A few weeks ago I had a Raptor Lake wafer in my own hands, however it looked nothing like the Raptor Lake wafer that was just seen on Intel Innovation by Paul Alcorn for our sister site Tom’s Hardware (opens in a new tab). What happens then?
This new wafer showcases a fundamentally different chip design than the “standard” Raptor Lake-S wafers we’ve seen so far. Instead of two rows of P cores facing off against four groups of E cores – for a maximum of 24 cores in total, like the Core i9 13900K – what we see on this unannounced wafer is an interconnected network of what appear to be only nuclei P. 34 of them.
This type of die layout is expected more of Intel’s server-grade processors, starting with those based on the Skylake architecture. It works by increasing interconnectivity by having more cores directly connected to each other, reducing bottlenecks that might occur with high core count chips in a ring bus architecture.
The wafer before us today appears to be a twist on the long overdue Sapphire Rapids architecture.
Intel had previously brought these kinds of remixed server chips to the enthusiast and workstation market under the X-series brand, though all of that came to a halt when desktop core counts skyrocketed. We haven’t seen an X-series processor since 2019, which is when Intel launched Cascade Lake, led by the 18-core Intel Core i9 10980XE.
It is possible then that we will see a return of these types of high-end processors on the desktop. Alcorn says that the Intel Innovation team, while initially unsure what the wafer was, saw a sticker on the wafer stating that it is “Raptor Lake-S 34-core.” This is a bit of a surprise, as the Raptor Lake-S lineup is the same as the desktop processors launching next month. (opens in new tab).
The 34-core chip looks significantly larger than the 24-core Raptor Lake chips that come in the LGA 1700-sized package for the desktop. So if these chips are destined for the desktop, it’s unlikely there will be any kind of upgrade path for the 600 or 700 series motherboards already available or announced for Alder Lake and Raptor Lake.
It seems very likely that a 34-core Raptor Lake chip is coming now in some form, anyway. I guess it’s possible the label was wrong, but that seems unlikely in a ship as airtight as Intel’s manufacturing team.
However, I suspect that Intel is likely targeting the high-end workstation market rather than enthusiasts with a line of server-grade chips. A booty sport. AMD does something similar with its Threadripper processors (opens in a new tab), which were once enthusiast chips but are now destined entirely for powerful but rather boring workstations. I hate to admit that it makes some sense, since core counts were pretty low on traditional desktop chips, but enthusiasts could pay dearly for more cores if they wanted them. Today, desktop chips have 12/16/24 cores and the demand for higher core counts will have shifted to much more prosumer types.
Still, it would be nice to have the option to go big.