Intel’s efficiency core gamble could pay off – are cheaper, more powerful Raptor Lake PCs the future?

Intel Core i9-13900K in hand
(Image credit: Future)

Intel’s Core i5-13500 processor is going to be quite the performer if freshly-leaked benchmarks prove to be on the money.

As Tom’s Hardware picked up, this comes from Chinese video sharing website Bilibili where an engineering sample of the mid-range Raptor Lake CPU was put through its paces in Cinebench R23 and CPU-Z.

The Core i5-13500 was no less than 56% faster than its predecessor, the Core i5-12500, in Cinebench R23 multi-threaded (as compared to a sample 12500 benchmark Tom’s flagged up on Tech Notice).

And the 13500 managed to attain an even greater lead in CPU-Z, being 61% quicker than the Alder Lake chip it replaces.

Single-thread is a much tighter race in Cinebench R23, but the Core i5-13500 is still 9% more performant in Cinebench R23 (the result for CPU-Z isn’t quite visible in the video, being rather blurry, but it will be similarly much closer to the 12500 than with multi-threaded, naturally).

Analysis: An efficient future for Intel?

The reason why the Core i5-13500 offers much more of a boost in multi-threaded is that Intel has seriously upped the efficiency core count. The purported configuration of the 13500 is 6 performance cores and 8 efficiency cores, where the 12500 offers the same loadout of 6 performance cores, but crucially it has no efficiency cores whatsoever.

We should also bear in mind that this is still a sample chip being benchmarked, so the finished product should be a little quicker still. The boost speeds reached by the 13500 in the leaked benchmarks are 4.8GHz and 4.9GHz, by the way, although these are likely to be the release speeds, or very close, given that they’re a fair bump up from the 4.6GHz of the 12500.

So, what we’re witnessing is a major generational leap here, and a very impressive one for multi-threaded performance in an affordable CPU, driven forward by Intel’s focus on efficiency cores with Raptor Lake, which can be seen throughout the 13th-gen range. (Remember, the flagship Raptor Lake processor doubled efficiency cores up to 16, compared to 8 for its predecessor).

In the future, can we expect Intel to further focus on efficiency cores in this manner? The answer would appear to be yes, at least according to the rumors which have been swirling this year regarding Team Blue’s next-generation chips.

Meteor Lake (14th-gen) is looking to drive forward with power-efficiency, as Intel is set to introduce a whole new architecture for efficiency cores – and further increase the core count for these ‘little’ cores, too. The buzz from the grapevine indicates the flagship Meteor Lake chip could push to 16 efficiency cores – but the sting in the tail, at least for enthusiasts, could be a drop to 6 performance cores, rather than 8.

That’d certainly show Intel is focusing more and more on pushing harder with multi-core performance, and perhaps more to the point, driving better power-efficiency (which fewer performance cores would help with). That won’t harm anyone’s power bills, and will be great news for laptops in terms of battery life, naturally.

We don’t know for sure that this is the route Intel is taking, but it does line up broadly with Team Blue’s apparent desire for better efficiency, which let’s face it is an area that the chip giant does need to improve.

A Meteor Lake flagship with only 6 performance cores won’t go down well with enthusiasts, of course, and gamers may be groaning with disappointment, too. But the theory is that Intel will deliver on that front with its 15th-gen Arrow Lake chips, maybe following hot on the heels of Meteor Lake (which is due next year, though we’ve seen suggestions otherwise) – and this is where a new architecture will be brought in for the performance cores.

For now, though, the focus seems to be on efficiency cores, and the Core i5-13500 seems to very much benefit from that with the gains seen here for what’ll be a powerful mid-range CPU to drive Raptor Lake PCs (and it likely won’t be the only tempting chip to emerge at the cheaper end of the spectrum, too).

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).