Farewell, 14nm: Intel Launches Alder Lake
Intel’s Alder Lake launches this morning, and it’s a momentous occasion for the chip giant. For over six years, Intel’s desktop processors have been stuck on the 14nm process.
Intel always planned for the first 10nm CPUs to be mobile processors, but the company didn’t anticipate how long it would take to build a viable version of a 10nm chip in the first place. Alder Lake is built on an advanced version of Intel’s 10nm process that the company is now referring to as Intel 7, and it includes the first hybrid CPU cores that any x86 manufacturer has ever shipped, with a mixture of big and bigger cores.
ExtremeTech’s full review of Alder Lake isn’t quite ready for this morning’s 9 AM NDA lift, but we’ve spent a lot of time with the core the past week or so, especially in comparison to AMD’s Ryzen 9 5900X. We’ll have full numbers up shortly, but one thing I wanted to say in time for the actual launch: Alder Lake finally, finally moves the ball forward from the 14nm era.
Intel’s Core i9-12900K is extremely well-positioned relative to chips like the Ryzen 9 5900X, with generally faster performance than AMD’s competitor across a range of applications. It balances these impressive wins with a few problems. There are problems with some games not-launching because Intel’s hybrid CPU cores aren’t picked up properly in Denuvo. Sometimes a workload can wind up stuck on hybrid cores if you don’t position desktop windows appropriately. The latter is trivial to fix by rearranging windows and Intel says incompatible Denuvo titles are being patched as quickly as possible.
While the 12900K opens a gap between itself and the Ryzen 9 5900X, the latter still appears to lead on power consumption. The shift to 10nm (Intel 7) saves Intel some power compared to Rocket Lake — not exactly a surprise — but hasn’t enabled Intel to quite catch AMD on power. More on that in the near future, but AMD isn’t exactly out of this fight from a power efficiency standpoint. This makes the company’s recent comments about power efficiency and its own ability to fight Intel with conventional Ryzen cores a bit more interesting.
It’s not all upside for Alder Lake. The platform is going to be quite expensive at launch given the cost of Z690 motherboards and DDR5 memory. Availability will probably be initially limited given how rapacious scalpers have been this past year, and that may add to pricing pressure. We’ll have benchmark-backed details on the two cores in the near future.
On the whole, though, Alder Lake is very good. It improves on all of the areas Intel needed to improve on and it moves performance forward in absolute terms. High prices may deter some customers — they certainly don’t hurt AMD’s competitive standing, since its chips rely on mainstream DDR4 — but they won’t be a meaningful barrier to long-term adoption. DDR5 prices will fall as the memory goes mainstream.
After dominating the desktop CPU performance charts with Zen 3 for a full year, AMD is going to be facing real competitive pressure on the desktop again. Given historical trends, this is likely to lead to good things for desktop enthusiasts and downward pressure on CPU prices.