Intel’s 11th-generation Rocket Lake desktop CPUs will be team blue’s answer to AMD’s Zen 3 chips, and they’re going to be an interesting bridge between technologies as Intel continues to iterate on its 14nm process. They are the follow-up to last year’s 10th-gen Comet Lake chips, which officially debuted in the spring.
Rocket Lake has been officially announced, though Intel hasn’t provided any firm details yet. Still, we’ve got all the details on what these chips will support, potential configurations, cost predictions, and more.
For further information, read our guide on CPU.
Availability and pricing
No official price information is available for Rocket Lake CPUs at this time, but the previous generation of Comet Lake chips is available for between $ 120 and $ 550, and it’s likely that Rocket Lake won’t stray too far out of that range. Some unique features for the Rocket Lake series (which we will examine below) could affect pricing in unexpected ways, however.
As for a release date, it seemed likely in the beginning that Intel would release Rocket Lake toward the end of 2020, which made sense according to the road maps sources had seen. Intel has announced since that its next generation of desktop processors is coming in 2021, though has yet to provide a release date.
As leaks and rumors mounted, many expected more information on Intel’s 11th-gen desktop platform at CES 2021. Although Intel briefly touched on its desktop platform, the majority of its CES 2021 presentation was dedicated to the mobile market. Rocket Lake was officially announced, but Intel didn’t provide any specs or pricing information.
Manufacturing and architecture
Rocket Lake chips are, once again, based on Intel’s heavily revised 14-nanometer semiconductor manufacturing process. Intel has managed to move to a 10nm node in low-power form factors, such as chips for Ultrabooks, but appears to be stuck on 14nm for its desktop parts. There will, however, be some important changes. Rocket Lake will feature a revamped Willow Cove core that draws inspiration from the 10nm process and has been seen in recent-generation Tiger Lake processors).
Early leaked benchmarks suggest that Rocket Lake will top out at eight cores with 16 threads, down from the 10 cores and 20 threads supported on the Intel Core i9-10900K. The desktop Rocket Lake-S CPU is expected to be called the Intel Core i9-11900K, according to the Ashes of the Singularity benchmark that was leaked and posted by Twitter user @TUM_APISAK.
That benchmark revealed that the Intel Core i9-11900K will ship with a base clock of 3.5GHz, though it’s still unclear if final specifications will change when the silicon ships. Presumably, this benchmark, if real, was taken on an early engineering sample of the processor.
To give Rocket Lake the performance it needs to take on rival AMD’s latest Ryzen processors, Intel is rumored to be making significant architectural changes to the processor’s design that will give gamers an extra boost, including larger L1 and L2 cache sizes. It’s reported that Intel could give L1 cache a 50% boost, while doubling the size of L2 cache to 512KB, TechRadar reported.
In addition to the flagship Core i9 processor, Intel is also expected to offer Core i7 and Core i5 variants. The Core i7 could ship with the same core count as the Core i9, but it will be offered with a lower frequency. There are conflicting reports about the Core i7 architecture, with some early rumors suggesting Intel will use a design featuring eight cores and 16 threads. Others believe that Intel could use a design with eight cores and offer just 12 threads on this chip configuration. The expected $ 400 price for the Core i7 makes it a natural challenger to AMD’s Ryzen 7 5800X, as both processors come with the same core count.
Details about the Core i5-11600K are not yet known at this time, but the processor’s retail price of $ 250 to $ 300 will make it competitive against AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600X, according to reports on Wccftech.
Rocket Lake is intended to bridge the gap between 10nm and 14nm manufacturing, with backporting used to bring as many new features to the architecture as possible. This lets Intel maximize its experience with the 14nm process to squeeze as much efficiency out of the Rocket Lake series as it can, while still introducing new features. That includes PCI Express 4.0 (20 lanes), discrete Thunderbolt 4 support, and the latest Xe onboard graphics — along with 12-bit AV1, HEVC, and E2E media compression.
Other predicted specs include 2.5Gb Ethernet LAN, integrated USB 3.2, integrated HDMI 2.0, USB Audio offloading, and support for the latest Wi-Fi 6 protocol. The chip appears to be designed to work with the LGA 1200 CPU socket. An early engineering sample showed Rocket Lake running on a Z490 motherboard, though next-gen 500-series boards may be better suited for the processor’s power-hungry demands.
So, what does all that data indicate about performance for this 11th-gen CPU? The backporting and hybrid 14nm approach has led to a mix of predictions about this. At the low end, some forecasts say it could have only a 10% IPC improvement from Comet Lake, due mostly to the Willow Cove incorporation. During CES 2021, Intel boasted up to a 19% IPC improvement over 10th-gen Intel processors.
Frequencies are another matter. It seems likely that boosting to at least 5.0GHz will be possible thanks to Intel’s experience with the 14nm process. It was seemingly confirmed in a leaked GeekBench 5 benchmark. The benchmark showed Intel’s processor — featuring eight cores and 16 threads — with a boost speed of 4.98GHz and a base clock speed of 3.41 GHz in an unreleased HP Omen desktop. Though unconfirmed, there are reports suggesting that Intel could clock Rocket Lake’s boost speeds higher — even reaching 5.5GHz, according to Twitter user @MebiuW.
Though Intel is expected to drive generational performance improvements with its Core i9-11900K processor, it’s unclear if the company’s flagship gaming CPU will command a performance advantage over rival AMD’s latest offerings. An early Ashes of the Singularity benchmark posted on Twitter revealed that Intel’s unreleased silicon is capable of performing at 63 frames per second (fps) at 1440p resolution, which is about 11% slower than the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X’s 72 fps performance.
The performance gap shouldn’t be too surprising, given that the Ryzen 9 ships with 16 cores, or double what is expected on Intel’s eight-core 11th-gen processor.
The only official data we have is from Intel, showing a new i7 processor — presumably the i7-11700K — against the “12-core” AMD processor (likely the 5900X). In Metro Exodus, the new Intel chip performed about 10% better than the AMD one. Intel didn’t elaborate on the specifics of the benchmark and didn’t provide any other gaming or productivity benchmarks for its 11th-gen desktop platform.
According to the leaked GeekBench results, the Rocket Lake-S scored 1,645 points in a single-core test and 9,783 points in a multi-core test. This shows that Rocket Lake-S performs comparably to AMD’s Ryzen 5800X, according to Wccftech. The Ryzen processor scored 1,660 points and 10,400 points in GeekBench’s single-core and multi-core tests, respectively. In multi-core performance, Rocket Lake trails AMD’s silicon by approximately 6%.
While these benchmarks offer insight on how Rocket Lake will perform, we still don’t know how Intel’s 11th-gen processors will fare in real-world applications.
As the last of its 14nm CPUs, Rocket Lake may not be a major upgrade over Comet Lake 10th-gen options, but it will need to offer something substantial if it hopes to compete with AMD’s Zen 3 chips, which are exceedingly capable. Similar to AMD’s recent announcements, it’s expected that Intel will focus on gaming improvements when it formally debuts Rocket Lake. However, when it comes to multithreaded workflows, AMD’s Ryzen processors could still command an advantage over Rocket Lake.
Intel’s SGX security is expected to not be a part of Rocket Lake. Considering past security issues and potential future threats, this is unusual. It is possible that Intel is updating its security and replacing SGX with a new version that leaks aren’t fully revealing.
Given leaked configurations, Intel is likely bringing its business-focused vPro security to consumer desktop platforms. That’s just speculation at this point, however. vPro offers hardware-level security, and it was a major talking point at Intel’s CES 2021 press conference.
Additional leaks have revealed three Rocket Lake S desktop CPU configurations. They aren’t confirmed but do seem likely, with the series including:
- Intel 11th Gen Core i9 vPro – 8 Core/16 Thread, 16 MB Cache
- Intel 11th Gen Core i7 vPro – 8 Core/12 Thread, 16 MB Cache
- Intel 11th Gen Core i5 vPro – 6 Core/12 Thread, 12 MB Cache
Yes, these are lower core and thread numbers than we’ve seen from recent Intel chips, due to the hybrid incorporation of the Willow Cove core and overall increased efficiency.
The first data leaks indicated that Rocket Lake CPUs would be compatible with the Z490 motherboard series. However, additional leaks added that the chips would also work with entry-level 400-series motherboards, a boon for those looking to build or upgrade their own rigs.
It’s not yet clear if all 400-series boards are supported, or only some of them.