CPU Design Transforms PCs Into Truly Mobile Computing Devices

By Patrick Moorhead - February 10, 2020
A Block Diagram of the Intel Tremont Core Design

Many market dynamics have driven the PC ecosystem to the point where they emulate many of the mobile experiences we get from our smartphones. The growth of the smartphone industry and its current size forced the PC industry to rethink the PC, and we’re starting to see the PC change from a large and clunky device into something more small, thin and light, with long battery life. However, with much larger displays and higher performance processors, CPU design and performance needed to be rethought. The resulting changes will make future PCs more power-sensitive than ever before—for example, the dual display and foldable display designs starting to come to market. A key component of supporting these new PC form factors will be to deliver better performance than previous generations without impacting battery life significantly.

If you look at most desktop and laptop CPUs, you see a lot of designs repeating the use of the same core many times over. Many of the same core in a CPU design is fine when there are no power or thermal constraints, but when you move into the world of limited power and limited thermals (passively cooled without a fan), you start to run into issues. That’s why you’ve seen the smartphone ecosystem, mostly led by ARM, move towards a big.LITTLE architecture with high-performance cores and low power cores. The PC ecosystem is beginning to adopt this approach to CPU design, but there are some issues. If you look at the earliest big.LITTLE implementations, the lower power cores are significantly lower performance than the higher power cores—mostly to save on die space and power consumption. However, this limitation results in a pretty significant performance delta between the high-performance cores and the lower power efficiency cores. Although ARM tried to bridge that gap throughout the last few years, its latest efficiency core design is a couple of years old and isn’t updated as frequently on an annual cadence as its high-performance cores. I believe that this is in part because ARM is trying to catch up with Apple and Intel on absolute performance and that is best done with the bigger high-performance core designs. Intel, on the other hand, has been the leader in high-performance core design and is working to lower the power envelopes of its CPU designs without compromising too much on performance.

That’s where Intel’s Lakefield processor comes in—it blends Intel’s Sunny Cove high-performance (Core) architecture with its low power x86 Tremont architecture to build a processor balanced for power and performance without making compromises to performance. Microsoft’s upcoming new Surface Neo dual-screen mobile device will feature Intel’s Lakefield processor, inside thanks to its blending of CPU architectures optimized for mobility. This new mobility form factor with maximum performance is possible in part thanks to the new Tremont CPU architecture. Please follow this link to our whitepaper to learn more about the improvements that Tremont brings to the next generation of mobile PC and Intel’s future CPUs.

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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.