Intel has a long association with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and it seems the company used 2021’s all-digital event as an opportunity to show off even more hardware than usual.
A total of four new processor families were announced on 11 January, although the focus of this article is Intel’s new desktop chips. Codenamed Rocket Lake, this 12th-gen silicon comes sporting a new CPU architecture and integrated graphics solution, as well as updated AI smarts.
But will they be able to rival AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series, now considered to be the gold standard when it comes to desktop performance? Read on to find out more.
Intel Rocket Lake release date
In an October 2020 post on Medium, Intel has confirmed that its next desktop processors will arrive in ‘Q1 2021‘. That’s any time during the first three months of this year. The company previewed the new chips at its CES 2021 press conference on 11 January, but a more specific release date wasn’t revealed.
That means we’re still relying on rumours as our best guess of exactly when they’ll arrive. Spanish site HD Tecnología and Wccftech are suggesting a March 2021 release, while Videocardz puts that at Week 10 of 2021 – that’s 8-14 March.
Hong-Kong based tech site HKEPC is going one better, with a predicted launch date of 15 March. Whether they arrive on this specific date remains to be seen, but the middle of March looks like a safe bet.
Intel Rocket Lake price
While Tiger Lake processors are only available within particular laptops, it’s a different story for the desktop chips. Expect pricing to be roughly in line with how much you pay for current-gen Comet Lake:
Core i9-10900K – US$488 (approx. £360)
Core i7-10700K – US$374 (approx. £275)
Core i5-10600K – US$262 (approx. £190)
However, AMD bumped up the price of all its Ryzen 5000 series processors by US$50, and it may be a similar story for Rocket Lake.
Intel Rocket Lake specs
There were plenty of rumours on what to expect with Intel’s Rocket Lake in the run up to CES 2021, and now many details have been confirmed (or otherwise) by the company itself. The 12th-gen chips come with the new Cypress Cove architecture, arguably the biggest change for Intel desktop chips since 2015. The company says this means Rocket Lake will be capable of up to 19% more instructions instructions per cycle (IPC) generation over generation, allowing devices to better handle complex tasks.
The chips also move to Intel’s new Xe integrated graphics, which is claimed to deliver ‘up to 50% better integrated graphics performance’. Many desktops come with discrete GPUs from the likes of AMD and Nvidia, but it’s impressive to see such a big improvement in integrated performance.
New AI integration was the third key area, with Intel’s Deep Learning Boost capable of running complex AI workloads on top of your existing workload. This should lead to more optimised performance, although it’s not clear how much of a tangible effect this will have.
The new Rocket Lake processors will be headlined by a new Core i9-11900K, which looks set to go toe-to-toe with AMD’s latest Ryzen 9 5900X. Both chips are designed to be able to handle graphic intensive gaming at Full HD (1080p), with synthetic benchmarks indicating Intel has a performance advantage of 8% in Total War: Three Kingdoms and 4% in Cyberpunk 2077 and Watchdogs: Legion respectively. We’ll have to wait and see how well these claims stand up to real-world usage.
Here’s a summary of more key features in Intel’s top-spec desktop chip:
The only Rocket Lake feature that Intel confirmed in its original Medium post was support for PCIe 4.0, the latest generation of motherboard interface for SSDs, graphics cards and more. It was also described as “another fantastic processor for gaming”, and we wouldn’t expect Intel to rest on its laurels when you consider the strength of the competition.
Elsewhere, Rocket Lake is also set to support improved DDR4 memory speeds, increased max display resolutions and more CPU PCIe lanes. See full details in the infographic below:
Unfortunately, it’s widely expected that Intel will stick with the 10nm manufacturing process on its desktop chips, despite the AMD Ryzen 5000 series already sporting 7nm.
The same Videocardz article mentioned above suggests the new chips will still be compatible with 400-series motherboards, so most people with recent hardware won’t have to upgrade. Specifically, Wccftech says Rocket Lake will be compatible with Z490 motherboards, but these will max out at PCIe 3.0 and not the new 4.0 standard. As such, we’re expecting Intel to launch 500-series motherboards alongside the new chips.
However, recent benchmarks show encouraging signs for Rocket Lake’s performance capabilities. Twitter user @TUM_APISAK is becoming a regular at unearthing benchmark performance, although we can’t be 100% sure of the accuracy of these figures.
MSI Z590-A PRO-12VO (MS-7D10)
Intel 0000U3E1, 1 CPU, 8 cores, 16 threadsBase clock 3.4 GHz, turbo 4.2 GHz (avg)
Rocket lake🤔https://t.co/ryJbIvYIjz pic.twitter.com/0PynjFXLtt
— APISAK (@TUM_APISAK)
October 30, 2020
The 8-core i7-10700K in the current generation scored 148 for single-core performance, suggesting the new processor provides a boost of around 21% over its predecessor. However, that’s expected to be the highest number of cores available with Rocket Lake, ditching the 10-core option from the current Comet Lake.
@TUM_APISAK was back at it again in December 2020, revealing a high-end chip that could go head-to-head with AMD’s Ryzen 9 5800X:
Rocket LakeIntel 00001 Processor, 8 Cores, 16 ThreadsGenuineIntel Family 6 Model 167 Stepping 0Base Frequency 3.41 GHzMaximum Frequency 4.98 GHz
HP 886CHP OMEN 30L Desktop GT13-0xxxGeekbench 5 score1645 – 9783https://t.co/tFJdin96zJ pic.twitter.com/rtKLMsFO1X
— APISAK (@TUM_APISAK)
December 3, 2020
Then, in January 2021, the same leaker tweeted Geekbench 5 benchmark results that make for encouraging reading. In particular, single-core performance is significantly higher than the Ryzen 9 5900X:
i9-11900K8C/16TGenuineIntel Family 6 Model 167 Stepping 1Base Frequency 3.50 GHzMaximum Frequency 5.28 GHzhttps://t.co/WvJCSsGbvZ pic.twitter.com/8lnpat9KLR
— APISAK (@TUM_APISAK)
January 22, 2021
Of course, it’s worth reiterating that this will be the most powerful and expensive processor in the Rocket Lake range. Cheaper chips won’t offer quite the same level of performance, but we are expecting a nice boost across the board.
For comparison, Wccftech suggests AMD’s chip records around 1,660 in single-core performance and 10,4000 for multi-core. It’s also worth remembering there are two other chips in the Ryzen 5000 series that should, in theory, be even more powerful.
We’ll update this article in the run-up to the rumoured March release date. In the meantime, get the full lowdown on Intel’s Tiger Lake laptop processors.
Intel is also readying its 12th-gen Alder Lake desktop chips, with both expected before the end of 2021.