Intel Rocket Lake CPUs: Everything we know so far

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. We’ve got all the details on what Rocket Lake chips will support, potential configurations, cost predictions, and more.

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Availability and pricing

No specific price information is available for Rocket Lake CPUs at this time, but the previous generation of Comet Lake chips is available 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 roadmaps sources had seen. As time has passed, it has become increasingly likely that Intel will wait until early 2021 at the earliest to drop Rocket Lake on the market; a specific release date has not yet appeared.

Manufacturing and architecture

Rocket Lake chips are, once again, based on Intel’s heavily revised 14-nanometer semiconductor manufacturing process, but with some important changes. It features a revamped Willow Cove core, which draws inspiration from the 10nm process (seen in recent-generation Tiger Lake processors).

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 PCIExpress 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 LGA1200 CPU socket.

Performance

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.

Frequencies are another matter, though it seems likely that boosting to at least 5.0GHz will be possible thanks to Intel’s experience with the 14nm process. Considering it’s far exceeded that with 10th-generation Comet Lake processors, anything less would be disappointing.

As the last of its 14nm CPUs, Rocket Lake may not be a major upgrade over Comet Lake 10th-generation options, but it will need to offer something substantial if it hopes to compete with AMD’s Zen 3 chips, which are expected to be exceedingly capable.

Security

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.

Configurations

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, thanks to the hybrid incorporation of the Willow Cove core and overall increased efficiency. The 12-core, 16-thread chip is also intriguing, suggesting that perhaps Intel is looking to maximize single-core performance on some cores, while offering greater multithreaded performance with others.

Motherboard support

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.

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