Is Rocket Lake faster than Ryzen only in games?
Intel isn’t stopping at games. The company trotted out favorable productivity benchmarks, too: a 35-percent performance boost in Magix Vegas Pro, 14-percent performance uptick in Photoshop, and 8-percent advantage in Microsoft Office performance. Intel also showed off MLPerf with a 38-percent advantage, and SYSMark 25 with about a 6-percent performance edge over Ryzen 9 5900X.
Should I believe those performance numbers?
Of course Intel (and AMD and Nvidia) will show the most favorable benchmarks before a chip launch, and of course that’s biased. But biased is different from untrue. Publicly traded companies can’t contrive performance results because of the legal liabilities, but they can err on the side of showing the ones that make their chips look best.
We will say the performance in Magix Vegas Pro does seem tied to the new DL Boost instructions in 11th-gen cores. We’ve seen the 11th-gen Tiger Lake mobile chip clean up against both Ryzen 5000 mobile and Apple’s highly touted M1 Arm chip, in workloads involving Intel’s AI features. Photoshop tends to favor Intel’s newer cores as well. Likewise, Microsoft Office tests we’ve done on the 11th-gen laptop CPUs also give Intel an advantage.
We don’t doubt these results (although we’ll withhold our final judgment until we’ve tested them ourselves), but there are plenty of real-world application results that are glaringly absent from Intel’s claims, such as Adobe Premiere. The trick with any chip is to match benchmarks to what you do on your PC. It’s always good to wait for more reviews to go public before buying.
But wasn’t 11th-gen Rocket Lake already reviewed?
The 11th-gen Rocket Lake launch may be one of the leakiest in a long time because of that blunder in Germany, where a European retailer accidentally put the Core i7-11700K on sale weeks ahead of time. That brought us formal reviews of the retail chips from two respectable sites: Anandtech.com and Hardwareluxx.de. Hardwareluxx.de called its write up an advance or preliminary test, while Anandtech’s Dr. Ian Cutress felt secure enough to call his a full review.
Both reviews showed some areas of strength for the 11th-gen Core i7, but somewhat disappointing results for the feature Intel is pushing the most: gaming. That’s definitely deflated some expectations that Intel would re-take the pole position it lost to Ryzen 5000.
This story is far from done yet. Test results can vary depending on final drivers and final BIOSes, which neither of these early reviews had. Different reviewers will also run different tests. We recommend waiting before making up your mind, because the overall consensus could change—or it could stay the same. Maybe, just maybe, Intel fans will just have to wait for the 12th-gen Alder Lake instead.
More About Rocket Lake
Should I care about AVX512 support?
One of the cooler features you’ll get in Rocket Lake chips is support for AVX512 instructions and Intel’s DL Boost and VNNI. These are a set of dedicated circuits for processing math, particularly useful for machine learning and AI routines.
Intel first introduced AVX512 in its expensive and high-end Core X CPU, and to laptops in the 10th-gen Ice Lake as well as the 11th-gen Tiger Lake chips. The 11th-gen Rocket Lake chips finally bring the feature to desktops.
When first introduced, there were no practical consumer applications for DL Boost. That’s slowly starting to change with applications from Topaz Labs, Nero, CyberLink and Magix Vegas Pro. The results we’ve seen on applications that support it on laptops have been phenomenal: The 11th-gen Tiger Lake simply crushes AMD’s Ryzen 5000 as well as Apple’s M1 chip.
Whether that performance from the 11th-gen laptop chip translates to the 11th-gen desktop chip isn’t known, but we expect it will certainly be faster than CPUs without the support. Whether you should care or not will largely depend on the applications you use—thus far, just a handful of consumer applications and mainly in image processing, so the odds are probably pretty low. But Intel has an army of software engineers helping developers adopt its latest technologies. If imitation is validation, it looks like AMD may add support for AVX-512 as well.
Memory may matter more with Rocket Lake
Rocket Lake features a new integrated memory controller, which Intel officials called “really something special.” Among the features it supports is Gear 1 and Gear 2 with DDR4 RAM. Gear 1 indicates a 1:1 ratio between the memory controller and the RAM, and Gear 2 indicates a 1:2 ratio. They operate analogously to the gearing in your car: For example, if your engine runs at 3,000 rpm at 30 mph, in order to hit 60 mph, you would need to to rev the engine at 6,000 rpm with a 1:1 ratio. By shifting to Gear 2 or 1:2, the engine could remain at 3,000 rpm while the car moves at 60 mph. Intel officials said the latency range is also improved, so a person can fine-tune for low latency or for very high clock speeds to wring out more bandwidth from Rocket Lake.
Gear 1 is supported fully only with Core i9
Intel made one controversial decision: Gear 1 is supported fully only on the Core i9-11900K chip. On the Core i7-10700K, Intel draws a line: RAM run at DDR4/3200 is supported only at Gear 2. If you want to run Gear 1, that’s supported only with DDR4/2933 or slower memory.
Why this decision was made isn’t known. Before you break out the torches and pitchforks, though, consider that this may be an official spec that Intel’s comfortable with guaranteeing, and it could be bent if you’re feeling lucky.
Real-time memory overclocking
Intel’s integrated memory controllers have long had a stellar and more robust reputation than AMD’s. Another feature Intel will introduce is the ability to overclock the RAM and integrated memory controller in real time from within the OS. Full details are not yet available, but you could potentially see changing the memory clock for applications that pick up an advantage from increased bandwidth, and then scaling back the memory clock speeds in applications that favor lower latency.
You can overclock RAM on cheaper motherboards
With this improved memory controller and all this talk of Gear 1 and Gear 2, it’s probably no surprise that Intel is loosening the rules on memory overclocking on lower-cost motherboards, too. Running RAM outside specs in the past was limited only to high-end Z-series chipsets, but with new 500-series chipsets, the more affordable B and H-series will be capable of it too.
Any Rocket Lake CPU supports memory overclocking
Intel is removing the artificial limits on memory overclocking on CPUs. In the past, if you had a high-end Z-series motherboard that supported memory overclocking, you still couldn’t overclock the RAM unless you also had an unlocked K or KF CPU. Intel now says any 11th-gen chip will allow memory overclocking, even if you can’t overclock the chip’s clock speeds.
Rocket Lake is an LGA1200 chip
Like the previous 10th gen Comet Lake-S, 11th gen Rocket Lake-S will fit into LGA1200 motherboard sockets. That means you can use a newer 11th gen chip in older Z490 LGA1200 motherboards as well as in newer Z590 boards. Comet Lake-S should also work in most newer Z590 boards as too.
Rocket Lake supports PCIe 4.0 on Z490
One of the already well-known features of Rocket Lake is its support for the PCIe 4.0 interface, which doubles the bandwidth of PCIe 3.0. This was expected on the paired Z590 chipset. Intel confirmed that some Z490 boards will support Gen 4 speeds too—but only if the board maker supports the feature.
Rocket Lake’s 500 chipsets support wider DMI 3.0
One last feature worth highlighting on Rocket Lake and 500-series chipset boards is the wider x8 connection from the CPU to the chipset. This should help relieve any potential bottlenecks from cards plugged into PCIe slots, or multiple high-speed SSDs not plugged directly into the CPU’s PCIe lanes. This may seem like a mundane plumbing issue, but with the chipset’s native support for USB 3.2 2x2 20Gbps speeds, plus multiple M.2 SSDs, it’s a long-overdue upgrade for Intel.