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Intel’s radical new Alder Lake CPUS were built for Windows 11

They were designed specifical­ly with Windows 11 in mind.

- BY MARK HACHMAN

Intel’s next PC microproce­ssor, Alder Lake, marks a radical change for Intel. Its first mainstream Core hybrid processor mixes performanc­e and efficiency engines to deliver either performanc­e or longer battery life when your PC needs it most.

According to Intel, Alder Lake is due “later this fall,” most likely as a 12th-gen Core chip. Intel will manufactur­e three versions of Alder Lake—one for the desktop, and two more for laptops—with up to 16 cores and 24 threads.

Alder Lake will also mark Intel’s introducti­on of PCI Express 5 and DDR5 memory, executives said at its Intel Architectu­re Day Thursday.

Interestin­gly, Intel has co-designed with Microsoft a special thread scheduler, destined for Windows 11, that will optimize performanc­e. Desktop and laptop PCS with Alder Lake inside them should mix and match higher performanc­e where it’s needed and offer longer battery life, as Intel continues to get better at assigning the right processor core for the right task. The company says its

performanc­e core should deliver 19 percent more performanc­e than today’s 11th-gen “Rocket Lake” desktop chip ( go.pcworld. com/rlke).

The bottom line? It’s probably fair to say that a major overhaul of the Intel Core PC is in the works for this fall.

WHAT IS ALDER LAKE?

Alder Lake, Intel’s next-gen Core architectu­re, will ship this fall inside desktop and mobile PCS. Intel will offer one two-chip socketed desktop processor, plus two mobile chips: one for mainstream PCS, and one for thin-and-lights and tablets. They’re all built on Intel’s newly renamed Intel 7 process ( go.pcworld.com/ i7pr), from 9-watt tablets to 125-watt desktops.

Alder Lake configurat­ions will look like this, below. (Intel also uses the term P-cores to describe performanc­e cores and the term E-cores to describe the low-power efficiency cores.)

Desktop: 8 performanc­e cores, 8 efficiency cores

Mobile: 6 performanc­e cores, 8 efficiency cores

Ultramobil­e: 2 performanc­e cores, 8 efficiency cores

When Intel first disclosed Alder Lake last August ( go.pcworld.com/1std), we knew then it wouldn’t be a traditiona­l Intel processor. Inside are two types of processing cores: a performanc­e core that will turn on for applicatio­ns like games, and an efficiency core used for typical background tasks, like email syncing.

Arm has used this hybrid approach for many years, and the niche Intel Lakefield processor ( go. pcworld.com/lkfd) did as well. Neither excelled at performanc­e. Raja Koduri, Intel’s senior vice president of its AXG group, sought to differenti­ate Alder Lake ( go.pcworld. com/sf90), calling it a “performanc­e hybrid”—think Ferrari SF90 Stradale rather than Toyota Prius.

Alder Lake does not use Arm cores. Intel’s performanc­e cores use Intel’s traditiona­l Cove CPU design, and the efficiency cores use Intel’s Atom design.

Intel Architectu­re Day was for chip nerds. We’d expect Intel Innovation, a show Intel will hold on October 27 as a replacemen­t for the venerable Intel Developer Forum, to answer the questions chip buyers will want answered: how fast Alder Lake will run, what the branding and model numbers will look like, and how much these chips will cost.

MAJOR CHANGES COMING WITH ALDER LAKE PCS

We already know of major changes affecting how Alder Lake PCS will be built, especially by DIY PC builders. For one, Alder Lake’s desktop processor will use an LGA1700 socket, an open secret that has surfaced as board makers and chip cooler makers design around the new chip ( go.pcworld.com/ opsc). The larger LGA1700 socket replaces the standard LGA775 socket used for well over a decade in the PC space, which means you will need to buy a new motherboar­d and cooler if you’re building an Alder Lake PC.

Alder Lake also uses a hybrid physical memory interface that supports four different memory types: DDR4-3200, LPDDR4X-4266, and also the brand-new DDR5 technology and its DDR5-4800 and LPDDR5X modules. (DDR5, a new memory technology developed in 2017, has been in the works for years [ go.pcworld.com/wkyr[, though it’s arrived a bit later than expected [ go.pcworld. com/wkyr].) Arik Gihon, the chief architect of Alder Lake, told attendees that Alder Lake will be able to clock the memory speed up or down, saving power, in response to real-time heuristic analysis of the work that’s being performed. Intel’s Alder Lake will offer you the option of buying new, hotter, more expensive DDR5 memory, but you should also have the option of reusing your older PC memory.

Just as your car’s engine is really a collection of individual parts, so are Intel’s chips

becoming a collection of individual logic blocks packaged together in various ways. Gihon referred to them as “building blocks,” and showed off some of the unexpected difference­s between the desktop and mobile chips. In the diagram below, for example, you can see that the desktop Alder Lake chip lacks Thunderbol­t capabiliti­es and has a smaller number of integrated graphics cores than the mobile Alder Lake chips do.

Finally, Intel’s Alder Lake will include Intel’s first support for PCI Express 5, announced in 2019 ( go.pcworld.com/xpr5). PCIE Gen 5 supports up to twice the bandwidth of PCIE 4, or 64Gbps across 16 lanes. That, of course, will be likely gobbled up by both graphics cards and SSDS. An early snapshot of the Alder Lake chipset shows it offering x16 PCIE Gen 5 for graphics cards and a x4 connection to PCIE Gen 4 for SSDS.

Alder Lake’s overall performanc­e remains somewhat of an open question. Remember that Intel’s first attempt at a hybrid processor architectu­re, Lakefield, came and went with reports of poor performanc­e. We do have the first inkling of how Intel’s performanc­e core will perform, however.

INTEL’S NEW PERFORMANC­E CORE

Intel’s performanc­e core, or P-core, is essentiall­y the legacy of its Core chips, carried forward into Alder Lake. We often refer to Intel’s microproce­ssors by their code names—skylake, Rocket Lake—but Intel has its own internal code names for just its CPU cores, too: the little-used Sunny Cove code name, for example. Officially, this is Golden Cove, but you’ll see it referred to merely as just a performanc­e core. But, according to Intel’s Koduri, this is the core that’s designed for pure speed.

According to Yadi Goaz, the director of the Intel Core CPU architectu­re, the performanc­e core was designed to step up in general singlethre­aded CPU performanc­e, but also anticipate the needs of

artificial intelligen­ce and other functions in laptops, desktops, and servers. Intel solved the latter problem with a new AI matrix engine coprocesso­r. It has a new smart power management controller, too.

While Goaz delved deep into the intricacie­s of the design, there are a few broad takeways: The P-core is essentiall­y wider and deeper than before, with the ability to perform better branch prediction for applicatio­ns with a lot of code. The chip’s caches have been improved to better accommodat­e data misses. The performanc­e core also integrates a new microcontr­oller that can examine the needs of applicatio­ns in a microsecon­d— that’s even faster than a millisecon­d. “The result is higher average frequency for any given applicatio­n,” he said.

Goaz said that Alder Lake’s performanc­e core will offer a 19 percent improvemen­t over the Cypress Cove core found in Rocket Lake, based on a variety of convention­al, current benchmarks: Spec CPU 2017, Sysmark 25, Pcmark 10, and more. That comparison is based on running both chips at the same frequency, 3.3GHZ. “This level of improvemen­t is even greater than what we

delivered with the Sunny Cove core over the Skylake core,” Goaz said.

At the Hot Chips conference on August 23, Intel executives said that the P-core offers 50 percent more performanc­e over the E-core, according to the Anandtech live blog of Intel’s presentati­on ( go.pcworld.com/lvbl).

For new applicatio­ns, Intel developed a set of new instructio­n extensions, called Advanced Matrix Extensions, or AMX. AMX was designed for machine learning and AI, both of which have become selling points for hardware for the data center.

Why even develop desktop Alder Lake chips with efficiency cores? “You’re absolutely right—battery life doesn’t matter in desktop,” said Stephen Robinson, a CPU architect and Intel fellow. “But the thermals do. Fans, cooling power—at some point, you have a limit.” And that’s why Intel designed its new efficiency cores.

INTEL’S NEW EFFICIENCY CORE

The first thing you need to know about Intel’s efficiency core is that…well, it’s a performanc­e core, too, of a sort. Formerly named Gracemont, the Intel efficiency core is essentiall­y a fourth-generation Atom chip that lacks the hyperthrea­ding capabiliti­es of the Intel performanc­e core. “Our primary goal was to build the world’s most efficient X86 core, while still delivering more instructio­ns per clock than Intel’s most prolific architectu­re to date,” Robinson said.

That architectu­re was the sixth-generation Intel Skylake chip ( go.pcworld.com/sxgn), and Intel’s efficiency core apparently supersedes it in every way. Four of the

E-cores (also manufactur­ed in Intel’s Intel 7 process) take up the die space of a single Skylake core.

The new E-core also delivers 40 percent more performanc­e than Skylake. If you put four E-cores against a dual-skylake system using four threads, you’d still get 80 percent more performanc­e with less power, Robinson said. “We exceed Skylake Core performanc­e by consuming less power in a smaller footprint,” he added.

INTEL THREAD DIRECTOR: HOW IT ALL FITS TOGETHER

Intel’s Thread Director is a thread scheduler, a sort of traffic cop in the operating system, ensuring that high-priority operations are dealt with first, and making sure that a microproce­ssor isn’t starved for data. With Alder Lake, the question becomes: Which task goes first, and on which processor core type should it run?

That’s the job of the Thread Director, an Intel-designed scheduler specifical­ly designed for Windows 11. Until now, apps running in the foreground (such as the web browser you’re using to read this story) were assigned the highest priority by default.

Thread Director goes a step further, analyzing the performanc­e needs of each thread, assigning them to the right type of core—and then reassignin­g them on the fly if new threads appear. Rajshree Chabukswar, the senior principal Intel engineer in charge of the effort, said Thread Director will manage common consumer tasks like gaming, streaming, productivi­ty apps, and more. Because Intel Thread Director is running in hardware, not software, developers won’t have to try to assign these priorities themselves.

Interestin­gly, there may be scenarios where the E-core offers higher performanc­e than the P-core, or where the P-core is actually more efficient. The actual frequency at which these cores run will be adjusted according to the

compute load and balanced between the different core types. Background threads will run at a low clock frequency, and high-priority threads will run at a higher frequency, Intel said at the Hot Chips conference. All AI workloads will be assigned first to P-cores, according to the Anandtech live blog.

Some questions remain. For one, there’s the timing: According to Chabukswar, Thread Director support will be incorporat­ed into the “upcoming Windows 11 release,” implying that Windows 11 should support Alder Lake at launch. But it’s still not clear whether Windows 10 will enjoy the same support. Chabukswar said there’s still “hybrid goodness” with Windows 10, but added that Windows 11 will provide the ability to dynamicall­y shift threads back and forth between performanc­e and efficiency cores. It sounds like Windows 10 may lack that capability, making the combinatio­n of Windows 11 and Alder Lake that much more efficient.

“The ordering of thread scheduling and other things are taken care of in Windows 10,” Chabukswar said. “Windows 11 takes it to the next level.”

Chabukswar also implied that Alder Lake will run differentl­y on

Windows 10 versus Windows 11, but it might not be as straightfo­rward as seeing higher performanc­e scores. Instead, she said a Windows 11 system with Thread Director enabled may be more efficient in bouncing tasks back and forth between the performanc­e and efficiency cores. The results may be hard to quantify: With lowpriorit­y tasks handed off to E-cores, will performanc­e improve as the P-cores are freed up? Or will battery life lengthen? It may all take some testing.

Intel said nothing about Meteor Lake, the eventual successor to Alder Lake. It did, however, close out its Intel Architectu­re Day with a message from its new chief executive, Pat Gelsinger, reminding everyone to attend Intel Innovation on late October. Could this be a launch party for Intel’s Alder Lake laptops? We hope so.

 ?? ??
 ?? ?? A summary of Intel’s Alder Lake chip. Note that hyperthrea­ding, a staple of most modern PC microproce­ssors, is available only on the performanc­e cores.
A summary of Intel’s Alder Lake chip. Note that hyperthrea­ding, a staple of most modern PC microproce­ssors, is available only on the performanc­e cores.
 ?? ?? Intel’s Alder Lake chips will be manufactur­ed for three different classes of PCS.
Intel’s Alder Lake chips will be manufactur­ed for three different classes of PCS.
 ?? ?? According to Daniel Rogers, the product manager for Alder Lake, the presence of fewer Xe EUS (32, as opposed to 96) on the desktop processor assumes the presence of discrete graphics. Note that Alder Lake supports up to four Thunderbol­t 4 ports as well as Wi-fi 6e.
According to Daniel Rogers, the product manager for Alder Lake, the presence of fewer Xe EUS (32, as opposed to 96) on the desktop processor assumes the presence of discrete graphics. Note that Alder Lake supports up to four Thunderbol­t 4 ports as well as Wi-fi 6e.
 ?? ?? An overview of Intel’s performanc­e core within Alder Lake.
An overview of Intel’s performanc­e core within Alder Lake.
 ?? ?? This is how Intel views the performanc­e of its performanc­e core within Alder Lake.
This is how Intel views the performanc­e of its performanc­e core within Alder Lake.
 ?? ?? An overview of Intel’s efficiency core within its Alder Lake chip.
An overview of Intel’s efficiency core within its Alder Lake chip.
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 ?? ?? Intel Thread Director can dynamicall­y reallocate threads between the available performanc­e and efficiency cores. Here, you see some highpriori­ty (dark green) tasks running on the efficient cores, and some medium-priority tasks running on the performanc­e cores. It’s up to Thread Director to reassign these.
Intel Thread Director can dynamicall­y reallocate threads between the available performanc­e and efficiency cores. Here, you see some highpriori­ty (dark green) tasks running on the efficient cores, and some medium-priority tasks running on the performanc­e cores. It’s up to Thread Director to reassign these.

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