Does Intel Raptor Lake have a secret weapon 34-core CPU?

CPU with the contacts facing up lying on the motherboard of the PC. the chip is highlighted with blue light
(Image credit: Alexander_Safonov / Shutterstock)

Intel’s 13th-gen flagship tops out at 24-cores, but a 34-core processor has been spotted from the Raptor Lake family in an odd turn of events.

That could prompt you to immediately speculate that Intel has some kind of monster processor hidden up its sleeve, ready to spring as a surprise on AMD (and the rest of us, for that matter), but this is not, in fact, the case.

Let’s rewind to the beginning of the tale here, which as Tom’s Hardware explains, is set at Intel’s Innovation 2022 event. Team Blue was displaying a bunch of wafers here, one of which turned out to contain unreleased Raptor Lake silicon, with larger dies than desktop models.

Not only did these CPUs have 34-cores as mentioned, but they were interconnected with a mesh – again, that’s different from standard Raptor Lake desktop chips – and sported eight DDR5 memory controllers.

Even Intel staff were confused as to what this wafer was, and theories were aired as to whether this was Ice Lake silicon, not Raptor Lake, but those employees later clarified these were indeed 13th-gen CPUs – carrying a ‘Raptor Lake-S 34-Core’ label on the back of the die carrier.

Analysis: Superfast Sapphire Rapids silicon rebranded?

What is this mystery CPU then? Well, it’s a larger die size than the standard LGA 1700 socket in Z790 (Raptor Lake) and Z690 (Alder Lake) motherboards, meaning it won’t fit in desktop PCs.

So it seems that this is a chip destined for workstation computers and heavyweight usage, which is backed up by the fact that these 34-cores are likely to be all performance cores (yes, all of them). The use of the mesh interconnect and the fact that no clusters of efficiency cores are visible on the die heavily suggests that this is the case, and obviously no desktop processor would be built along those lines. As you’re likely aware, Intel’s freshly revealed Raptor Lake-S desktop chips don’t have any more than 8 performance cores (the 13900K flagship teams those up with 16 more modest efficiency cores, to make for 24-cores in total as we mentioned at the outset).

Tom’s Hardware came to the conclusion that this is likely a Sapphire Rapids MCC die which has been marked with Raptor Lake branding, destined for the workstation arena, and we’d have to agree this is the only explanation that makes sense. If true, having 34 full-on performance cores is doubtless going to mean this CPU is a truly blistering piece of silicon.

It still has to be said, though, it is strange that Intel would accidentally display a wafer for unreleased chips at its big event, but of course, mistakes and leaks do happen all the time in the tech world.

As a final note, we do know that Intel has another big gun for Raptor Lake waiting in the wings, namely the flagship refresh that’ll likely be called the 13900KS. However, this CPU will maintain the same core configuration as the 13900K. What it’ll do differently is boost to 6GHz out of the box, which is no mean feat, and it’s likely to be Team Blue’s pre-emptive answer to AMD’s 3D V-cache Ryzen 7000 models.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).