analysis At this week’s launch of Intel’s 13th Gen Core series, it appears staffers accidentally left out a wafer featuring previously undisclosed 34-core Raptor Lake processor chips from the show.
As discovered by Tom’s Hardware, the wafer had a sticker that read “Raptor Lake-S, 34 cores.” A close inspection of each chip revealed a mesh of 34 different CPU cores, suggesting these are all performance cores; there are no signs of four-core clusters pointing to Intel’s efficiency cores. The chip also appears to represent eight memory controllers – far more than you’d expect on a regular desktop chip – as well as UPI blocks, which are only required for multi-CPU systems.
The discovery seems to indicate that Intel is developing a workstation part of the Raptor Lake family to challenge AMD’s Threadripper processors. Threadripper reaches a maximum of 64 cores, which are distributed over eight chips. This Raptor Lake S Cube seems to pack a little over half of that into a single monolithic cube.
Of course, there’s no guarantee this thing will work at all if all 34 cores are activated or usable, or if it’ll ever see a commercial release.
Chipmakers are showing off wafers at events like this week’s Innovation 2022 conference in Silicon Valley to impress journalists, analysts and customers. These are usually components that have already been publicly announced.
The cynics among us will think that this wafer was strategically and silently displayed at the event for someone to find, but as far as we can tell, this was a mistake by Intel. Then again, it’s Chipzilla.
A fire-breathing raptor?
Although the chips can display 34 cores each, don’t expect performance to scale linearly compared to Intel’s desktop chips. While it could have more than four times the performance of the just-launched 13th Gen Core processors, it will still be constrained by power and temperature limitations. Keep in mind that Intel’s Core i7 13700K is rated for 253W of power, with eight performance cores and eight efficiency cores.
Most workstation and server processors max out at 280W per socket, which doesn’t leave much headroom for all those extra power cores. Unless Intel decides to push that limit. It wouldn’t be surprising if Intel went down this route. As Intel has shown over the past two generations of parts in the Core series and its growing lineup of GPUs and accelerators, it’s not afraid of a little heat. Intel’s Guadi 2 AI accelerator and upcoming Ponte Vecchio GPUs both have 600W TDPs.
With ample 12-volt EPS connectors, some beefy voltage-regulation modules, and a socket capable of delivering all the power to the chip, it’s not inconceivable to think that Intel could push the power consumption range well beyond the expected 280W of data center and workstation chips. However, to do that in a workstation-class chip would almost certainly require at least liquid cooling.
More likely, Intel will continue the longstanding tradition of trading frequency for core counts. It basically boils down to this: the more cores you have for a fixed power budget, the fewer volts you have to pass around. As a result, the only way to increase clock speeds while increasing the number of cores is to make the architecture more efficient or increase the power budget.
Probably not a HEDT part
While it’s been nearly three years since Intel last released a high-end desktop processor (HEDT) — the last being the 18-core, 36-thread Core i9 10980XE — this 34-core Raptor is -Lake chip probably not his successor.
In many ways, Intel’s 12th and now 13th Gen Core series processors have filled the void left by the 10980XE, with the 13th Gen Core i9 13900K now offering 24 cores – eight power and 16 efficiency.
The presence of eight memory controllers and UPI blocks – Ultra Path Interconnect – seems to support this conclusion and instead suggests that this chip could be destined for Intel’s Xeon W platform.
As far as workstation chips go, Intel has historically offered a diverse range of chips, ranging from low-end Core series parts to HEDT, Xeon W, and more recently Xeon Scalable parts for thread-sensitive workload is enough.
Even a 34-core chip is by no means revolutionary for Intel. The chipmaker’s Xeon W-3375 processor is based on its Ice Lake Xeon Scalable platform and has up to 38 cores. Meanwhile, Intel’s Xeon Scalable chips are hitting 40. But since we’ve only seen one chip, there’s no reason to think Intel won’t have higher core count SKUs.
Regardless of whether this chip makes it to commercial release, Intel’s apparent oversight offers a glimpse into its mindset on workstation parts, even as it follows AMD and Apple down the chiplet rabbit hole with Sapphire Rapids. ®
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