Intel Rocket Lake Desktop CPUs Will Launch in March, Gigabyte Confirms

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Gigabyte has confirmed that Intel will launch its Rocket Lake CPU refresh in March, as part of an announcement touting its own PCIe 4.0 support. Gigabyte announced today that if you own a Z490 motherboard, you’ll be getting a UEFI update to support Rocket Lake CPUs with full PCIe 4.0 support.

The rest of the PR goes into detail on how Gigabyte engineered their motherboards to handle the higher heat output of PCIe 4.0, and the fact that addressable BAR support is coming to the company’s motherboards as well. Addressable BAR is the same feature AMD debuted as Smart Access Memory earlier this year.

The March 2021 date confirms what we’ve heard previously — late March is more likely than early March. It’s going to be genuinely interesting to see how Cypress Cove performs against AMD’s Zen 3. Generally speaking, based on leaked benchmarks and early data, we’re looking at impressive gains for Intel in single-thread performance. Multi-thread performance estimates for the Core i9-11900K have varied. In some cases, the 11900K is almost a match for the 10-core Core i9-10900K. In a few leaked results, it’s actually been faster on eight cores than Comet Lake was on 10.

The debut of Rocket Lake will, at the very least, pry Intel off of Skylake. Skylake bears the strange ignominy of being Intel’s most-successful core (in terms of the total number of chips shipped over the past five years that use the microarchitecture), while simultaneously representing a CPU all of us will be glad to see the last of. Skylake, Kaby, Coffee, and Comet all share an excellent underlying architecture — if it had been anything less than that, Intel could never have relied on it for five years running in the first place. At this point, however, everyone is ready to see what Willow Cove brings to the table. Right now it looks like the CPU will combine 14nm Comet Lake clocks with a more advanced 10nm microarchitecture.

As for the chip’s competitive standing against AMD, we can make a few safe guesses there. The consistent emphasis on high single-thread performance suggests Intel will try to take back the space in gaming that AMD recently carved out for itself. I’m not going to try to predict exactly how an eight-core Core i7 will stack up against a Ryzen 7 core, but Intel’s historic practice has been to price its chips more expensively than their AMD counterparts. If Intel parks the Core i9-11900K at $450 – $550, AMD will almost certainly retain a price/performance advantage on its own eight-core chips. If Intel prices aggressively against AMD’s eight-core CPUs, AMD will still have the option to cut its own top-end prices and attack Intel with higher core counts, as it’s done consistently since 2017.

Rocket Lake is an important launch for Intel, if only because it’s become critical that the company demonstrate some forward momentum for itself outside of mobile. Rocket Lake is a stopgap — Alder Lake, which likely drops in 2022, will usher in Intel’s hybrid CPU technology and a new LGA1700 socket — but it could be a highly competitive stopgap for Intel in the $200 – $400 range, depending on how the company prices it.

Of course, all of this theorizing assumes you’ll be able to buy a CPU in the first place. Whether that’s a good bet or not remains to be seen. Supposedly we’ll see better availability on a lot of hardware by the end of Q1, but given how bad things have been for months, I’m not going to blame anyone who looks at that with skepticism.

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