Intel has been on a long path towards delivering innovation that enables the company to be competitive in more ways than just process technology. One of the significant ways that Intel is accomplishing; is with packaging technologies, and one of those technologies is called Foveros. Foveros allows Intel to create a more modular chip design that will enable designers to change chip dies based on the application. This means being able to combine different CPU cores, GPU cores, accelerators, and memory from potentially different process nodes, which allows Intel to create each chip die based on the optimal process node for yield, performance, and cost. Intel Lakefield, which was teased earlier this year at CES, is being called Intel Core with Intel Hybrid Technology is the first product from the company utilizing this technology.
Intel designed the new Core processors with Intel Hybrid Technology to enable new processor designs and sizes that were previously impossible. This new processor is an only 12mmx12mm package, which means it’s an incredibly small chip and can fit in devices as small as 8” be they tablets, foldables, or laptops. By combining so many different dies, the Intel Core processors with Hybrid Technology can deliver premium performance while also having meager standby power. The way Intel does this is by stacking different dies on top of one another with a 10nm compute die with CPU, graphics, display, IPU, cache, and MC sitting atop a separate die with I/O, security, ISH (integrated sensor hub) and EC Lite. Intel manufacturers this die with a lower cost, low leakage process node, which helps to improve yields and power consumption. On top of the 10nm compute die is the POP memory, which is LPDDR4x which currently enables 4GB or 8GB of RAM, but could in the future see higher RAM capacities. All of these different components inside of the SoC that stacks on top of one another have a TDP of a meager 7W, which is the kind of TDP that Intel needs to be competitive in the ultra-mobile category.
There are two models of the Intel Core Processors with Intel Hybrid Technology that share the same number of CPU cores but are categorized into Core i3 and i5 mostly based on clock speeds. These new processors utilize a new processor design and count with five processors instead of Intel’s historical multiples of two. This is possible because Intel is, for the first time combining multiple processor architectures into a single chip. What Intel is doing is that the company is combining one large Intel Core processor based on the Sunny Cove architecture with four smaller, more power-efficient Tremont Atom cores. We wrote a paper about the new Tremont cores and what kinds of improvements they bring, as well as what type of form factors could benefit from those improvements. The idea with this architecture, which is very similar to ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture is to run active applications and processes on the single big core while background processes run on the smaller lower power cores. Intel accomplishes this with hardware guided scheduling, which integrates at the OS level to help prioritize applications for the best power and performance.
Intel’s new chip architecture makes a lot of sense when you consider where the company is at today and where there is market demand. We know that this modern architecture is suitable for Intel because it lowers development costs and improves the time to market over a traditional SoC. When you consider some of the setbacks that Intel has suffered from 10nm, this is one of the ways that Intel can bring some heat to the competition in ultra-mobile form factors. I also believe that this new Core with Intel Hybrid Technology architecture will enable new form factors for PCs from Intel’s partner’s like the upcoming Microsoft Surface Neo and Lenovo X1 Fold. Ultimately, these new processors still use Intel’s 32-bit and 64-bit x86 instructions, which preserves most application compatibility. The small size enables much more compact PCB designs and saves room on the PCB and makes room for potentially more significant batteries or other features. The Lakefield chip is a significant accomplishment, and I eagerly await the day that I can use one of these new devices with Intel’s Core Processors with Intel Hybrid Technology and compare them to the competition from ARM.
Note: This article contains analysis from Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Anshel Sag.