unlocked K with no iGPU KF, locked and the power-optimized T variants.
Gears of War
There are some key differences between Core i9 and Core i7 if you look closely.
The Core i9-11900K and the KF work with DDR4-3200 at Gear 1 while others work at DDR4-3200 Gear 2. This was a huge subject of discussion when reviews of the retail models were put out. This means that the frequency ratio between the memory controller and the memory works 1:1 on the Core i9 while Core i7 works with 2:1 Gear 2 setting. As a result, the memory performance on the Core i7 series would not be as good as the Core i9. On the bright side, some motherboard manufacturers would likely ignore this and implement a 1:1 memory ratio on some of their high-end motherboards. This is very clear when Anandtech released a pre-NDA review. It was paired with an unnamed board where it used the memory kits in the Gear 1 setting. While the review from HardwareLuxx was on Auto, most likely running on Gear 2. I wonder if respective motherboard makers will advertise Gear 1 support Core i7 (and Core i5?) CPUs, or if Intel will force with AIB partners to release future updates blocking this. Time will tell. But Intel should flexible on behalf of their users and their AIB partners.
The other differentiation we talked about is the Thermal Velocity Boost. This feature works where it increases clock speeds when operating temperatures are low enough. Again, it makes a lot more sense with Core i5 and Core i7 parts.
The State of 11th Generation Core Series
I feel Core i9 offerings are more expensive for the price. That is an understatement. Core i9-11900KF commands a 140$ premium over the Core i9-11900K. Ryzen 7 5900X has 12 cores while Core i9 11th has eight and Core i9 10th gen has ten. Ouch!!
If we ignore the power draw and heat draw, Core i7-11700K is doing all that while Core i7-10700K has a price cut while AMD Ryzen 5000 series lineups are carrying a premium. Sure, we have seen news of better Ryzen CPU availability but in the end, the decision is made from the pocket.
What I do like is the Core i5 lineups. Six core and 12 threads just like the Core i7 series. It uses the same UHD 750 graphics. The Core i5-11600K and Core i5-11500 is something to keep an eye on by mid-end PC buyers. There’s also the Core i5-11400F for $157 if you’re building a system with a graphics card.
Intel is undercutting AMD at both sides of the rope- with 10th gen and some Core i7/ Core i5 variants of the Rocket Lake-S.
This is of course based on the estimated pricing at the time of purchasing.
10th Generation Refresh SKUs
One thing that Intel chose to do is not make 11th generation Rocket Lake-S based Core i3 and Pentium CPUs. Instead, it introduces newer SKUs. These are nothing more than minor frequency bumps of 100 MHz with the same parts. Nothing really worth talking about over here.
Its a shame Core i9 11900K cuts of 10 core/ 4 threads and it sucks Core i7 has such power draw. Intel is wiser with pricing on the Core i5 series. All of this would put some pressure on AMD if they can keep up with demands. That’s the best we can say based on the information we have. Personally, I am very curious about performance with Core i5 Rocket Lake CPUs. Also, how it wedges itself between its 10th generation and Ryzen 5000 series offerings.