Alleged photographs (via VideoCardz (opens in new tab)) of Intel's Rocket Lake and Alder Lake desktop processors are making their way around the hardware world. As this is a leak, it is best to treat the photographs with a healthy dose of skepticism until more information comes to light. The chips may be early engineering samples, but their presence in the wild may hint at Intel's urgency to unleash the new processors to fend of AMD's Ryzen 5000 attack.
Rocket Lake, which is the successor to Comet Lake, will be the first out of the pair to hit the retail market. Slated for a first quarter release in 2021, Rocket Lake leverages the Cypress Cove microarchitecture, and Intel has already touted an instruction per cycle (IPC) gain up to double digits. The processors are expected to reside on the LGA1200 socket. Although not confirmed by Intel, Rocket Lake should be backward compatible with Intel 400-series motherboards, as Gigabyte has insinuated in one of the company's Aorus livestreams. Besides the Cypress Cove cores, PCIe 4.0 support is another one of Rocket Lake's novelties. Many 400-series motherboards on the market are specifically purposed for PCIe 4.0, which explains the retro compatibility. Nonetheless, a new army of 500-series motherboards will accompany Rocket Lake's launch.
In regards to design, Rocket Lake will top out at eight cores and 16 threads. The maximum configuration feels like a disappointing regression since Comet Lake came with up to 10 cores. For once, Rocket Lake isn't based on a rewarmed Skylake iteration, so the number of cores might not be as relevant. If early benchmarks are to be trusted, an octa-core Rocket Lake chip substantially outperforms the 10-core Core i9-10900K in single-threaded workloads, lending credence to Intel's IPC claims. In multi-threaded workloads, however, the Core i9-10900K still has a slight upper hand.
Intel stated last week that the chipmaker has started sampling Alder Lake processors. While an exact timeframe is unknown, it's plausible that Alder Lake won't touch down until the second half of 2021.
Rocket Lake might finally bring PCIe 4.0 support to Intel's desktop platform, but Alder Lake is a unique processor in its own right. Alder Lake is Intel's first desktop heterogeneous chip to bind large and small cores in a single package. The concept is similar to Arm's big.LITTLE microarchitecture, but Intel has branded its design as Big-BIGGER. The Golden Cove cores inside Rocket Lake will tackle the more demanding workloads, while the smaller Atom Gracemont cores job is to take care of the less trivial workloads.
Alder Lake might be one of Intel's most confusing processors to date. A coreboot patch has revealed up to 12 potential configurations for Alder Lake. With two different microarchitectures in the same chip, Intel has a lot of wiggle room. Thus far, the flagship Alder Lake SKU appears to come with eight Golden Cove cores and eight Atom Gracemont cores. Technically, it's a 16-core processor, but only the Golden Cove cores are rumored to feature Intel's Hyper-Threading technology.
It's evident from the Alder Lake photograph that the processor will require a new socket. Ironically, Intel documents have substantiated that Alder Lake commands the new LGA1700 socket. That's exactly 500 more pins than the current LGA1200 socket. Logically, a new socket means a new chipset with corresponding motherboards. Assuming that there's no setback with Rocket Lake, it's more than likely that the chipset for Alder Lake will carry the 600-series branding.