We’ve heard for a while that Intel might respond to AMD’s 7nm onslaught with higher core counts on desktop processors. A new leak suggests that’s exactly what the company will do, with a new chipset supporting up to 10-core CPUs built on the company’s mature 14nm process. This will supposedly require a new CPU socket, as Intel is increasing the power delivery and capability of its desktop motherboards to compensate for the higher power requirements in a 10-core chip.
The new socket is supposedly LGA 1200 and the top-end chips will offer 10C/20T configurations if rumors are to be believed. TDP is also finally rising, up to 125W. This last is something of an interesting point. Intel CPU power consumption currently has little relation to TDP if you allow the CPU to boost; TDP is measured at base clock, not boost clock. Intel may need to expand TDP to deal with adding more CPU cores, but in the past, it has kept its CPUs in the same TDP brackets by cutting base clock.
Our guess is that Intel is raising TDP because it doesn’t want to do this again. Cutting its base clocks further to remain within the old 95W TDP bracket with 10 cores instead of eight is probably possible, but runs the risk of creating negative comparisons against previous generation parts or AMD hardware. Intel reduced base clock speed when it moved from the Core i7-8700K to the Core i9-9900K — the 9900K has a base clock of 3.6GHz, while the 8700K is 3.7GHz. The old 7700K had a base clock of 4.2GHz, though obviously vastly inferior performance overall.
The relatively low base clock may not have been much of a concern when AMD’s own Ryzen 7 base clocks were also in the 3.6 – 3.7GHz range, but AMD adjusted its own clock ranges slightly for 7nm. The 3700X has a base clock of 3.7GHz, while the Ryzen 3800X is 3.9GHz base and the 3900X is a 3.8GHz chip. Intel may want to bring clocks up slightly to make certain it matches on base, and the only way to do that is to nudge the TDP higher.
Supposedly the new 400-series adds another 49 pins to hit LGA1200, with the extra pins used for power delivery. There would be a few new features, like integrated 802.11ax support and presumably an easier method of integrating Thunderbolt 3, similar to what we’ve seen in mobile. 65W and 35W CPUs would still be supported (and released) on this latest 14nm revision, it’s just the enthusiast TDP bracket that would stretch up to 125W. Intel would likely try to keep the boost clock as high as possible, but I don’t want to speculate on what that will be.
Catching AMD Wouldn’t Be the Goal
Anyone who has paid attention to relative standings between AMD and Intel has already realized that a 10-core Comet Lake isn’t going to match AMD in most performance areas. The 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X is on its way, and we’ve already seen what happens when a 10-core Intel HEDT CPU takes on a 16-core AMD Threadripper: The 10-core CPU loses. Mostly, it loses by a lot.
But while this might sound faintly absurd, beating AMD in absolute multi-core performance probably isn’t the goal here. Both companies are working towards their respective strengths: For AMD, that means emphasizing multi-core while working to improve single-core, where Intel still holds a narrow advantage in some games at 1080p. For Intel, that means attempting to improve single-core while competing more effectively in multi-core. Bumping up to 10 cores and raising base clock via TDP increase probably helps the company achieve that. It’s going to take more than +2 cores to put Intel seriously back in the multi-threading game, and the company knows that.
The rumors of a 10-core Comet Lake are strong enough and have been running around for long enough that I think they’re pretty solid. We suspect this generation will see the return of Hyper-Threading as well to boost Intel’s competitive standing against AMD at lower price brackets. Without any price information, we obviously can’t opine on how the two companies will stack up, but Intel has a history of introducing better price/performance ratios at major product launches. This suggests we’ll see the company adjust its core count/dollar strategy at the next major launch.