Intel Fights AMD With AI, IPC Boost In Rocket Lake Desktop CPUs

The new 11th-generation Intel Core S-Series processors only go up to eight cores due to the limitations of a new 14-nanometer architecture, but the chipmaker says it’s making up for a lack of more cores with new AI features as well as a 19 percent increase in instructions per clock.


The new 11th-generation Intel Core S-Series desktop CPUs are coming out with a new, unusual architecture that cuts back on the maximum core count while bringing a boost in AI capabilities and instructions per clock that the chipmaker says makes them competitive with AMD’s latest Ryzen chips.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company announced the launch of the new processors, code-named Rocket Lake-S, Tuesday, saying that they come with up to a 19 percent increase in instructions per clock (IPC), up to 50 percent better integrated graphics performance as well as new AI capabilities with Intel Deep Learning Boost and support for Vector Neural Network Instructions.

[Related: AMD Strikes Back At Intel vPro With Ryzen Pro 5000 CPUs]

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The processors feature up to eight cores and a 5.3GHz turbo frequency and are based on Intel’s new Cypress Cove core architecture, which takes the company’s Ice Lake core architecture for the 10-nanometer process and backports it to Intel’s older 14nm process. The processors also use a 14nm version of the integrated Xe graphics from Intel’s 10nm Tiger Lake chips. The result is a processor with a higher IPC but bigger cores, which is why Intel is only able to fit up to eight cores on the die, two fewer than its previous-generation Comet Lake-S processors.

“The decision came down to 14 nanometers was the most established manufacturing process we had to deliver the frequencies we needed for desktop,” said Scott Rouse, platform marketing manager for Rocket Lake at Intel. “The largest die we could make on the 14nm manufacturing process was eight cores with integrated graphics, and we do need integrated graphics for all our corporate customers,” he later added.

Intel has already teased that its next-generation Alder Lake chips coming in the second half of the year will be its first desktop processors to use the company’s 10nm process, which debuted in volume in 2019 with the launch of Intel’s Ice Lake laptop processors. The company previously said Alder Lake will “combine high-performance cores and high-efficiency cores” and use a “new, enhanced version” of its 10nm SuperFin architecture that Intel used for last year’s Tiger Lake laptop processors.

In a pre-briefing, Intel showed that its new flagship eight-core Intel Core i9-11900K provides a 9 percent to 14 percent boost for frames per second in the PC games “Total War: Three Kingdoms,” “Gears of War 5,” “GRID 2019” and “Microsoft Flight Simulator” compared with the previous-generation Core i9-10900K. The midrange, six-core Core i5-11600K showed a range of 7 percent to 16 percent in increased frames with the same games in comparison to Intel’s previous-generation Core i5-10600K.

When compared with AMD’s flagship 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X, the Intel Core i9-11900K demonstrated a smaller improvement in frames per second with the same games, from 3 percent to 11 percent. But when it came to comparing Intel and AMD’s flagship desktop processors for content creation applications and general performance benchmarks, Intel demonstrated higher gains in some cases for the Core i9-11900K versus AMD’s Ryzen 5900X.

AMD declined to comment.

Marcus Kennedy, general manager of the gaming division in Intel’s Client Computing Group, said that while Intel’s Core i9-11900K may not have as many cores as the company’s previous flagship desktop processor or AMD’s Ryzen 5900X, the company was able to eke out gains for certain workloads thanks to the new processor’s Deep Learning Boost feature and Intel’s OpenVINO software.

“We have lots of different applications that are multithreaded where some of our AI applications and some of the way that we’re bringing AI to bear, plus the new IPC improvements that we get from the new Cypress Cove architecture, actually show huge performance improvements,” he said. “We actually do still see performance improvements and important gains, and so we think that it will still be a great processor of choice for those looking for multithreaded applications.”

With Magix Vegas Pro video editing, for instance, Intel said the Core i9-11900K was 35 percent better at 4K video editing than the Ryzen 5900X. For Adobe Photoshop’s colorize photo editing workload, Intel’s processor was 14 percent faster, according to the company. And for office productivity, Intel said the processor was 8 percent faster going through a Microsoft Office 365 workflow.

As for benchmarks, Intel said the Core i9-11900K provided 38 faster AI performance versus AMD’s Ryzen 9 5900X based on the MLPerf v0.7 inference benchmark. And for general Windows application performance, Intel said the processor was 6 percent better.

In contrast to Intel’s previous-generation Core i9-10900K, the new Core i9-11900K provided 61 percent better 4K video editing, 18 percent better photo editing and 12 percent better office productivity, according to tests conducted by the company.

Rouse said while processors with higher core counts, like Intel’s 10-core Core i9-10900K or AMD’s 12-core Ryzen 5900X, can deliver higher performance for strictly multithreaded applications, they don’t address a majority of the needs in the market.

“When you look at most of the usages people are doing, most content creation, especially in gaming and other applications, productivity, you don’t need the 10 cores, and so Rocket Lake has much better performance,” he said. “But if it’s strictly looking at only multithreading, then yes, you may see a little bit less performance on Rocket Lake. But that’s the nature of eight cores.”

Wallace Santos, CEO of Maingear, a Kenilworth, N.J.-based PC builder for the enthusiast market, said Intel is playing to its strengths with the new Rocket Lake launch, which will play well among gamers.

“It’ll do well because it’s going to be a great gaming part. And if you look at Intel’s target audience for that specific part, the 11900K specifically, they’re looking for the gamer that wants to extract the most amount of frames per second out of that high-end GPU that they probably just bought,” he said.

However, Santos said, Intel will probably lose out with customers who have greater need for multi-threaded applications, where higher core-count CPUs like AMD’s Ryzen 9 5900X or Intel’s prior-generation Core i9-10900K can play better.

“It will really depend on the application and also the price points of the Ryzen CPU that you’re buying,” he said. “Look, AMD has always delivered more cores, more threads for the money. And if you’re looking for something very specific, then you need to make a decision based on, ‘Hey, will more cores be better for me, or will the higher frequency be better for me?’”

Santos doesn’t think Intel customers will skip Rocket Lake to wait for Alder Lake because the demand for PC gaming systems has continued from over last year.

“I think we’re in different times. People are buying everything,” he said.

The 11th-generation Intel Core S-Series lineup consists of 19 models that range from i9 to i5, and some of them come without integrated graphics and bear the “F” suffix that was established two years ago. As part of the launch, the company has refreshed the lower-end portion of its 10th-generation Core desktop processors with 11 new i3 and Pentium Gold processors.

Beyond the increased IPC and new AI features, the 11th-generation Core-Series processors feature up to 20 lanes of PCIe 4.0 connectivity, support for up to DDR4-3200 memory, enhanced media and display capabilities such as HEVC and integrated HDMI 2.0 support, new overclocking capabilities and support for Resizable BAR, the latter of which can improve GPU memory capabilities.

With the new Intel 500 Series chipset for motherboards, the company is offering new and improved platform capabilities such as USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 support for double the USB connectivity speed and x8 DMI Gen 3.0 support for double the bandwidth between the chipset and processor. The Intel 500 Series supports memory overclocking, Wi-Fi 6E and Intel Thunderbolt 4.

The Intel 500 Series consists of the B560, H570 and Z590 chipsets, and they are compatible with last year’s 10th-generation Intel Core S-Series processors.