New die shots of Intel’s Sapphire Rapids are suggesting the CPU’s maximum core count could be higher than the 56 cores we’ve previously reported on. The core count could be as high as 72-80 CPU cores — significantly higher than anything AMD currently fields, though that could change by the time Zen 4-based CPUs and Sapphire Rapids both hit market.
These leaks are from Yuuki_AnS via THG, and show the exact same CPU we discussed some months ago, only with its heatspreader removed and each individual tile removed from the substrate.
There are five rows of four CPU clusters visible, for a total of 20 CPU cores. We’re looking at one “tile” of Sapphire Rapids (Intel refers to tiles, instead of chiplets). This implies that a full-fat Sapphire Rapids would pack up to 80 cores. Intel might disable some cores for yield, in which case we could end up with a 72-80 core part.
Begun, The Core War Has
We don’t know exactly how many CPU cores Intel will enable for Sapphire Rapids — we’d heard 56 earlier this year, which implies 14 active cores per chip. If there are 80 CPUs on the die, a 56-core chip represents a yield of just 70 percent, so we figure Intel could easily have a higher maximum target. Shooting for 72-80 cores suggests Intel wants to overtake AMD in raw core count. Call it the Core Count War, or Core War if you prefer the Star Wars reference.
Higher die densities would mean Intel is coming for AMD’s core advantage in the server market. It’s high time the company did. AMD’s performance advantage over Intel has been largest at the top of the market for several years now, due to limits in how many Xeon cores Intel could stuff into a single socket. With Intel topping out at 28 and AMD hitting 64, Xeon has been badly beaten in a number of areas. Even Ice Lake-SP, which pushes Intel up to the 40-core mark, doesn’t completely close the competitive gap with AMD’s third-generation Epyc servers.
The 56-core Sapphire Rapids CPU is said to have a 350W TDP, but that doesn’t automatically mean higher core counts would push above this point. 350-400W is probably the maximum, based on the CPUs Intel has previously launched. A 72-core / 80-core CPU with a 400W TDP would reach lower clocks and expend less energy per core than a 56-core CPU in the same power envelope. Intel has launched 400W CPUs before and there are rumors that AMD’s Zen 4 Epyc CPU, Genoa, will offer up to 96 cores in a 400W TDP envelope. We don’t know yet if a core count increase in servers would spark a similar shift in consumer products.
According to the Steam Hardware Survey, only 1.68 percent of end-users have more than eight CPU cores. Quad-core (41.61 percent), six-core (30.01 percent) dual-core (13.38 percent), and eight-core (12.23 percent) hold 97.23 percent of the market, in total. There’s plenty of room to push eight-core and 12-core chips into market at lower price points than they currently occupy, but whether a higher core-count CPU is a better option than a lower core-count chip for the median desktop user depends a lot on what you intend to do with it. If you’re running video and audio processing workloads, the extra cores tend to pay for themselves. If you’re gaming or using applications that don’t scale well, raw frequency and IPC tend to be better at boosting performance.
If Intel intends to reach for 72-80 cores, however, you can bet that AMD will have an answer to it. With a relatively small IPC difference between AMD versus Intel microarchitectures outside of AVX-512, performance will come down to who can pack the most cores into the smallest space and clock them more efficiently.
- Sapphire Rapids CPU Leak: Up to 56 Cores, 64GB of Onboard HBM2
- Intel’s 10nm Sapphire Rapids CPU Delidded, Photographed
- Intel Demos PCIe 5.0 on Upcoming Sapphire Rapids CPUs