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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  • Hulk - Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - link

    I have also been looking for iGPU tests?

    It's strange. It's like it doesn't exist.
    Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - link

    Predictable results. I don't believe Intel back-ported to 14 nm because their 10 nm couldn't reach high frequencies, they back-ported because their yields at 10 nm aren't high enough and they had manufacturing capacity available at 14 nm. That made the expense of back-porting the design worthwhile.
    Regarding Rocket Lake, the most interesting CPUs in this lineup are the non-K i5, especially the ones that still have the 32 EUs enabled. Any chance you (Ian) can put one or two 11500 or 11600 through their paces. I would really like to also see how "35 W" the T models are. One of those, plus a decent, WiFi-enabled 560 MoBo for $100-130 could serve HTPC and office duties.
    Reply
  • Otritus - Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - link

    Rocket lake is an 8 core cpu based on the cypress (sunny) cove microarchitecture. Tigerlake H is an 8 core cpu based on the willow (sunny+) cove microarchitecture. Both have 32 Xe EUs. 10SF and 10ESF yields well (Intel is shipping much larger server processors just fine). The problem is 10SF seems to max out around 5Ghz which is the upper bounds of the 11700K. The slight clock bump of the 11900K lets Intel claim the fastest gaming cpu, which would not have been possible on Tigerlake H. 14nm having excess capacity was simply the cherry on top. Reply
  • goatfajitas - Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - link

    I dont th9ink anything Intel has done here can be called "cherry on top" if anything we will look on this as a hot mess (pun intended). :P Reply
  • AntonErtl - Wednesday, March 31, 2021 - link

    Intel shipping larger chips in their current 10nm processes does not disprove yield problems. If there is a flaw in a core on a 40-core die, jut disable the core (and another one) and sell it as 38-core CPU. If there are flaws in three cores, sell it as 36-core CPU, etc. Of course that's also possible and done for Tiger Lake, but there is also parts of the CPU where you have no such redundancy, but the area for these parts is not necessarily larger for the bigger dies, and the huge price for the big dies may make it economically more viable there than on the desktop.

    What makes me believe that either 10nm yield or 10nm capacity is not so great (or capcity is not reat because yield is not great) is that the announced Xeon W-13xx CPUs are going to be Rocket, not Tiger Lake; at 80W TDP, I expect that Tiger Lake would outperform Rocket Lake for most multi-threaded and (thangs to larger cache) some single-threaded workloads, yet they give us Rocket Lake,
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, April 9, 2021 - link

    Intel arriving nearly 3 years late with Ice Lake SP and only managing "over 200,000" in the first 3 months isn't "just fine", it's pretty indicative that they're still struggling.

    We have no indication of ESF yields yet as there are no ESF products shipping yet.

    Rocket Lake was ported when Intel couldn't get clock speeds *or* yields out of their 10nm process. If their yields and capacity for 10SF were as good as you're implying, we wouldn't still be waiting for Tiger Lake H to actually hit the market so long after Tiger Lake launched.
    Reply
  • YazX_ - Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - link

    4 years ago, AMD was broke, fighting for survival, targeting the poor and intel was the top dog and spit the same s.hit for the 10 years, fast forward now, AMD is the top dog and intel cannot even catch up.

    Regarding the review, yah as usual s.hit intel CPU that draws alot of power and still priced higher than AMD while offering less.
    Reply
  • haukionkannel - Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - link

    And Intel will be selling these much, much more than amd can their own...
    Intel just need to exist, to win amd in market share...
    Reply
  • Qasar - Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - link

    haukionkannel yep, only because its on the shelf, if/when ryzen 5000 supply gets better expect that to change. once that happens intel wont be selling that well. no one i know is even looking at intel right now, all waiting for zen 3. Reply
  • SkyBill40 - Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - link

    You mean Zen 4? Reply

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