Intel's Alder Lake chip pushes performance, then battery life, for laptops

Alder Lake is bringing performance that the prior Lakefield generation lacked.

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Intel’s Alder Lake chip will build upon its predecessor, the first hybrid core known as Lakefield, by prioritizing performance over battery life for thin-and-light laptops, small-form-factor PCs, and other compact designs. Announced Thursday as part of Intel Architecture Day, the chip will be available in 2021.

Alder Lake's performance focus fills an unmet need in the prior generation, Lakefield, which Intel unveiled about a year ago. At the time, the company talked about using its Foveros technology to stack a “compute” die on top of a “base” die, saving space for small-form-factor PCs. But Lakefield also steals a page from rival Arm processors, combining four low-power “Tremont” Atom cores for low-intensity tasks, with a single “Sunny Cove” Core CPU for heavier burdens. Lakefield quietly debuted in a version of Samsung’s Galaxy Book S, under the discreetly bland description of “Intel Core processor with Intel Hybrid Technology.”  

Samsung galaxy book s mercury gray Samsung

The “Intel Core processor with Intel Hybrid Technology,” or Lakefield, ended up in the Samsung Galaxy Book S, an ultralight PC weighing just 2.09 pounds.

Unfortunately, what Lakefield gained in power reduction, it apparently lost in performance—early reviews of the Galaxy Book S were decidedly underwhelming. Intel's Raja Koduri (senior vice president, chief architect, and general manager of Architecture, Graphics, and Software) maintained a positive spin at Architecture Day: “Our goal with this architecture was to enable world-class battery life while maintaining snappy responsiveness that users expect from Intel processors.” 

With Alder Lake, Intel has evolved its strategy. "We are advancing our hybrid architecture significantly with a focus on performance," Koduri said.

alder lake roadmap intel Intel

Intel calls Alder Lake a "performance hybrid."

Alder Lake will combine an unknown number of performance-oriented Golden Cove cores (similar to Lakefield's Sunny Cove), with an equally unknown number of low-power Gracemont cores (successor to Lakefield's Tremont cores), with more emphasis on performance. 

Koduri noted that an important part of Lakefield’s design was working with operating system vendors to develop hardware-guided schedulers that offered the best mix of hardware responsiveness and battery life. Intel hopes to capitalize upon this further with Alder Lake by developing a “next-generation” hardware-guided scheduler to leverage all cores seamlessly.

lakefield Intel performance Intel

Intel improved Lakefield not just by hardware, but via software optimizations as well.

“Alder Lake will not [just] be great for performance, but it will be our best performance-per-watt architecture,” Koduri said.

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