Conclusion

For anyone buying a new system today, the market is a little bleak. Anyone wanting a new GPU has to actively pay attention to stock levels, or drive to a local store for when a delivery arrives. The casual buyers then either look to pre-built systems (which are also flying off the shelves), or just hang on to what they have for another year.

But there is another way. I find that users fall in to two camps.

The first camp is the ‘upgrade everything at once’ attitude. These users sell their old systems and buy, mostly, all anew. Depending on budget and savings, this is probably a good/average system, and it means you get a good run of what’s available at that time. It’s a multi-year upgrade cycle where you might get something good for that generation, and hopefully everything is balanced.

The other camp is the ‘upgrade one piece at a time’. This means that if it’s time to upgrade a storage drive, or a memory kit, or a GPU, or a CPU, you get the best you can afford at that time. So you might end up with an older CPU but a top end GPU, good storage, good power supply, and then next time around, it’s all about CPU and motherboard upgrades. This attitude has the potential for more bottlenecks, but it means you often get the best of a generation, and each piece holds its resale value more.

In a time where we have limited GPUs available, I can very much see users going all out on the CPU/memory side of the equation, perhaps spending a bit extra on the CPU, while they wait for the graphics market to come back into play. After all, who really wants to pay $1300 for an RTX 3070 right now?

Performance and Analysis

In our Core i7-11700K review, our conclusions there are very much broadly applicable here. Intel’s Rocket Lake as a backported processor design has worked, but has critical issues with efficiency and peak power draw. Compared to the previous generation, clock-for-clock performance gains for math workloads are 16-22% or 6-18% for other workloads, however the loss of two cores really does restrict how much of a halo product it can be in light of what AMD is offering.

Rocket Lake makes good in offering PCIe 4.0, and enabling new features like Gear ratios for the memory controller, as well as pushing for more support for 2.5 gigabit Ethernet, however it becomes a tough sell. At the time we reviewed the Core i7-11700K, we didn’t know the pricing, and it was looking like AMD’s stock levels were pretty bad, subsequently making Intel the default choice. Since then, Intel's pricing hasn't turned out too bad for its performance compared to AMD (except for the Core i9), however AMD’s stock is a lot more bountiful.

For anyone looking at the financials for Intel, the new processor is 25% bigger than before, but not being sold for as big a margin as you might expect. In some discussions in the industry, it looks like retailers are getting roughly 20%/80% stock for Core i9 to Core i7, indicating that Intel is going to be very focused on that Core i7 market around $400-$450. In that space, AMD and Intel both have well-performing products, however AMD gets an overall small lead and is much more efficient.

However, with the GPU market being so terrible, users could jump an extra $100 and get 50% more AMD cores. When AMD is in stock, Intel’s Rocket Lake is more about the platform than the processor. If I said that that the Rocket Lake LGA1200 platform had no upgrade potential, for users buying in today, an obvious response might be that neither does AM4, and you’d be correct. However, for any user buying a Core i7-11700K on an LGA1200 today, compared to a Ryzen 7 5800X customer on AM4, the latter still has the opportunity to go to 16 cores if needed. Rocket Lake comes across with a lot of dead-ends in that regard, especially as the next generation is meant to be on a new socket, and with supposedly new memory.

Rocket Lake: Failed Experiment, or Good Attempt?

For Intel, Rocket Lake is a dual purpose design. On the one hand, it provides Intel with something to put into its desktop processor roadmap while the manufacturing side of the business is still getting sorted. On the other hand it gives Intel a good marker in the sand for what it means to backport a processor.

Rocket Lake, in the context of backporting, has been a ‘good attempt’ – good enough to at least launch into the market. It does offer performance gains in several key areas, and does bring AVX-512 to the consumer market, albeit at the expense of power. However in a lot of use cases that people are enabling today, which aren’t AVX-512 enabled, there’s more performance to be had with older processors, or the competition. Rocket Lake also gets you PCIe 4.0, however users might feel that is a small add-in when AMD has PCIe 4.0, lower power, and better general performance for the same price.

Intel’s future is going to be full of processor cores built for multiple process nodes. What makes Rocket Lake different is that when the core was designed for 10nm, it was solely designed for 10nm, and no thought was ever given to a 14nm version. The results in this review show that this sort of backporting doesn’t really work, not to the same level of die size, performance, and profit margin needed to move forward. It was a laudable experiment, but in the future, Intel will need to co-design with multiple process nodes in mind.

Gaming Tests: Strange Brigade
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  • macakr - Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - link

    really? that bad? I can get that on a 15w Ryzen 4700u! Reply
  • Slash3 - Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - link

    The 4700u mobile APU has a much stronger iGPU core, similar to that of Rocket Lake. Reply
  • Alistair - Wednesday, March 31, 2021 - link

    Yeah it is that bad. Generally if you keep the resolution at 900p or 720p (or 50 percent scaling of 1080p, which is ~768p) the performance is ok. But it falls off dramatically at 1080p. No linear scaling here. Basically it is MUCH worse than laptop parts. I have DDR3600C16 so was expecting better. Oh well.

    Runeterra was barely playable at 1440p, just a basic card game, but the FPS shoots up dramatically at 1080p or lower, so that's fine. Would be nice to play Hearthstone and Runeterra with integrated graphics one day...
    Reply
  • Tom Sunday - Thursday, April 8, 2021 - link

    I am getting on the years and like to finally replacing my 13-year old Dell XPS 730x. Its time after being forced to replacing (3-times) PSU's, Motherboards, AIOs, GPU's and RAM. The new Intel i5 11600K holds interest. Will the 'integrated graphics' be good enough for just browsing the Net and watching old western or war movies on utube and with not doing any gaming? How good is the IGPU in this regard? Once I have more money I can hopefully buy a used discrete GPU 'over the table' next year at the local computer show? Will probably have my new system cobbled together by the local stripcenter PC shop and by one of the Bangladesh boys. So it will be good to sound somewhat intelligent discussing the hardware and not being pushed into what is cheap and in stock that day. Thoughts? Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, April 9, 2021 - link

    The iGPU on Rocket Lake will be fine for those purposes. However, so would the iGPU on the cheaper Comet Lake processors out there - they may be a better (cheap) option if you're going to buy now and upgrade later.

    Another option would be to go for a system based around the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 and re-use an existing GPU, which would also give you the option to upgrade the CPU again to something like a 5800X or even 5900X later. Personally, I'd go with that approach.
    Reply
  • 0ldman79 - Friday, April 16, 2021 - link

    The integrated GPU is fine for movies and web.

    I've got a Skylake laptop with GTX 960M, it uses the iGPU until I fire up a game.

    The h264 and h265 playback are accelerated through the iGPU, barely draws any power at all for video playback. The screen draws all the power. It'll play back 1080P 60 h264 or h265 all day long at under 2W. There are no issues using it for the web or anything else using integrated, it'll even play some games at lower settings, roughly 1/4 of a 750 Ti (960M) in gaming, though the newer chips will be slightly better.
    Reply
  • Alexvrb - Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - link

    Vega 11 is actually a bit slower than the latest 8 CU Vega found in Renoir/Cezanne. Not enough to catch up to Iris Xe, I don't think... but impressive given the smaller GPU and same power (or better). That's still GCN, too. If they release an APU with a ~10 CU RDNA2 GPU, it should give them a substantial boost... as long as bandwidth doesn't cripple it. Next gen memory should help, but they might also integrate a chunk of Infinity Cache. It has proven effective on larger RDNA2 siblings, giving them good performance with a relatively narrow memory bus. Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Wednesday, March 31, 2021 - link

    Good ole iGPU distraction.

    How about the most important stuff? How about having it appear on the first page?

    • performance per watt

    • performance per decibel

    Apples-to-apples comparison, which means the same CPU cooler in the same case for Intel and AMD.

    That is important, not this obsession over a pointless sort-of GPU.
    Reply
  • Jezwinni - Saturday, April 3, 2021 - link

    I agree the iGPU is a distraction, but disagree on what declare the important things.

    Personally the performance for the price is the important thing.

    Any extra power draw isn't going to blow up my PSU, make my electricity bills unmanageable, or save the world.

    Why you consider the performance per watt most important?
    Reply
  • 0ldman79 - Friday, April 16, 2021 - link

    Performance per watt on iGPU only matters in mobile devices, even then it's barely measurable.

    The iGPU is only going to pull 10W max, normally they peak around half that.
    Reply

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