Escaping The Skylake 14nm Intel Architecture Circus

Once upon a time, there was the Intel Skylake CPU architecture. Skylake was introduced in 2015 for the sixth generation of the Intel Core CPU. Using the Intel tick-tock cycle, it was the tock component, the tick being its predecessor Broadwell. Broadwell introduced the 14nm process node to the Core architecture and after Skylake, there should have been a die shrink to the next process node, 10 nm. However as we all know, despite their vast resources, Intel had a great deal of difficulty in producing 10 nm chips and as result, Skylake was followed by a succession of additional 14 nm platforms: Kaby Lake (7th gen), Coffee Lake (8th gen), Coffee Lake Refresh (9th gen), Comet Lake (10th gen) and Rocket Lake (11th gen). The 12th generation Core CPU line is called Alder Lake (10 nm) and was finally released in 2021, being the second attempt by Intel to release 10 nm chips, the first being Cannon Lake at putatively the 10th gen. The last 14 nm CPUs, Rocket Lake, will finally be phased out in March 2024.

Two years ago I purchased a Gigabyte B560 HD3 mainboard to upgrade appspc, the computer that I use to create and store aerial mosaics for the New Zealand Rail Maps project. Unfortunately I was unaware at the time of purchase that the second M.2 socket on the board would only function if a Rocket Lake CPU was installed; I had purchased and installed a Comet Lake CPU (Pentium G6400) at the time I built the system. To make things more difficult, Intel chose to make Rocket Lake CPUs only in i5, i7 and i9 models. There have been no Rocket Lake or 11th generation Intel Core CPUs produced in model i3, Pentium or Celeron ranges. So the minimum model of CPU I would have to purchase for a Rocket Lake type would be a Core i5, which is several times the price of the Pentium G. Recently I decided to proceed with upgrading appspc’s CPU and found there are now very few Rocket Lake CPUs available, even though the phase-out date for the Rocket Lake architecture is still more than six months away. In fact the only Rocket Lake CPU now available in New Zealand is the Core i5 11400. One of these was recently purchased and installed in appspc. Although there is some risk of bending pins in the Intel LGA sockets if you aren’t careful, removal of the old Pentium G chip in this instance was very straightforward and the upgraded system was soon back in use without any configuration or software changes being necessary. Gimp is now running better with file saves on the largest mosaic projects now working between five and ten times faster than previously. CPU upgrading is not something I have done before and most of my systems are too old to be able to purchase replacement CPUs for. I decided in this case to upgrade the system’s CPU because one was available new at reasonable cost and it would guarantee a useful performance and capability upgrade for a system that is just two years old and could have another eight years of use ahead of it. However the original memory in it is 32 GB of Kingston Fury which runs at 2400 MT/s even though the new CPU can work with memory up to 3200 MT/s. I may put in another 64 GB of memory at some stage but it will be just the ordinary ValueRAM clocked at 3200 MT/s instead of the Fury which is fitted for heatsinks and is designed for Intel XMP specification overclocking. Using the XMP 3000 MT/s profile in the Bios resulted in a system that wouldn’t boot so I couldn’t be bothered tweaking settings to get something that would.

Because the work I am doing with computers that perform intensive graphics editing work creating these mosaics does benefit from a higher spec CPU, I will specify that the next system (expected to be built in 2024 to replace a 10 year old computer) also has a Core i5 CPU installed. This still leaves other systems using the lower spec Pentium G CPUs which will remain the case unless these systems are upgraded in the future but there are no plans for this to happen at present. Otherwise the two systems concerned (a pair of Intel B250M boards now five years old) will continue as now but possibly with more RAM added. In the normal course of events these systems would be replaced after another five years.