The CES 2021, these are also the announcements of Intel: in difficulty in 2020, the founder unveils Alder Lake, its 12th generation of processors. A chip that mixes high performance cores with high efficiency cores to give the x86 architecture the same strengths as ARM and the M1 chips of Macs.
Who said Intel is sleeping on its laurels? The foundry has endured a complicated year against a backdrop of lagging behind on the finesse of engraving, and relentless conquest of its sworn enemy AMD. The situation, especially in the desktop PC market, is cause for concern for the Blue Team. More than 50% of these PCs are in fact now equipped with an AMD processor.
But we should not sell the bear skin too quickly: Intel maintains strong footing in notebook market with nearly 85% market share. A segment in which Intel will have to redouble its innovation if it does not want to lose ground. Especially since Apple has shown that it no longer needs Intel to deliver the best performance in the market.
Intel takes inspiration from ARM and M1 Macs in Alder Lake chips
But the problem is that Intel had so far mainly relied on raw performance, to the detriment of energy consumption. The reverse of ARM chips which are basically mainly cut for contain their energy consumption. However, the latest M1 Macs insolently show that it is possible to deliver better raw performance while consuming less.
I have to say that ARM chips work very differently. First, so-called “high performance” cores are mixed with “high energy efficiency” cores, which makes it possible to modulate the tasks between the cores best suited to have the best of both worlds. Then, ARM CPUs are more readily what are called SoCs.
Rather than having everything calculated by the CPU and GPU, an SoC has a multitude of specialized enclaves for specific tasks such as transcoding, machine learning, or security.
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Chips look like ARM SoCs, while staying on x86 architecture
And this is precisely what Intel imitates with its Alder Lake chipsets. Intel takes the same idea of high performance and high efficiency cores, while remaining on the x86 architecture.
The performance hearts are named Golden Lake and the high efficiency hearts Gracemont. The first machines to be equipped with Alder Lake chips should arrive in the second half of 2021. Ultimately, Intel intends to adapt this design to powerful machines. The advantage of the Intel solution is that developers do not have to rewrite their application.
However, unlike its competitors, Intel is lagging behind on the finesse of engraving. The first Alder Lake chips will indeed be engraved in 10 nm SuperFin – while the M1 chips of Macs, to name a few, benefit from the latest engraving nodes available from TSMC. The Taiwanese founder currently offers 7nm engraving, but it is possible that part of the production will go to 5nm this year.