Intel has been crushing it financially recently through the execution of a more diversified portfolio even as it faces fierce PC and datacenter server processor competition as well as challenges in future process nodes. Yesterday was a big day in the long history of Intel as it unveiled the next generation of notebook processors, which, in many ways, I believe, partially pays off its investment over the past two years in its Six Pillar strategy.
Yesterday, the company announced the company’s 11th Generation of Core notebook processors and introduced a new corporate brand identity as well as commercialized the Athena Program into a new “Evo” platform sub-brand. That said, Intel is already shipping its 11th Gen Core Processors that it announced today to ODM and OEM customers. This new process node leverages Intel’s new SuperFin technology, which Anshel Sag and I covered in our Intel Architecture day article. Today also marks how Intel talks differently about performance and experience while comparing to the competition, and the Evo program is a significant component of that.
Specs and variable TDP
Intel’s new 11th Gen Core notebook Processor code-named Tiger Lake, features almost all new IP across the board, including a modern Willow Cove CPU architecture, new Iris Xe Graphics, Integrated Thunderbolt 4, PCIe Gen 4, and much more. Intel is stating that the new Willow Cove CPU architecture is a 20% gen on gen improvement and that the new Iris Xe graphics is double the performance of last generation’s integrated GPUs. A significant component of Intel’s 11th Gen Core Processor is that the performance is scalable from 7W up to 28W, which allows Intel to compete with multiple competitors with a single architecture.
Intel’s new, holistic compute approach with CPU, GPU, NPU, and ISP is more like a smartphone than a classic PC, especially when you consider what the company is doing with products like it’s Hybrid CPU code-named Lakefield. That’s a good thing. The PC for over a decade dreamed of a more heterogeneous computing environment while smartphones were executing on it. Maybe Tiger Lake and 11th Gen Core is the beginning; now, we need more PC software that takes advantage of all the NPU, DSP, and FPGAs.
New “Evo” platform brand signifies the goodness of Project Athena
Intel’s new Evo brand signifies the next phase of the Athena program with the productization of the program and a simple, easy “on-shelf” indicator that the device is Athena experience approved. In addition to the introduction of the Evo brand, Intel also announced a new Intel corporate identity; all of Intel’s latest product announcements today correspond with the new branding as well.
Intel is approaching benchmarking and performance differently than before, and the company is not neglecting opportunities to compare itself to AMD and NVIDIA. Having talked with many of Intel’s OEM partners, they will be pleased as they want a more direct comparison. Intel repeatedly compared the new Intel Core i7-1185G7 to AMD’s Ryzen 7 4800U processor across multiple benchmarks and use cases. Intel combined performance benchmarks like SYSMark, 3DMark, and MLPerf as well as scripts that utilized real-world applications like Office, Adobe, Chrome, and Games like CSGO. Back in 2002, when I ran AMD product marketing, my team envisioned and the True Performance Initiative (TPI), so of course, I agree with Intel’s high-level premise that real-world workloads and applications should be tested and have repeatable results paired with industry-standard benchmarks. The key for Intel will be to generalize those workloads aligned with software that “everybody” uses so it doesn’t look like corner cases.
Intel also took a jab at AMD on notebook performance while on AC power versus battery and how much less of a performance hit Intel processors take. I have not confirmed whether this is an AMD design mandate to maximize battery life, an OEM/ODM option, or consumer-selectable. We’ll have to see. I welcome Intel’s focus on this problem as it has long plagued the PC platform for years, and not enough laptop OEMs take it seriously, at least many did not care as much before the Athena program.
Intel’s Project Athena is entering its next phase with the introduction of the Evo Platform, which combines Project Athena with the best of Intel’s Core Processors with the i7 class. I’ve always agreed with Project Athena’s goals but wished that its first iteration was more aggressive on the specs, but I am sure that OEMs pushed back. On Gen1, I couldn’t tell the difference between a Dell XPS 13 that was certified or not. I believe this second iteration of Project Athena is more aggressive, which is nice to see and introduces the new Evo brand as well. However, I still want to see mandatory cellular modems for the complete connected experience, particularly as this aligns 100% with the Intel-defined “go-getters.” Twenty-five different tasks make up Intel’s metrics for system performance spanning creation, consumption, collaboration, and entertainment. At the same time, the experience must deliver on responsiveness, 9+ hour battery life, instant wake in under 1 second, fast charge (4hrs of charge in 30 min), and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity. Aside from the lack of wireless, I see the process as research-based and scientific versus shooting from the hip.
Reframing performance in terms of heterogeneous compute
Intel is reframing the performance discussion with a heavier focus on both GPU and AI performance in real-world applications. The smartphone industry has been framing performance in terms of heterogeneous compute for a decade, and glad Intel is, too. Intel is investing a lot in this, and more software takes advantage of heterogeneous compute, so the timing is good.
In terms of GPU performance, Intel is now comparing the new Iris Xe graphics in Tiger Lake to NVIDIA and AMD, showing GRID running faster on 11th Gen Core. Intel’s gaming comparison compares the Iris Xe Graphics to AMD’s 4800U and NVIDIA’s MX350+, which is quite the comparison to draw but is only one game title across thousands available. Intel even brought out Tom Petersen, formerly an NVIDIA technical marketing director, to talk about how Iris Xe graphics are better than AMD’s integrated and NVIDIA’s discrete.
Intel is also building on its AI inference capabilities by leveraging different parts of the processor, including the CPU for bursty workloads, GPU for sustained workloads, and the GNA 2.0 for periodic workloads. Intel is claiming a 4x better performance versus. AMD on the GPU and a 1.7x again on the CPU in MLPerf as well. I believe that Intel is leading AMD in AI both in terms of performance and capabilities for the simple fact that Intel has invested in fixed-function blocks and the software infrastructure. However, the use cases are still somewhat limited right now, but I expect that they will accelerate quickly, especially as Intel and other silicon vendors continue to invest.
I saw this for years as Intel hurt AMD with the lack of MMX then SSE. Intel is running the same play with AI, different year, different instructions. But it remains a question whether Intel will market this so heavily as it did with things like MMX and Centrino? That, I believe, will be a crucial determinant; Intel has to make AI more relevant on the PC; otherwise, I believe the industry will still look at brute force CPU performance.
Intel’s new 11th Gen Core Processors code-named Tiger Lake was more than just another processor launch. It marked a new phase in the company’s history with the introduction of the Willow Cove architecture, leaned more heavily into its Six Pillar strategy, leveraging a new process node and the introduction of the Xe LP architecture in the Iris Xe GPU. In addition to the 11th Gen Core processors, Intel is rolling out the next phase of its Project Athena experience program with the Evo brand, which pairs Project Athena V2 with 11th Gen Core processors.
I believe that Intel is smart to brand systems that match the Evo platform’s key experience metrics and to make it clear to consumers that these systems represent the best experiences from Intel’s partners. This new generation of processors from Intel shows that the company continues to invest in GPU and AI performance, and I believe that the degree of success will be dependent both on Intel’s software execution and the ability to market those capabilities. Intel has run this same play numerous times successfully to stave off competition.
The new Intel I saw the past few weeks looks like a more aggressive competitor than I think we have seen in recent years, and that’s good for the market. I like it.
Note: This analysis contains contributions from Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Anshel Sag.