Home / Gaming / Here's what to expect from Intel's Rocket Lake CPUs and when to expect them – PC Gamer

Here's what to expect from Intel's Rocket Lake CPUs and when to expect them – PC Gamer

You might be forgiven for thinking Intel Rocket Lake processors were released over at CES 2021 given all the talk of performance, specs, and compatible Z590 motherboards at the digital tech show, but we’re actually looking at ‘Q1 2021’ availability in earnest for Intel’s latest desktop gaming CPUs.

These 11th Generation chips, known by their codename Rocket Lake to most, mark a departure from the DNA of the past five generations of Core CPUs. Whereas we’re used to the same Skylake derivative architecture within even the most recent 10-core/20-thread processor, the Intel Core i9 10900K, the 11th Gen will house the Cypress Cove architecture.

Cypress Cove is something of a blended architecture: a little bit of the Ice Lake, a pinch of Intel Xe, and served chilled over the 14nm process node. Essentially, it uses the CPU architecture from 10th Gen mobile chips, called Sunny Cove, alongside 11th Gen Tiger Lake’s Intel Xe iGPU. While those two processors were built using Intel’s 10nm process node, that’s not quite ready for general desktop consumption yet, and instead Intel’s sticking with the 14nm node we’ve come to know well within our gaming PCs over the past half-decade.

We know that high clock speeds upwards of 5GHz will be attainable on that process node, though, and Intel’s proven itself capable of drawing every last bit of performance out of 14nm. To the point where it’s still pretty competitive with AMD’s Ryzen processors on TSMC’s 7nm node.

But while that’s all shaping up to be relatively rosy for single-core performance, Intel is shaving two cores off its top chip with Rocket Lake. From the 10-core Comet Lake 10th Gen processors, Intel will offer a maximum of eight cores with the 11th Gen CPUs. That also puts it on an off footing versus AMD, who’s top Ryzen desktop chip comes in with a grand total of 16 cores.

Can Intel Rocket Lake make up for lost cores? That’s the question on everybody’s lips as we head closer to these chips’ release date. Here’s everything we know so far.

At a glance…

Intel Rocket Lake release date
Intel Rocket Lake will go on sale in March. Intel has said as much, but we’re still waiting for an exact date. We may see a few 500-series motherboards ahead of time, too.

Intel Rocket Lake specs
The 11th Gen will mark the largest departure in architecture for Intel’s desktop chips in at least five generations, as its mobile Ice Lake cores are brought to bear on desktop.

Intel Rocket Lake performance
Intel has its work cut out for it going up against AMD’s Ryzen 5000 CPUs, that’s for sure. But its Comet Lake chips still held their own, and we suspect Rocket Lake will improve on that to some degree.

Intel Rocket Lake pricing
This is a little trickier. The Core i9 11900K may well land cheaper than the Core i9 10900K, its predecessor, due to a reduced core count. However, the rest of the family may land a little pricier than Comet Lake 10th Gen chips. Not to mention potential industry-wide price increases having an effect.

Intel Rocket Lake

(Image credit: Intel)

Intel Rocket Lake release date

The Intel Rocket Lake release date is set loosely for ‘Q1 2021’. That’s the official window that Intel has offered following its CES 2021 announcement, and would have processors on the shelves by the end of March.

That aligns with previous rumours for Intel Rocket Lake’s availability, which had suggested a release date closer to the end of March.

Availability will play an important role in Rocket Lake’s success, that’s for sure. AMD Ryzen 5000 processors have been in high demand since launch late last year, and we’re yet to see buoyant stock at most major retailers. If Intel can meet demand and then some, it’ll surely win favour with gamers desperate for available tech right now. Yet Intel’s not been without its own supply constraints over the past few years.

The Intel Rocket Lake ecosystem—compatible motherboard chipsets, mostly—have been gearing up in preparation ahead of time, however, and we have our fingers crossed for availability despite recent reports of component shortages. 

The Z590 chipset is public knowledge already and we’ve witnessed waves of motherboards from most motherboard manufacturers since CES 2021 at the start of January, some more attention-grabbing than others (read: expensive).

Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, ASRock, Colorful, and more have announced Z590 motherboard lineups, some with availability ahead of time, and most promising further boards built around cheaper H570, B560, and H510 chipsets, too.

Intel Rocket Lake

(Image credit: Intel)

Intel Rocket Lake specs 

With Intel’s Rocket Lake CPUs tentatively announced over at CES 2021, we’re now privy to some of the upcoming specifications for its 11th Gen desktop processors.

One thing to note is that we’re likely looking at a split approach on the desktop with the 11th Gen chips. Core i9, i7, and i5 processors are reportedly using the latest Rocket Lake architecture (Cypress Cove), while Core i3, Pentium, and any Celeron chips on the way are said to be sticking with Comet Lake (Skylake).

As I mentioned before, Intel Rocket Lake processors will be built with that shiny new Cypress Cove architecture, itself a medley of Sunny Cove and Intel Xe Gen12 architectures, for CPU and GPU respectively.

On the CPU side of things, Intel’s promising “IPC gains upwards of 19 percent gen on gen”, courtesy of that newly-minted architecture on desktop. That should make for some healthy improvements in the gaming benchmarks, considering the eventual clock speeds and core counts of any given chip in the series. Intel will undoubtedly be aiming at gaming performance to topple AMD’s Ryzen processors, which also recently received a heady IPC increase courtesy of the Zen 3 architecture—enough to put Intel under pressure in gaming.

Sticking with the 14nm process node might look symptomatic of greater woes in process at Intel, and you’d be right in thinking so, but we’re still looking at clock speeds up to 5.3GHz single-core boost with the Core i9 11900K, matching the max Turbo clock of the Core i9 10900K. All-core boost sits at 4.8GHz.

Intel’s not quite revealed the full extent of the lineup yet, but as ever a variety of benchmarks, slides, and retailer listings tell all. Oops. All the better for us enthusiasts, however.

Intel Rocket Lake/Comet Lake refresh specs – 11th Gen Core processors
Cores/threads Graphics TDP (Watt)
i9 11900K 8/16 Intel Xe – 32 EU 125
i9 11900 8/16 Intel Xe – 32 EU 65
i7 11700K 8/16 Intel Xe – 32 EU 125
i7 11700 8/16 Intel Xe – 32 EU 65
i5 11600K 6/12 Intel Xe – 32 EU 125
i5 11600 6/12 Intel Xe – 32 EU 65
i5 11500 6/12 Intel Xe – 32 EU 65
i5 11400 6/12 Intel Xe – 24 EU 65
i3 11320 4/8 UHD 630 65
i3 11300 4/8 UHD 630 65
i3 11100 4/8 UHD 630 65

Full Intel Rocket Lake specifications remain unconfirmed. Credit to Twitter user @harukaze5719. Unlisted are T-series low-power variants and dual-core Pentiums, which have also been alluded to in leaks.

And of course, we’re looking at a reduction in core count for the top chip from 10 to eight, although if you were eyeing up a Core i7 or Core i5 then you’re still looking at the same eight-core or six-core configuration as the 10th Gen. It’s perhaps worth noting that initial leaks pegged Rocket Lake with 10-core processors, leaving a little glimmer of hope for the top capacity down the line, but we’ve seen little to back those claims up since.

Also included for the first time on an Intel desktop lineup is PCIe 4.0 capabilities, now coming direct from the CPU—20 lanes of the stuff. That’s enough for a PCIe port and an SSD or two to connect at greater bandwidth than currently available on Intel’s existing platforms, and brings Intel up to speed, for the most part, with AMD. Chipset notwithstanding.

As for the chipset, Intel’s rolling out the brand new 500-series chipsets. There’s quite a bit of overlap with the 400-series, however, it must be said. So much so, in fact, some Z490 motherboards will support the 11th Gen Rocket Lake chips when they arrive. That’s partially made possible by the shared socket between the two: LGA 1200.

You can check out all the differences between the new 500-series chipsets in the table below or over on Intel’s ARK database. But essentially it boils down to the usual suspects: PCIe lanes, ports, and overclocking support.

Intel 500-series chipsets
Z590 B560 H570 H510
Overclocking Yes No No No
Max no. PCIe lanes 24 20 12 6
USB ports 14 14 12 10
No. of DIMMS per channel 2 2 2 1
Max no. SATA ports 6 6 6 4
Integrated Wireless Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201
Optane support Yes Yes Yes No
Processor PCIe configurations supported 1×16+1×4 or 2×8+1×4 or 1×8+3×4 1×16+1×4 1×16+1×4 1×16
RAID 0,1,5,10(SATA) 0,1,5,10(SATA)

The Z590 chipset remains the only one to offer overclocking for the CPU. Though, you will be able to run memory at greater than stock speeds on B560 and H570 motherboards.

Intel Rocket Lake will be rather swiftly replaced, or met in the field, by Intel Alder Lake chips—a big leap for Intel’s desktop architectures.

Intel Rocket Lake

(Image credit: Intel)

Intel Rocket Lake performance

Intel would love to retake ground recently lost to AMD with its Rocket Lake CPUs, and it’s hoping that 19 percent instructions per clock (IPC) upgrade will be able to do just that.

That’s nothing to be sniffed at, either. A 19 percent improvement is an impressive lead that isn’t often brought to bear without a significant shift in architecture. We know that the Sunny Cove architecture can deliver, too, and perhaps increasingly so with fewer constraints on power and clock speed as those we’ve found in thin-and-light laptops and across 10th Gen Ice Lake processors bearing the same microarchitecture.

There are two sides to this coin, however. On the one side, single-threaded performance is sure to be up, at least in synthetic benchmarks, due to the IPC increase and matching clock speeds between the top two Intel chips of the 10th and 11th generations. That should put the Core i9 11900K ahead of AMD’s Ryzen 9 5900X or 5950X by a hair, although it’ll likely be a close-run affair. 

Where Rocket Lake will lag behind both is in multithreaded applications and benchmarks—that we can be sure about. No amount of realistic technical tinkering will supersede the requirement for m0ar cores in our processors in these workloads—just look at Threadripper’s mighty 64 core count—and that leaves the resolutely eight-core/16-thread Core i9 11900K behind the Core i9 10900K and most of AMD’s Ryzen high-end in well-distributed workloads.

We’ve heard reports of early benchmarking results indicating a real mixed bag when it comes to gaming, which is slightly off-putting news, to say the least. With a new architecture combo on desktop, we’re not ruling anything out, but it certainly sounds a little odd for a chip with a greater IPC, even an eight-core one, to fall behind one with notably slower IPC. 

The difference in gaming performance between an eight-core and 10-core processor is limited at best between the Core i9 10900K and Core i7 10700K, at 10 and eight cores, respectively. Only a few games truly making better use of those two extra cores on the top chip, yet even that’s to say it’s not entirely useless having more cores for gaming.

The first bout of benchmarks are going to answer a lot of these questions we’ve got ahead of time, and it’s an exciting prospect. Especially off the back of five CPU generations with which it was clear enough roughly where they would land in terms of performance.

Intel GM CCG Gregory Bryant on green screen background

(Image credit: Intel)

Intel Rocket Lake price 

As ever, the success of all of the above relies on one thing: price. Intel Rocket Lake pricing has not yet been confirmed by the CPU maker, but we’re not entirely devoid of information on the matter.

For one, we’d expect an eight-core processor, even one of say the Core i9 11900K’s enthusiast credentials, to fall cheaper than the 10-core Core i9 11900K. Even with pricing in relation to performance, the downturn in core count will leave that chip slightly worse for wear in multithreaded performance and we’re hoping for pricing that reflects that.

Further down the stack, starting with the Core i7 11700K and furthermore towards the affordable Core i5 processors, core counts are largely on par with Comet Lake (eight-core i7s, six-core i5s) and therefore there’s less impetus for Intel to price down from the existing recommended customer pricing for Comet Lake.

There still AMD to factor in to Intel’s pricing. Though, with the Ryzen 5000-series the company increased pricing unilaterally by $50, which certainly takes the pressure off Intel to slash prices.

Similarly, we’re looking at a general trend of shortages, component price hikes, and tariffs that are increasing tech costs across the board. These are pretty difficult to ignore when looking to Intel’s next-gen chip pricing, and while we’d very much like to exclude Intel from all of these factors (in some ways it is less impacted than others), there’s undoubtedly going to be pressure to push prices up.

Early retailer reports suggest a confusing picture of pricing, too. Perhaps placeholders, perhaps not, some European retailers have already begun listing Intel Rocket Lake processors and pricing on their sites.

Belgian retailer 2Compute puts the Core i9 11900K at €499.70 excluding VAT (which will be applied to all EU purchases to the tune of at least 15% but can vary between region). That’s cheaper than it’s offering the Core i9 10900K, which is listed for €549.00 excluding VAT (via Videocardz).

However, the exact mirror of that takes place elsewhere. Retailer LAFI (via Twitter leaker @harukaze5719) has the 11900K price at €545.40, while the 10900K is listed at €505.30—VAT notwithstanding.

Further down the stack, most retailers appear in agreement that the newer Rocket Lake processors will cost more than their Comet Lake counterparts. Again, we’re still not sure whether these are placeholders or not, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the Core i7s, i5s, and i3s retained similar, if not likely more expensive, price tags.


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