Intel extended its public microprocessor roadmap through 2020 on Wednesday, confirming the existence of “Tiger Lake,” a 10nm Core chip due in 2020 that features an entirely new microarchitecture and Intel’s forthcoming Xe graphics.
Executives also began disclosing some of the performance improvements associated with its previously-announced chips, such as how fast Intel’s first 10nm chip, Ice Lake, will be compared with the previous generation. Intel also began talking a bit about the improvements in “Lakefield,” which stacks logic together to create a denser system-on-a-chip.
Combine the new 10nm “Ice Lake” core—which executives said would ship in June—plus the redesigned Tiger Lake chip, as well as Intel’s other major announcement, 7nm chips by 2021, and Intel is at least talking more aggressively than it has in years.
Speaking at Intel’s investor conference Wednesday, Murthy Renduchintala, Intel’s chief engineering officer, said that it’s no secret that Intel has struggled with 10nm development.
“In discussions with many of you, the belief is that Intel’s process technology has slowed down over time,” Renduchintala added. Wednesday’s message? That’s no longer the case.
Ice Lake, Renduchintala said, takes full advantage of the 10nm technology. Though he didn’t disclose performance, he did provide some generation-over-generation comparisons, albeit with no real specifics. It’s interesting that Intel’s not talking directly about CPU integer performance; instead, Intel believes that Ice Lake will deliver 2.5 times to 3 times the “AI performance” of a prior-generation chip, and twice the graphics performance.
Ice Lake also contains what Intel refers to as “Generation 11” performance, which apparently will be branded as a “Next Gen Graphics Iris Plus Experience,” if the boilerplate text in Intel’s presentation is any indication. Gregory Bryant, the senior vice president and general manager of the Client Computing Group, told investors that the integrated graphics is powerful enough to play hundreds of games at 1080p resolutions at 30 (not 60) frames per second.
According to Renduchintala, the lead product for the 7nm generation will actually be a GP-GPU for the datacenter in 2021, based upon the new Xe architecture that Intel is developing. PC users, however, will be focusing on Tiger Lake.
Surprisingly, Intel is far enough along that it actually has working silicon back on Tiger Lake, and Intel engineers have successfully booted both Windows and Chrome, Intel’s Bryant said. “There will be huge gains that will be felt by both end users and professionals,” Bryant said.
Among those will be “blistering” graphics performance, Bryant said, projecting a 4X improvement in graphics performance from today’s 15-watt “Whiskey Lake” chips to a 25-watt Tiger Lake chip. An even more impressive comparison may be the similar 4X improvement in encoding performance; Intel’s numbers compare a “Whiskey Lake” chip encoding to 4K60 resolutions with a Tiger Lake chip encoding at 8K60 resolutions.
“This is a dramatically different computing experience,” Bryant said.
Intel’s “Lakefield” remains one of the more opaque products, precisely because we don’t know what exactly PCs containing it will look like. Intel’s Bryant showed off a motherboard housing a Lakefield chip. The implication is that “Lakefield”-based PCs will be small-form-factor PCs with dual displays, folding screens, and other innovative form factors, Bryant said.
Recall that Lakefield combines multiple elements to create a singular system-on-a-chip: a CPU based on the “Sunny Cove” architecture that’s assumed to be the basis of “Ice Lake”, as well as a “Tremont” Atom CPU core. In this sense, Intel’s Lakefield is designed a manner similar to ARM chips, with the Core chip kicking in under performance loads, and the Atom chips handling most of the loads that don’t require high performance.
Again, Intel’s only painting Lakefield’s performance in broad strokes, comparing it to the current Amber Lake chips for thin-and-light PCs. Still, the numbers are impressive, with twice the graphics performance, a 1.5X to 2X lower active power consumption, and a whopping 10X improvement on SOC standby performance. Intel’s clearly addressing the low-power market that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx PC processors are aiming for during the third quarter.
The question now: what will Intel show off at Computex later this month? Bryant told investors that we’ll begin to see Project Athena ultrabooks appearing by the holiday season, and he confirmed that the Athena laptops will begin shipping with Tiger Lake next year, as well. Intel opened the Project Athena Open Labs earlier this week to help bring those designs to life.
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As PCWorld's senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.