Intel has finally given us some in-depth commentary on an issue that has plagued its lineup of newer chips: the Alder Lake processors that dominate our list of Best CPUs for gaming have suffered from a vexing problem for enthusiasts — due to the chips' new elongated design and how it is clasped into the socket, they have been known to bend and warp when they are placed in the motherboard's socket. As you can see in the very short video below, this creates a gap that reduces the contact between the cooler and the chip, ultimately hampering the cooler's ability to keep the chip cool. This can cause higher chip temperatures (impact varies, typically around 5C).
The condition, referred to as 'bending,' 'warping,' or 'bowing' in PC enthusiast circles, is the result of the tremendous pressure placed on the middle of the chip that causes the IHS (Integrated Heat Spreader) to bend, and it often results in very creative workarounds to address the issue. This can range from users employing washers or custom-built devices to extreme overclockers like Splave hacksawing a socket out of a motherboard to regain the lost cooling ability.
Intel has finally commented on the issues, stating that this condition isn't a problem and that modifying the socket can void the chip's warranty. It told Tom's Hardware:
"We have not received reports of 12th Gen Intel Core processors running outside of specifications due to changes to the integrated heat spreader (IHS). Our internal data show that the IHS on 12th Gen desktop processors may have slight deflection after installation in the socket. Such minor deflection is expected and does not cause the processor to run outside of specifications. We strongly recommend against any modifications to the socket or independent loading mechanism. Such modifications would result in the processor being run outside of specifications and may void any product warranties." —Intel Spokesperson to Tom's Hardware.
Intel's statement does acknowledge that the condition exists but says it doesn't cause performance issues. However, it's important to take these comments in context: First, deflection is an engineering term to describe "the degree to which a part of a structural element is displaced under a load (because it deforms)," so this is the technical term for what the enthusiast community refers to as 'bending,' 'warping,' or 'bowing.'
Second, Intel's statement that it hasn't received reports of the chips running outside of specifications means that the deflection doesn't cause the chip to run higher than the 100C maximum temperature and that any increased thermals don't cause the chip to drop below its base frequency. That doesn't mean there isn't an impact on cooling — it just isn't severe enough to cause the chip to run out of spec.
However, there's some nuance to Intel's definition of spec'd performance: Intel does not guarantee that you will hit the rated boost frequencies — it only guarantees that you will reach the base frequency. It's worth noting that the flagship Core i9-12900K and the Special Edition Core i9-12900KS have both hit up to 100C in our testing, and that's during normal operation. The chip downclocks itself to stay within the 100C envelope, so an extra 5C of lost cooling capability could result in less performance at peak load because the chip will not boost as high. However, this doesn't fall under Intel's definition of not being within spec — Turbo Boost frequencies aren't guaranteed.
As to the exotic lengths that enthusiasts have undertaken to regain performance, Intel says very clearly that this could void the warranty.
However, many other concerns aren't addressed in Intel's initial statement: As you can see in the image above, our sister site AnandTech noticed that the condition could cause the LGA 1700 socket itself, and thus the motherboard, to bend. This results from the awkward pressure placed on the chip in the ILM (Independent Loading Mechanism) that clamps down to hold the chip secure in the socket. This mechanism only contacts the chip in a small area in the middle, causing deflection.
The motherboard warpage around the socket raises questions about the long-term impact on the motherboard, as traces and other circuitry/SMDs could be impacted by the force of the bending on the motherboard. That's not to mention the potential for damage to the socket, or to the chip from improper mating. We asked Intel the following questions, and the responses are in-line:
- Are there any planned changes to the ILM design? This condition might only exist with certain versions of the ILM. Can you confirm that these ILM are to spec?
- "Based on current data, we can’t attribute the IHS deflection variation to any specific vendor or socket mechanism. However, we are investigating any potential issues alongside our partners and customers, and we will provide further guidance on relevant solutions as appropriate." —Intel Spokesperson to Tom's Hardware.
- Some users report reduced thermal transfer from the deflection issue, which makes sense as it clearly impacts the ability of the IHS to mate with the cooler. Would Intel RMA the chip if the mating was poor enough to lead to thermal throttling?
- "Minor IHS deflection is expected and does not cause the processor to run outside of specifications or prevent the processor from meeting published frequencies under the proper operating conditions. We recommend users who observe any functional issues with their processors to contact Intel Customer Service." —Intel Spokesperson to Tom's Hardware.
- The chip deflection issue also impacts motherboards. As a result of the deflection on the chip, the rear of the socket ends up bending, and thus the motherboard. This raises the possibility of damage to the traces running through the motherboard PCB, etc. Is this condition also within spec?
- "When there’s backplate bending occurring on the motherboard, the warping is being caused by the mechanical load being placed on the motherboard to make electrical contact between the CPU and the socket. There’s no direct correlation between IHS deflection and backplate bending, other than they can both be caused by the mechanical socket loading." —Intel Spokesperson to Tom's Hardware.
Intel says it continues to monitor the situation, but there are no changes planned for the socket design. Intel also says that the Alder Lake chip deflection condition doesn't cause the bending on the motherboard; instead, this is caused by the load that keeps the chip secure in the socket. That statement makes sense because the chip obviously doesn't cause the bending, rather the force from the socket does. However, the statement doesn't answer the question about whether this is within spec or could cause damage, thus leaving questions about a potential long-term impact on motherboard reliability.
Intel insists the Alder Lake deflection condition isn't a problem, but enthusiasts that want the best performance and cooling possible obviously won't agree that poor contact with a warped processor, and the resultant higher temperatures, are ideal. We do have to keep the issue in context, as an extra 5C likely won't impact performance enough to be a worry for the overwhelming majority of users, but enthusiasts, performance addicts, and extreme overclockers are obviously more than willing to take extreme steps to claw back that extra few degrees of cooling capability.
The longer-term motherboard implications might warrant more scrutiny. We're following up with various vendors to see if we can learn more.