Today marks the beginning of retail availability for Intel’s 2021 gaming CPU lineup, codenamed Rocket Lake-S. Rocket Lake-S is still stuck with Intel’s venerable 14nm process – we’ve long lost count of how many pluses to stick at the end – with features bounced back from newer 10nm designs.
The clock speed on Rocket Lake-S remains high, but the thread count has decreased on the high side. Overall, most benchmarks show Rocket Lake-S underperformed last year’s Comet Lake, let alone its real competition coming from AMD Ryzen CPUs.
Our practical test results didn’t seem to match Intel’s marketing claims of up to 19 percent gen-on-gen IPC (Instructions Per Clock Cycle) improvement over 10th generation components.
Multithreaded CPU performance
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Core i9-11900K underperforms last year’s Core i9-10900K in many multithreaded tests – this year’s model offers just eight cores against last year’s 10. On the plus side, Intel’s claims of 19% gen-on-gen IPC are largely confirmed here, with the loss largely offset in Passmark and Geekbench.
This year’s Core i5 outperforms its big sibling Core i9. In Cinebench R20, Core i5-11600K almost overtakes the Ryzen 5 5600X and easily dominates last year’s Comet Lake i5 equivalent. It doesn’t catch up to its Ryzen competitor in Passmark or Geekbench multithreaded tests, but it totally outperforms last year’s model.
This represents the clearest, most significant generational victory we’ve seen out of Rocket Lake-S.
Single-threaded CPU performance
Core i9-11900K manages to set new records for single-threaded performance – albeit by wafer-thin margins, in Cinebench R20 and Passmark. Geekbench 5 gives the i9-11900K a more notable win.
As always, we advise readers not to feast too much on this one. Few real-world workloads are truly single-threaded, and even the largest margins shown here are thin.
Core i5-11600K gets neck and neck with Ryzen 5 5600X on single-threaded benchmarks, and it does so while racking up more significant wins over last year’s Core i5-10600K. For the most part, this is the same relationship we saw between Rocket Lake-S, Zen 3 and Comet Lake in the previous Core i9 vs Ryzen 9 cards.
Time Spy gaming benchmarks put this year’s i9-11900K neck and neck with last year’s i9-10900K, while showing a small but noticeable gen-on-gen improvement for the i5-11600K. Time Spy Extreme – which allows for more advanced processor optimizations and higher thread count – penalizes this year’s i9 for its reduced thread count, for a significant net drop.
before you get at excited about these results, we have to remind you that this is only the Time Spy CPU test – it focuses on modeling physics in ways that don’t lend themselves to GPU rendering. Assuming typical games would see similar reductions in overall frame rate would be a serious flaw.
As we noted in the Spring 2021 gaming-focused system guide, the CPU has minimal impact on AAA gaming: the frame rate in most games is almost entirely determined by the GPU. As the nothing but what you have open on your pc is the game, you just need to meet a minimum CPU threshold – roughly speaking “2015 era i5 or better.” The more extra tasks you load onto your system — browser tabs and email clients opening in the background or, worst of all, capturing your own games — the more CPU power you’ll need to keep things moving .
In fact, we saw no change in the full Time Spy score between the 10th and 11th gen CPUs, as tested with an RTX 2060 Super GPU – and we didn’t expect that either. Yes, the single-threaded performance has been significantly improved; no, that generally doesn’t affect game performance much.
Integrated GPU Performance
Rocket Lake-S gets a small but noticeable upgrade to its integrated graphics performance: the UHD 630 graphics from the 10th Gen Core CPU are bumped up to UHD 750. While it’s an improvement, it’s nothing to write home about – if you were hoping for an equivalent of Intel’s Iris Xe graphics in Tiger Lake laptop CPUs (or AMD’s Vega 11 in desktop APUs), you’ll be very disappointed.
A modest GeForce GTX 1060 is good for a Time Spy Graphics score of about 4,000. Intel’s flagship i7-1185G7 laptop CPU is nearly half that in 1572, with AMD’s Vega 11 noticeably lagging behind 1226. Rocket Lake-S’ UHD 750 comes in with a yawn-inducing 654 — about half the performance of Vega. 11, and about a third of Iris Xe’s performance.
While the UHD graphics are very disappointing, we have to point out that at least they do to exist. Competitive Ryzen CPUs in the retail channel don’t offer integrated graphics at all – and with today’s supply shortages and ugly price increases in discrete GPUs, that could mean paying an annoying premium in full system builds that aren’t meant to focus on gaming in the first place.