Intel has confirmed that production of its Alder Lake CPUs, which are based on a radically new hybrid architecture, will begin in the second half of this year. Confirmation came in the same winning calls that Intel’s new CEO Pat Gelsinger put his trust in the upcoming 7nm production node.
The skinny at Alder Lake, however, came from outgoing CEO Bob Swan. “Looking ahead, we are excited about the capabilities we are bringing to our customers with Alder Lake for mobile and desktop PCs and Sapphire Rapids for the data center. These products leverage our Enhanced SuperFin process technology and numerous architectural enhancements to a wide sample of customers .
“We will qualify Alder Lake Desktop and Notebook for production and begin our volume ramp in the second half of 2021. We expect Sapphire Rapids to qualify for production in late 2021,” said Swan.
Swan’s mention of “Enhanced SuperFin Process Technology” refers to the latest revamped version of Intel’s troubled 10nm production node. Intel’s 10nm process, originally planned for 2015, is at least five years late.
From today’s perspective, Intel has not yet sold a 10 nm processor for desktop or laptop PCs with more than four cores. Before these Alder Lake chips go live later this year, Intel will be releasing another 14nm generation of processors known as Rocket Lake.
In this context, the confirmation that Erlensee remains on course for later this year is important. As regular readers know, Alder Lake will not only be Intel’s first full line of 10nm processors, it will introduce a radically new hybrid architecture.
Similar to the so-called big.LITTLE ARM-based chips in smartphones and Apple’s new M1 processor, Alder Lake combines both larger high-performance CPU cores and smaller, highly efficient cores and theoretically combines the best of both worlds in a single architecture.
While smartphones are an established approach, such a hybrid architecture would be new in the context of mainstream PCs, and especially desktop PCs. The biggest doubt concerns the knowledge of the operating system in relation to the Windows operating system.
In short, the operating system needs to know the topology of the chip in order to plan software threads for the correct cores. Otherwise, critical threads would inevitably end up at least temporarily on the small cores and impair performance.
While the hardware is definitely on the right track for this year, it is imperative that Intel nail the software side before it can even think of getting the chips out into the wild.