Wait long enough, and a newer, faster CPU always comes along.
That's fact. And the alleged benchmark leaks for Intel's upcoming
Alder Lake processors only seem to back that
But when it comes to Intel's new hybrid processors, which marry
big performance cores with smaller efficiency cores, you should be
waiting for more information than just how much of a raw
performance boost you get. More factors come into play with Alder
Lake's arrival. Making a decision later this year about what to
equip your PC with may become a lot more complicated—and you risk
making a less ideal choice for your next rig and your
wallet by not sitting tight. Here's why.
Alder Lake chips will
have two types of cores, performance and efficient, with
hyperthreading only available on the performance cores. Image: Intel
Alder Lake's hybrid architecture will be a new concept for most
PC users. Even though the approach can be found in other chips
(like those from Arm, Apple, and even Intel's own Lakefield CPU), it never was
widespread among Windows devices.
Pairing performance cores with more efficient cores should bring
specific benefits that standard benchmarks don't address. For one,
these chips will likely use less power during basic tasks. On
laptops, that should help battery life; on desktops, that can help
with power bills. (Not everyone lives somewhere with cheap
electricity.) We could also see laptops get an additional boost to
battery life or become even more compact if less space is needed
But the big question is how Alder Lake ends up behaving once it
hits shelves. We need to see how seamlessly tasks are divvied up
between the two types of cores, and how much your chosen operating
system affects overall performance. It could make decisions about
the best chip for you that much more dependent on your priorities.
On desktop, perhaps it'll remain a fight of raw performance, while
on laptops, seeking long battery life versus needing high
performance could split people's best choices. That's especially so
if some people avoid Windows 11, which Microsoft has optimized to
work with Alder Lake's hybrid design, and try to stick with Windows
DDR5 and PCIe 5 support
Support for DDR5
memory and PCIe 5.0 may give Alder Lake an edge during intensive
workloads…eventually. (Zero PCIe 4.0 GPUs exist yet, for example.) Image: XPG
In addition to the promised advantages of its hybrid
architecture, Alder Lake will support faster memory as well as
higher-bandwidth connections for storage and expansion cards. In
theory, that means a PC running an Alder Lake processor with DDR5 RAM and PCIe 5 storage could smoke one with
an AMD processor, DDR4 memory, and a PCIe 4.0 drive in some tasks.
The alleged leak of Cinebench R23 results certainly implies that
outcome, as it showed a desktop Core i9-12900K taking a healthy
lead over AMD's 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X.
But we won't know how much of a performance boost you'll get
until such a system is possible. Nor will we know the trade-offs
for it. For example, no one has an idea how much hotter DDR5 RAM
will run, and that can matter in certain kinds of PC builds. To see
how it all shakes out, you may have to wait another half year—the
predictions have the second quarter of 2022 as when the first PCIe
5.0 SSDs will launch.
That gives time for the market to change. And in that period,
we'll learn just how fast Alder Lake processors are, what sort of
gains AMD's Zen 3+ chips will offer to counter Intel,
and how available (and expensive) DDR5 memory will be. Cost
matters, after all. Why pay a premium if you get only small
performance gains in the areas that matter to you?
Potential price war
Sales might be good in
the near future on Ryzen CPUs. Image: Adam Patrick Murray / IDG
Speaking of cost, you don't even have to be interested in an
Alder Lake or even Intel processor in order for waiting to pay off—l
iterally. Even before the supposed pricing leak of the Core
i9-12900K, AMD's Ryzen 5000 chips were already going on sale for
below MSRP. Alder Lake merely needs to exist and perform a little
better than Ryzen for competition to heat up. We would already
expect AMD to drop its prices even lower.
Should Alder Lake's top-tier part launch at an MSRP of nearly $100 less than its Ryzen
rival, a true pricing war could break out, making it entirely
worthwhile to hold off on any processor purchases for now. And with
the upcoming holiday season just around the corner, we could see a
return to AMD's old strategy of fire sales on its last-gen
processors too. Not everyone needs the latest components to build a
PC tangibly better than their current system.
Delay your buying decisions and you could end up with more cash
in your pocket, while also feeling secure that you made a
well-informed choice for yourself.
So yes, just wait
Holding off on purchasing a new processor or device means you
get more choices—and if the rumors are true, you won't have long to
wait. The whispers are that we'll see Alder Lake as early as late
October, though the official launch is just some time before the
end of year. You can spend that time thinking on what's most
important to you in your next PC. It'll help you digest the
information from Alder Lake reviews faster.