The controversy has erupted abruptly, much like an enraged and out-of-control bull constantly trying to break free from its captor. That’s how the information about the new Core 14 HX, Intel’s highest range for gaming laptops, has arrived this week (specifically yesterday), and now it has truly caught people’s attention. Everything is revolving around ASUS slides presenting two of their laptops, stating that with an i9-14900HX (Core 14 HX series in general), one could achieve DDR5-5200 RAM, but this is only possible for limited units, as the rest will run at 5,600 MHz.
There are several pieces of information and rumors circulating on the internet, and as always, we will summarize and organize them. Firstly, there’s the matter of memory, secondly the rumors about performance, and finally, another rumor about those selected units.
Lower RAM support speed for Core 14 HX gaming laptops?
It was surprising to see Intel, with the advantage it has over AMD in memory support speed, only include DDR5-5600 as the maximum frequency configuration without overclocking.
In desktop settings, we can go slightly higher without too much trouble, so something more definitive like DDR5-6000 or DDR5-6400 was expected, using dividers or Gear in between.
However, Intel only showed that maximum of 5,600 MHz, which isn’t bad, as it still places them above their direct rivals at AMD, with a maximum frequency of 5,200 MHz without overclocking, with or without XMP or EXPO.
The ASUS slide has sown seeds of discord, as their laptops are advertised (both in the slide and in the specification sheets for the ROG Strix SCAR 16 and SCAR 18) with DDR5-5600. The problem is that, just below and with an asterisk, it reads:
“In selected units. Certain units may only be capable of achieving 5,200MHz.”
Is the 1 Rank vs 2 Rank configuration issue returning for these laptop CPUs?
A review circulating on the internet and raising doubts compares the Ryzen 9 7945HX and the Core i9-14900HX, direct rivals for the gaming laptop crown. It claims that the Ryzen is faster with the same RTX 4090, which seems unrealistic compared to other data that is emerging, but because it doesn’t add up, attention has shifted to the RAM.
The test specifies that both laptops have 64 GB of DDR5-5600 (5200) 2 Rank. Why is this specified? It’s because there is a massive supply problem for DDR5 SODIMM in laptops, as we will discuss later.
Regarding DDR5, Single Rank can more easily achieve higher frequency, while Dual Rank can more easily achieve higher density (GB) and slightly lower latency, albeit only in certain scenarios. Single Rank makes modules more affordable for companies and users, while the memory controller suffers more with Dual Rank modules at the same frequency compared to Single Rank.
The controversy regarding the Core 14 HX frequency with 1 Rank or 2 Rank RAM and reality
Some may have noticed that the answer to everything being discussed now is much simpler than it appears: for many years, the memory controller has worked without issue with both Dual Rank and Single Rank configurations. The differences are so close that only in extreme overclocking with LN2 do they become apparent, and that’s why datasheets don’t mention it.
Therefore, Intel’s memory controller and especially for the Core 14 and Core Ultra, works with both configurations at maximum equal speeds. The controversy surrounding 5,200 MHz and the asterisk is not about 1 Rank vs 2 Rank, but rather a performance and energy-saving mode for the Core 14 HX.
The 65W CPUs and manufacturer limitations with Intel’s approval
Some CPUs, using firmware, can function at stock 65W, and one consequence of shifting from 157W in MTP to 65W is a reduction in the maximum frequency set by the memory controller. This can result in a tenth of a voltage reduction, helping to achieve the described figure. Moreover, they will likely have to sacrifice frequency and voltage in the cores for that specific Core i9-14900HX. Also, expect a 55W version projected for gaming laptops later in 2024.
Hence, the term “selected units.” Why would a manufacturer like ASUS use a Core i9-14900HX and limit it to 65W? To include it in slim laptops without causing overheating issues. The limitation would be software-based (UEFI/BIOS), so Intel could place units that did not pass performance and quality tests to the frequency and voltage at 157W.
In other words, it’s binning without having to pass dedicated chips to the i7-14700HX, allowing a good price for these 65W i9-14900HX CPUs. Intel meets the needs of the manufacturer, and the manufacturer has the margin to launch more attractive products for users.
A stock problem
Apart from the controversy about the Core 14 HX and its RAM speed, there is a need to discuss the DRAM manufacturers’ issues with supplying SODIMM modules at 5,600 MHz and 6,400 MHz in 1 Rank. For example, Kingston has the FK564S38IB-16, but it either has very low stock or a very high price. Samsung also struggles to create SODIMM modules above 5,600 MHz in 1 Rank. 6,400 2 Rank 16 GB modules are being produced in limited quantities, so the 1.1-volt limitation, high frequency in a smaller space, and only one Rank available are causing problems for memory manufacturers.
Meanwhile, laptop manufacturers are trying to secure 1 Rank modules with at least 5,600 MHz to drive low costs for models that compete on price, while for flagship models they want 2 Rank with higher frequencies and contained latencies to distinguish themselves from competitors.
The battle between AMD and Intel has also shifted to the RAM and memory controllers
The DDR5 RAM’s increased bandwidth and scalable frequency have made a difference in PCs and laptops, resulting in higher FPS and victories for specific manufacturers and models. That’s why everyone is competing for the best and cheapest modules, depending on the target market for their products.
In conclusion, we can put aside the internet rumors regarding the Core 14 HX and their RAM speed for now. There are supply problems with 1 Rank SODIMM modules at high frequencies, but the memory controller operates without issues in both configurations. The focus should be on the performance and energy-saving features of the Core 14 HX.