Intel’s Rocket Lake could deliver the largest uplift in chipset capabilities that we’ve seen in quite some time — as well as a new CPU architecture despite the fact that RLK is still a 14nm part. As always, rumors and leaks should be taken with a grain of salt, but this news implies Intel has something to challenge AMD with in the relatively near-term, even without a desktop launch on 10nm or one of its derivatives.
Videocardz has information on the new 500-series chipset, which supposedly deliver a bevy of new features:
There’s a new graphics architecture based on Intel Xe, baked-in support for the AV1 codec, integrated wireless on the desktop, increased DDR4 speeds (not enormously useful on Intel platforms, but likely stepping up to DDR4-3600), 20 CPU PCIe 4.0 lanes, and an x8 DMI 3.0 link rather than the standard x4. This effectively still doubles PCIe bandwidth between CPU and chipset — Intel may just be using doubled PCIe linkages to do it rather than upgrading the CPU internally to PCIe 4.0. USB 3.2 Gen 2 and Thunderbolt 4 would also both be supported.
The “increased performance with a new processor core architecture” part is particularly interesting. That’s unambiguous phrasing — it means Intel would be moving its desktop platform to a post-Skylake architecture on the 14nm node. This wouldn’t necessarily be surprising. We’ve heard rumors for quite some time that Intel might have backported architectural features to 14nm, and while AVX-512 or bfloat16 support were one potential example of this, it was never clear if Intel would backport a CPU intended for 10nm or not. At the company’s 2018 Technology Day, Intel told us that tightly coupling CPU architecture and process node was one major reason why it had been stuck on Skylake for so many years and the company was determined not to make that mistake again. We’ve also seen graphs like this:
This image implies a closer relationship between nodes, with more options to move technologies between different implementations.
A new CPU architecture could explain certain rumors about Alder Lake that haven’t previously made sense. Alder Lake is rumored to be an 8+8 design, while Comet Lake, which ships later this spring, tops out at 10 CPU cores.
If is bringing out a new CPU architecture on 14nm that doesn’t take the clock hit Ice Lake did on 10nm, the end result could be a substantial improvement in both absolute performance and performance-per-watt. Ice Lake is more efficient than Skylake; it just had to give back almost exactly as much frequency as it gained in IPC. If Rocket Lake can avoid that problem, it could give Intel a potent counter against AMD.
All release dates in this article should be treated as theoretical. It is possible that Intel, AMD, or both could delay product announcements if the PC market collapses during the coronavirus recession. Rocket Lake S is supposed to be targeting a winter 2020 introduction, but whether that’s realistic under the current situation is anyone’s guess.
A new desktop CPU architecture would be a welcome development from Intel after years on Skylake. It’s not clear if we’d get a ported 10nm design like Tiger Lake or if Intel would go back and build something unique for 14nm. Obviously a leak isn’t the same as a product announcement, so I’d hold off before making firm plans around the idea.
Photo Credit: NASA / Bill Ingalls
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