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Rocket Lake Lifts Off From Sunny Cove

March 30, 2021

Author: Aakash Jani

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Intel, which once dominated the desktop-processor market, hasn’t delivered a new architecture to its desktop customers in more than five years. To break this drought, the company backported a new microarchitecture to 14nm in a historic first. The new Rocket Lake processor finally replaces the Skylake CPU with the Sunny Cove microarchitecture, originally introduced in the 10nm Ice Lake products.

The new microarchitecture delivers 13% more integer instructions per clock (IPC) and 18% more floating-point IPC. Relative to the earlier Comet Lake, Rocket Lake chips nearly match in peak clock speed and lag by less than 10% in base frequencies. The Rocket Lake die features eight cores, two fewer than Comet Lake’s. Rocket Lake also makes a big leap with its GPU, raising performance by 50% on synthetic benchmarks. The new processors are in full production and should appear in PCs in 2Q21.

Rocket Lake delivers a greater CPU-performance gain than its three predecessors combined. Kaby Lake, Coffee Lake, a refresh product, and finally Comet Lake delivered only incremental clock-speed gains, leaving single-core performance improving at a snail’s pace for years. Rocket Lake blasts out of this rut by revitalizing the CPU design, which will help it compete with AMD’s latest Ryzen 5000 processors based on Zen 3.

Intel has already released a few products such as Ice Lake and Tiger Lake in its 10nm process, but they target laptop PCs with slower clocks. For its desktop line, it must deliver peak frequencies greater than 5GHz to remain competitive. Even with the “SuperFin” upgrade, the company’s 10nm node still lacks the speed yield for these fast parts, forcing its desktop line to remain at 14nm++ for another generation. The company has always kept its new CPU designs in new process technology, pushing customers to upgrade, but the slower 10nm speeds forced the unprecedented backport.

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