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Intel Comments on Alder Lake CPU Socket Flexing

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Ever since Alder Lake was launched there was concern over its rectangular shape and how it might impact cooling. Previously every chip from Intel was basically square, with the heat being generated in the center of the Integrated Heat Spreader (IHS). This made for a straightforward situation of where the cooler made contact with the IHS. Alder Lake’s elongated design is different though, allowing for a larger surface area where pressure needs to be applied. Seemingly complicating the situation is both the mechanism Intel uses to secure the socket to the motherboard, and how the CPU is locked into the socket. So far users have been reporting that the locking mechanism applies pressure unevenly. This has resulted in it bending motherboards and flexing CPU sockets. After months of silence Intel has finally responded. The TL;DR is this: it’s all according to spec.

Back in January Igor’s Lab made headlines by resolving the flexing problem by raising the socket via rubber washers. After testing various washers with different thickness, he found that a 1MM washer lifted the socket enough to allow for even pressure to be applied to the IHS. This resulted in a drop in temps of up to 5C, which is significant. Obviously this isn’t something your average computer user would do given the technical challenges. After all, you have to remove the socket from your motherboard, and then replace it. According to Intel, it’s something nobody should do, as it will void your warranty.

A straight edge on top of an Alder Lake CPU that has seen hundreds of hours of operation shows a noticeable concave shape for the heat spreader. (Image: Igor’s Lab)

Speaking to Tom’s Hardware, an Intel spokesman delivered the company’s position on the issue. “We have not received reports of 12th Gen Intel Core processors running outside of specifications due to changes to the integrated heat spreader (IHS). Our internal data show that the IHS on 12th Gen desktop processors may have slight deflection after installation in the socket. Such minor deflection is expected and does not cause the processor to run outside of specifications. We strongly recommend against any modifications to the socket or independent loading mechanism. Such modifications would result in the processor being run outside of specifications and may void any product warranties.”

Reading between the lines here, they are essentially saying “it might bend a little, sure, but that won’t cause it to run outside of its specification.” Keep in mind that the specification for a chip like the 12900K is that it can run at 100C, and it’s done so in many reviews. Also Intel is only referring to the chip being able to run at its base clock, not its boost clock. It never guarantees it will hit its boost clock speeds, just that it’ll never dip below the base clocks. Besides, the chip will automatically throttle itself to stay within its thermal spec, which reduces performance. Overall, it’s not a good situation, at least for enthusiasts who buy these high-end chips.

Tom’s Hardware asked a bunch of follow up questions (link above) to gain some clarity on the situation. Intel says the deformation is caused by the mechanism which locks the CPU into the socket. Intel states, “When there’s backplate bending occurring on the motherboard, the warping is being caused by the mechanical load being placed on the motherboard to make electrical contact between the CPU and the socket.” It says so far it’s not concerned about this as the CPUs will still operate within spec. It adds that it’s examining the situation. However, it has no plans on changing its socket design or locking mechanism in the near future. Overall it seems like an artful dodge, but at least the company is acknowledging it exists. That’s a good first step, and perhaps we’ll see an LGA 2.0 socket arrive when the company’s Raptor Lake CPUs launch later this year.

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