Wednesday, 17 March 2021 14:18

Intel strikes back with 11th-gen Rocket Lake S processors, but is it enough?


Intel's 14nm Rocket Lake-S processors, in an era where AMD is at 7nm and smartphone processors are at 5nm, are Intel's newest 11th-gen processors, led by its flagship Intel Core i9-11900K, with Intel not having released an i9 range until AMD's challenge a few years ago.

Intel is a great example of why competition matters. For most of the 2010s, it released new generations of Core i-Series processors with what were more or less incremental improvements on a year-by-year basis, even if it is obvious that a 2021 processor is much better than one from 5 or 10 year ago.

Intel has been shamed by AMD's processor leadership and dominance over the past few years, so much so that Intel was forced to release a Core i9 series processor to compete, something Intel had never bothered to do in the decade or so before that.

Intel is also under threat from Apple's M1 series CPU, which even in its first generation (followed by a decade of development in making iPhone and iPad processors) seriously outclasses Intel's processors in being able to run at performance levels even in a fanless system.

My Intel Core i3-powered 2020 MacBook Air's fans loved to turn on when not running Apple's own apps, and especially during Zoom video calls, while my M1-powered late 2020 MacBook Air is entirely fanless, aside from having legions of fans that love what Apple has done to well over DOUBLE battery life while running most Intel-compiled apps with the Rosetta 2 translation engine better and faster than Intel processors can natively - and again without the fan needing to spin up.

Intel's Atom was an attempt at this, and if Intel didn't abandon Atom tech years ago, it might have figured out how to have the Intel version of an M1 processor by now, even as Qualcomm's ARM processors nip (surprisngly toothless) at Intel's heels, unlike Apple's M1 which goes for Intel's jugular, even as the M1 will be the slowest and weakest desktop-class processor ever makes, and it's only up from here. 

These kinds of developments would ordinarily be death blows, but Intel still powers the majority of the world's computers, and the company certainly isn't dead yet, and while it still makes 14nm processors, as AMD has 7nm and the A14, Snapdragon 888 and Kirin 9000 are 5nm, we live in a world where, at least for now, 14nm is still acceptable.

So, what does Intel have to say about its new 11th-gen Core S-Series processors, code named Rocket Lake-S, as opposed to Bottom-of-the-Lake where many critics think Intel is headed?

The company says its 11th-gen Core S series delivers "unmatched overclocking" and "game performance", with its flagship Intel Core i9-11900K able to reach speeds of "up to" 5.3Ghz with Intel's "Thermal Velocity Boost", promising "even more performance to gamers and PC enthusiasts."

We're told this processor is "engineered on the new Cypress Cove architecture" and is "designed to transform hardware and software efficiency and increase raw gaming performance​."

We're also informed the new architecture "brings up to 19% gen-over-gen instructions per cycle (IPC) improvement for the highest frequency cores and adds Intel® UHD graphics featuring the Intel Xe graphics architecture for rich media and intelligent graphics capabilities. That matters because games and most applications continue to depend on high-frequency cores to drive high frame rates and low latency."

Thus, this new processor is "designed to game", with Intel boasting its processor "continues to push desktop gaming performance to the limits and deliver the most amazing immersive experiences for players everywhere."

At the top of the stack is the 11th Gen Intel Core i9-11900K, which is presumably one of the most expensive consumer desktop processors ever made, which Intel says features "unmatched performance with up to 5.3 gigahertz, eight cores, 16 threads and 16 megabytes of Intel Smart Cache. The unlocked 11th Gen Intel Core desktop processor supports fast memory speeds with DDR4-3200 to help enable smooth gameplay and seamless multitasking on this platform."

Improvements in this generation include:

  • Up to 19% gen-over-gen IPC performance improvement.
  • Up to 50% better integrated graphics performance with Intel UHD graphics featuring Intel Xe graphics architecture.
  • Intel Deep Learning Boost and Vector Neural Network Instructions support​ to accelerate artificial intelligence (AI) inference — vastly improving performance for deep learning workloads.
  • Enhanced overclocking tools and features for flexible overclocking and tuning performance and experience.
  • Through close collaboration with more than 200 of the top game developers, Intel brings a host of game, engine, middleware and rendering optimisations to applications so they can take advantage of 11th Gen Intel Core S-series processors to deliver exciting gaming experiences.

Superior Tuning and Stability:

11th Gen Intel Core desktop processors introduce new overclocking tools and features for more flexible tuning to achieve unmatched speeds and superior game performance. This generation includes real-time memory overclocking which enables changes to DDR4 frequency in real time, extending memory overclocking support for H570 and B560 chipsets allowing users to experience overclocking, Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) 2 and AVX-512 voltage guard band override, and an all new integrated memory controller with wider timings and Gear 2 support (in addition to Gear 1 support).

Media and Streaming Features for Days:

The new 11th Gen Intel Core S-series delivers rich media experiences, from AAA gaming to high-definition streaming with additional features including DDR4-3200 MHz support, 20 PCIe 4.0 lanes, Intel Quick Sync Video, enhanced media​ (10bit AV1/12bit high-efficiency video coding decode and end-to-end compression), enhanced display (Integrated HDMI 2.0, HBR3), and discrete Thunderbolt 4 and Intel Wi-Fi 6E support.

More information on Intel 11th Gen Intel Core S-series desktop processors is below, you can also visit the 11th Gen Intel Core Desktop Processors Product Brief.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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