Intel's 11th-Gen Rocket Lake is purportedly headed to the launch pad for blast off in late March, promising to upset our list of Best CPUs for Gaming and CPU Benchmark Hierarchy. Rocket Lake certainly couldn't come at a better time for Intel, either – AMD's Ryzen 5000 processors have thundered into the desktop PC market, upsetting Intel's Comet Lake chips and taking the lead in every metric that matters, including gaming.
Intel's response comes in the form of Rocket Lake, and the company says the chips come with a 19% improvement in instruction per cycle (IPC) throughput and blistering 5.3 GHz (+) clock speeds that will reestablish its performance leadership in gaming.
Rocket Lake will bring the backported Cypress Cove architecture to the desktop PC, Intel's first new microarchitecture in six years. But unlike the forward progress we see with the company's 10nm Tiger Lake chips for laptops, Rocket Lake-S represents 14nm's last hurrah on the desktop and marks the seventh and final iteration of the longest-lived leading-edge node in Intel's history (it debuted in 2015).
Intel's current integrated graphics are woefully inadequate for gaming, and we haven't seen a meaningful iGPU performance boost for desktop PCs since Kaby Lake arrived back in 2016. This changes with Rocket Lake, which comes with Intel's performant 12th-gen Xe graphics. Intel says the new engine doubles graphics performance over the previous-gen chips, bringing 1080p-capable gaming (albeit with low fidelity settings) to mainstream CPUs.
Rocket Lake supports the PCIe 4.0 interface, which provides twice the bandwidth of PCIe 3.0. That addresses a key weakness exacerbated by AMD's now two-year-long advantage with its uncontested leadership position in I/O connectivity. Intel has also bumped up Rocket Lake's memory throughput to DDR4-3200, a nice step up from the prior gen's DDR4-2933.
So what's the catch? Rocket Lake tops out at eight cores and sixteen threads due to the backported architecture, a step back from the 10-core Comet Lake i9 models. "Backporting" is a method that allows Intel to take a new design built on a smaller process node, in this case 10nm, and etch it on an older, larger node (in this case, 14nm).
Intel backported the 10nm Sunny Cove cores found in Ice Lake processors to the less-dense 14nm process to create Rocket Lake's Cypress Cove architecture, leaving the chip designers with fewer transistors to make the new chips. As a result, Intel had to remove two cores; there simply wasn't enough room in the chip package for a larger die.
That's an odd development in light of Intel's 10-core Comet Lake flagships, not to mention that eight cores certainly feels inadequate in the face of AMD's 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X. Intel is betting heavily on its 19% IPC gains and high clock speeds to offset the lower core counts, and the company may have a split product stack, with Alder Lake hybrid chips coming in later to address the higher core count segment.
Rocket Lake slots into Intel's 11th-gen processor family, but all signs also point to refreshed Comet Lake chips for Core i3 (and lower) 11th-gen processors, which is another interesting development. Intel has slowly teased out the details of the Rocket Lake chips, but the company hasn't provided the full details yet. However, retailer listings and a string of leaked benchmarks have pretty much filled in the gaps, so let's cover what we know so far.
Intel 11th-Gen Rocket Lake At a Glance
- Maximum of eight cores, 5.3 GHz peak boost speed
- New Cypress Cove architecture featuring Ice Lake Core architecture and Tiger Lake Graphics architecture.
- Support for PCIe 4.0 - 20 lanes (four to storage)
- New microarchitecture for the desktop
- AVX-512, Thunderbolt 4 support
- Intel plans to launch Rocket Lake in March 2021
- Intel 12th-gen Xe LP Graphics increase graphics performance by 50%
- Support for DDR4-3200 for Rocket Lake, DDR4-2666 for Comet Lake Refresh
- New overclocking features for more flexible tuning performance
- Intel Deep Learning Boost and VNNI support
- Backward compatible with 400-series motherboards (caveats apply)
Intel Rocket Lake Release Date and Availability
Intel has given an official Q1 2020 release window for Rocket Lake-S processors, but MSI narrowed it down to late March. Intel also officially announced that its 10nm hybrid Alder Lake-S chips would launch in the second half of 2021. That timeline indicates that Rocket Lake will likely serve either as a short-lived stopgap or as part of a split product stack for the mainstream desktop, with the Alder Lake chips stepping in as the high core count flagships. The Alder Lake-S processors are thought to come with DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 support, marking a big step forward for the desktop PC.
Intel 11th-Gen Rocket Lake Specifications
|Cores / Threads||Base-Boost (Single/All Core)||TDP||iGPU||L3||Part Numbers|
|RKL-S Core i9-11900K (KF)||8 / 16||3.5 - 5.3 / 4.8||125W||Xe 32EU||16MB||BX8070811900K - BX8070811900KF|
|RKL-S Core i9-11900 (F)||8 / 16||2.5 - 5.2 / 4.7||65W||Xe 32EU||16MB||BX8070811900 - BX8070811900F|
|RKL-S Core i7-11700K (KF)||8 / 16||3.6 - 5.0 / 4.6||125W||Xe 32EU||16MB||BX8070811700K - BX8070811700KF|
|RKL-S Core i7-11700 (F)||8 / 16||2.5 - 4.9 / 4.4||65W||Xe 32EU||16MB||BX8070811700 - BX8070811700F|
|RKL-S Core i5-11600K (KF)||6 / 12||3.9 - 4.9 / 4.6||125W||Xe 32EU||12MB||BX8070811600K - BX8070811600KF|
|RKL-S Core i5-11600||6 / 12||2.8 - 4.9 / 4.3||65W||Xe 32EU||12MB||BX8070811600|
|RKL-S Core i5-11500||6 / 12||2.7 - 4.6 / 4.2||65W||Xe 32EU||12MB||BX8070811500|
|RKL-S Core i5-11400 (F)||6 / 12||2.6 - 4.4 / 4.2||65W||Xe 24EU||12MB||BX8070811400 - BX8070811400F|
|CML-R Core i3-10305||4 / 8||3.8 - n/a||65W||?||8MB||BX8070110305|
|CML-R Core 13-10105 (F)||4 / 8||3.7 - n/a||65W||?||6MB||BX8070110105 - BX8070110105F|
|CML-R Pentium G6605||2 / 4||4.3 - n/a||58W||?||4MB||BX80701G6605|
|CML-R Pentium G6405||2 / 4||4.1 - n/a||58W||?||4MB||BX80701G6405|
A flurry of leaked benchmarks have emerged from Asian regions, including full-on reviews of some Rocket Lake-S chips. That, along with listings at retailers and submissions to public databases, has given us a decently clear image of the new Rocket Lake family. However, these specifications are not official, and clock speeds can change as the chips come closer to market. Most of the tests are conducted on Intel reference validation platforms (RVP), indicating the silicon is still under development.
As we can see above, Intel spreads the Rocket Lake (RKL-S) chips into the familiar Core i9, i7, and i5 families, but there's a fly in the ointment: Intel has purportedly decided to use refreshed Comet Lake (CML-R) chips for its Core i3 and Pentium families. Those chips feature the same architecture as other Comet Lake chips but come with slightly increased clock speeds.
As before, Intel offers graphics-less F-series models across its Core i9, i7, i5, and i3 families. The F-series models come with the same clock speeds and other features as the fully-featured models.
Intel has confirmed that the Core i9-11900K, the new flagship model, comes with a dual-core 5.3 GHz boost and 4.8 GHz all-core boost, matching the previous-gen Core i9-10900K. It's noteworthy that these are Thermal Velocity Boost frequencies that only activate if the processor is under a certain temperature limit, but most motherboard makers ignore those limits anyway. That means the chips will likely operate at these speeds regardless of temperature limits, at least on higher-end motherboards.
Intel has confirmed the chips feature a 150W PL1 power rating (at the base frequency), a 25W increase over the 10900K, and an identical 250W PL2 (boost) rating. Intel has also bumped up Rocket Lake's memory throughput to DDR4-3200, a nice step up from the prior gen's DDR4-2933. However, the Comet Lake Refresh chips (Core i3 and below) support DDR4-2666.
The Rocket Lake chips generally expose higher boost frequencies across the entire range, and Intel has confirmed that the chips come with the Xe LP graphics engine. Intel says it added a 'third more' EUs to the chips to boost performance up to 50% over the previous-gen UHD 630 graphics. It isn't clear if the increased EU count is over the existing UHD 630 graphics, which would mean we're looking at chips with a maximum of a lackluster 32 EUs, seemingly confirmed by the architecture breakdown below and the leaked specifications, or if it represents an increase over the Tiger Lake chips, which would beef up the Rocket Lake processors with 128 EUs.
Unfortunately, 32 EUs would hamper gaming performance significantly. On the other hand, doing 128 Xe EUs on 14nm would use up a considerable amount of die space, and most desktop users (at least in the DIY space) will simply use a dedicated GPU anyway. For now, it appears that Intel has carved the Xe LP graphics engine into UHD Graphics 750 (GT1) with 32 EUs, UHD Graphics 730 (GT1) with 24 EUs, and an as-yet-undefined UHD Graphics P750 (GT1) that may encapsulate the Iris graphics offerings.
Intel's Xe graphics also bring in-built AV1 decode acceleration, which is helpful because the codec reduces bandwidth up to 20% for video streaming (such as 4K and 8K content). Rocket Lake also features Intel's 'new' Always-On QuickSync Video. This feature allows Xe Graphics to run concurrently with a discrete GPU so you can offload some workloads, like video streaming with QuickSync, to alleviate the burden on your discrete GPU. This feature has already been around for several years, but it required BIOS support, and you had to manually enable the integrated graphics unit after you installed a video card. Intel says the technique is now a supported and validated configuration that's enabled by default in the BIOS.
Intel Rocket Lake Price
Pricing details have emerged in the form of retailer listings in several foreign countries, but it's important to note that Intel hasn't revealed the official pricing for Rocket Lake yet. 2Compute, a Belgian retailer, currently lists the Core i9-10900K, Core i7-10700K, and Core i5-10600K for $555, $398, and $282, respectively.
Using this as a gauge of its Rocket Lake listings, we see that Core i9-11900K and Core i7-11700K could cost up to 8.8% and 14.3% more, respectively, while the Core i5-11600K may arrive with a 3.9% higher price tag than the Comet Lake chips. However, we should take this information with a grain of salt - other retailers have listed the chips at slightly lower pricing than the Comet Lake equivalents.
For now, the jury is out for Intel's Rocket Lake pricing, but given the general indications, we shouldn't expect a huge pricing delta compared to the Comet Lake processors.
Intel 11th-Gen Rocket Lake Benchmarks
Intel has slowly teased bits of info about Rocket Lake, but here's probably the most important new detail: Intel shared benchmarks that say the 8C/16T Core i9-11900K reclaims the gaming performance crown from AMD's Ryzen 9 5900X at 1080p. As always, we should approach vendor-provided benchmarks with caution.
Intel's wins are slim, though. Intel ran these tests with an EVGA RTX 3080 XC3 graphics card, and the company's claimed lead ranges from 2% to 8% (roughly a 4% advantage overall). That paints a picture of a closely-contested battle in gaming performance between Rocket Lake and Zen 3, particularly at higher resolutions.
Intel's traditionally higher overclocking ceilings could prove to be an advantage against the Ryzen 5000 processors — it's important to remember that Intel tested the Rocket Lake chip at stock settings. If these slim deltas play out in our testing and the Intel chips overclock well, pricing might be the determining factor if you're on the hunt for a gaming processor in 2021.
We've also seen benchmark submissions from a Rocket Lake chip overclocked to 6.9 GHz on liquid nitrogen, along with a string of benchmarks conducted on engineering samples, but we should keep in mind that these are pre-production chips and might not fully encapsulate the performance we'll see when the chips come to retail.
Intel Rocket Lake Cypress Cove Architecture
Intel finally confirmed one tidbit that wasn't entirely clear: The new chips feature the backported Cypress Cove architecture, its first new microarchitecture for the desktop PC since Skylake arrived back in 2015. Intel says this new architecture is based on Ice Lake's 'Sunny Cove' architecture and also comes with the same performant 12th-gen Intel Xe LP graphics engine found in the Tiger Lake processors.
"Back-porting" is a method that allows Intel to take a new design built on a smaller process node, in this case 10nm, and etch it on an older, larger node (in this case 14nm). The chips come with a new microarchitecture, but they still leverage Intel's 14nm process, although we don't know which revision (14nm++++?).
Rocket Lake also marks Intel's first desktop PC chips that support the PCIe 4.0 interface, a needed addition that comes two long years after AMD led the industry with the first PC chips to support the interface. Intel also reworked the internal PCIe subsystem to accommodate a x4 direct connection (the chips now support 20 lanes) for M.2 SSDs to the CPU. The chip also exposes 16 lanes to the system.
Intel also widened the DMI 3.0 connection (the pathway that connects the CPU and chipset) from four lanes to eight, doubling throughput up to a theoretical ~7.86 GB/s. However, caveats apply when it comes to support with previous-gen motherboards, which we'll cover below.
The wider DMI connection should help with bottlenecks for devices attached to the chipset, like SSDs in RAID. However, the most recent unofficial information points to PCIe 3.0 support for devices connected to the chipset, and not PCIe 4.0. We do know that the chipset now features an integrated USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 controller, doubling support over the existing interface to 20Gbps.
Intel also touted support for its Deep Learning Boost (DLBoost) and VNNI features, which require support for AVX-512 instructions. Thus, Intel has confirmed support for AVX-512 with Rocket Lake, and both DLBoost and VNNI will enhance performance in workloads that leverage AI algorithms.
Enthusiasts can also look forward to new undefined overclocking features, which would be helpful as Intel's overclocking headroom, while shrinking, still tends to be a big advantage over AMD's chips. We’re pretty sure Rocket Lake's new overclocking scheme includes support for the new sub-ambient coolers from EKWB QuantumX Delta TEC and Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML360 Sub-Zero that Intel helped design to bring exotic cooling to the masses.
Intel also added new features to the graphics engine, with new HEVC, VP9, and SCC encoders that support up to 4K60 12b and hardware-accelerated AV1 support for 4K60 10b. Keep your eye on AV1; this seems to be the looming industry standard. Intel also touts the increased display resolution, with now stretches up to three screens at 4K60 or two screens at 5K60.
Intel presented this die shot of the Rocket Lake chips during its CES 2021 live stream.
The company hasn't shared the Cypress Cove architecture's deep-dive details yet, but chip detective @Locuza_ shared the following Rocket Lake-S die annotation. We caution that Intel hasn't confirmed the marked units, but the arrangement aligns with our general expectations of the new design.
Intel has made significant alterations to the L2 and L3 caches – we now have a 512KB of L2 cache, a doubling over Skylake, and 16MB of L3 spread across eight 2MB slices. The L1I and L1D caches remain similar to those found on Skylake.
Even though the images aren't scaled similarly, we can also see that the Xe LP graphics cores appear to be much smaller than those found on Tiger Lake. However, that isn't entirely unexpected: The Rocket Lake chips purportedly come with up to 32 EUs, while Tiger Lake scales up to 96 EUs. We can also see that the uncore is much larger than that of the Tiger Lake-U die used for comparison, which isn't surprising given the support for 20 lanes of PCIe 4.0.
Intel 11th-Gen Rocket Lake Motherboard Support
Can you use your 400-series motherboard for Rocket Lake processors? Yes, but serious caveats apply.
The Rocket Lake-S chips are backward compatible with most 400-series chipsets. The LGA 1200 socket adheres to the same physical dimensions, and PCIe 4.0 will work on existing motherboards that support the interface. However, Rocket Lake-S isn't compatible with the H410 and B460 chipsets because they use a different 22nm chipset.
Rocket Lake's wider x8 DMI connection is only active on 'select' 500-series chipsets, so the chip defaults to a x4 connection on B560 and H510 motherboards. The same x4 connection applies for Rocket Lake processors in 400-series motherboards.
Most Comet Lake chips are forward-compatible with the new 500-series motherboards that debuted recently, the lone exception being Celeron models with 2MB of CPU cache. There are a few restrictions, though: Comet Lake chips also only use a x4 DMI connection on all 500-series motherboards.
Intel has also enabled overclocking on its B560 and H570 chipsets, a first. At least for now, that appears to be limited to memory overclocking. We'll learn if the chips support overclocking the CPU as the chips come to market.
Socket 1200 motherboards will be short-lived. According to Intel's own documentation, the hybrid Alder Lake-S processors that arrive in the latter half of 2021 will drop into Socket 1700. That means there will be no forward compatibility for Socket 1200 motherboards with future Intel processors.
We have a deeper dive into the chipset and coverage of all forty-five Z590 motherboards for Rocket Lake and Comet Lake processors here. You can also follow this link to see the differences between Intel's Z590, H570, B560, and H510 chipsets.
Given that the Rocket Lake 500-series motherboards come with the same physical LGA 1200 socket dimensions as the 400-series, existing LGA 1200 coolers should be compatible between the two series. In fact, Noctua has already begun to prepare its compatibility matrix. Thus far, the list spans over thirty Z590 and eleven B560 motherboards.
Rocket Lake is poised for liftoff soon, and we'll update this article as new details come to light.