Skip to Content

How Intel May Have Misled Video Gamers With a New Chip Demonstration

Intel used a bit of misdirection and what it’s calling an accidental omission to combat new product announcements from rival Advanced Micro Devices at an important trade show this week.

Intel showed off a new super-chip that, on the surface, seemed like a huge breakthrough for video gamers and other consumers who push their PCs hard. But in fact, after the applause died down, later reports showed that the chip wouldn’t be within reach of most PC users, even those consumers who want extremely high performance hardware.

The dustup started when Intel, the world’s leading chipmaker, gave a keynote address at the Computex trade show in Taiwan Tuesday, just a few hours before AMD took the stage. Leaks and hints had already indicated that AMD was planning to update its high performing line up of Ryzen chips introduced last year, including its 16-core Ryzen Threadripper.

So the pressure was on Intel to match the excitement. But in the end, the presentation only created confusion and controversy.

The episode comes as Intel is locked in an increasingly competitive battle with AMD, which revamped its entire chip line up last year to better match Intel’s offerings. And it also follows scrutiny of a demo Google did at its I/O developer conference last month showing off an AI assistant making appointments over the phone.

At Tuesday’s keynote, Intel started with one new offering that was straight ahead and clear. The company said it would make a “limited edition” of its Core i7 desktop processors dubbed the i7-8086K in honor of the 40th anniversary of Intel’s groundbreaking 8086 chip that helped launch the PC revolution. The new $425, six-core chip’s claim to fame was a maximum top speed of 5 GHz. To be made available in limited quantities and based on existing designs, it wasn’t exactly a headline grabber.

Get Data Sheet, Fortune’s technology newsletter.

So Intel finished up its keynote with what it described as a “preview” of a new “incredibly high performing” chip–a “beast” according to Intel’s Greg Bryant–that would be available by year end.

Intel demonstrates a new chip with 28 cores

[/caption]A picture displayed above the stage showed a typical teenage video gamer wearing a bulky headset and pumping his fist. Without much explanation, Intel said it had created a monster 28 core CPU that could run all of those internal processing units at a speed of 5 GHz.

Most multi-core chips must slow their clock speed to much slower rates when they use many cores at the same time to avoid overheating. And Intel also name-checked Asus and Gigabyte as making compatible hardware, two popular suppliers for video gaming PCs. Intel then ran one of the most strenuous software benchmarks, called Cinebench, which measures performance for 3D scene rendering. It showed a phenomenal result–about double that of the fastest consumer desktop PC chips.

All of that led many in the audience, including many journalists, to conclude that the new super chip would be for the millions of customers who play high-end video games or do a lot of video editing or 3D rendering. PC World compared the chip to AMD’s Threadripper line, as did The Verge and ExtremeTech. When, as rumored, AMD (AMD) introduced its second generation Threadripper, now with 32 cores, a few hours later nearly every publication also mentioned Intel’s upcoming 28 core model as well.

The problem is that the two chips aren’t remotely comparable. The new Threadripper chip fits in the same socket as current AMD consumer chips and is expected to cost around $1,000. That puts it at the high end of the consumer PC gaming market.

By contrast, when a few tech news sites got to go behind the scenes of Intel’s demo later, they discovered that the mysterious 28-core chip only fit in a PC with a high-end socket called LGA 3647 that is reserved for server computers and very high-end workstations. That meant it was likely a variant of Intel’s Xeon Scalable line for corporations that costs up to $10,000, or five times what its most expensive consumer and “prosumer” chips cost.

It also turned out, as Intel discreetly admitted later, that the 5 GHz clock speed for all the cores on the new chip was only achievable because the computer was connected to a hidden 68-pound water chiller meant for large home aquariums to keep its temperature down. Intel said the presenter accidentally forgot to mention that the system was boosted above its normal speed, or overclocked. Intel wouldn’t say what speed the new chip will run out of the box, or under overclocking using more typical cooling set ups.

In a statement, Intel (INTC) emphasized that the new chip was not a phony demo, but a real product, and that it cited a commercial benchmark, Cinebench, not a video gaming test. “The 28C demo at the keynote is a real product in development targeted at the high end prosumer and enthusiast audience,” Intel said. “Intel continues to optimize design and process across its products and the demo showcased an upcoming Intel product having the capability of 5.0 GHz overclocking across all 28 cores.”