Intel’s Newest Processor Family is Aimed Squarely at ARM

Posted on June 10, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Mobile, Windows 10 with 40 Comments

Intel today announced its new hybrid Core processors, which feature an ARM-like architecture for better battery life in thin and light PCs.

“Intel Core processors with Intel Hybrid Technology are the touchstone of Intel’s vision for advancing the PC industry by taking an experience-based approach to designing silicon with a unique combination of architectures and IPs,” Intel corporate vice president Chris Walker writes in a prepared statement. “Combined with Intel’s deepened co-engineering with our partners, these processors unlock the potential for innovative device categories of the future.”

Intel never mentions the term “ARM” in its announcement, but it’s pretty obvious why the firm is moving to a “big-little” core architecture that mimics processor designs from Qualcomm and other ARM chipset makers. This design allows for a 56 percent smaller package area and extended battery life, both of which are ideal for thin and light PCs, including, Intel says, foldable and dual-screen PCs.

The Intel design, codenamed Lakefield, is kind of interesting because it combines a full-powered 10 nm “Sunny Cove” core with four low-power “Tremont” Atom cores. So, yes, it’s a five-core design.

And the first PCs with Core processors with Intel Hybrid Technology are coming this month. Samsung is set to release an Intel version of its Galaxy Book S any day now; the firm had previously released an ARM version, which comes with all the usual performance and compatibility issues that have dogged Windows 10 on ARM so far. And Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold, which was announced at CES in January, will ship in select markets starting this month too.

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Comments (49)

49 responses to “Intel’s Newest Processor Family is Aimed Squarely at ARM”

  1. will

    Maybe Apple will launch a MacBook or Mini with this processor to be a bridge system for ARM macOS until they are ready to use their own processors. A way for dev's to get on the new OS, if it is announced, with a simple hardware design.

  2. MikeCerm

    Still not really competitive with ARM. These little "Atom" cores are an iteration on Goldmont, which come in at 6 watt and 10 watt TDP, very high compared to ARM. There hasn't been any 10 nm "Atom" CPUs yet, so we can't really know if the new ones will actually be meaningfully more efficient than 14 nm. Their current 10 nm CPUs have not proven to be anything special, and so we're still going to have a situation where ARM is significantly more efficient. The only thing that adding the "big" core does is bring the performance level up to where Qualcomm is, but it still won't be competitive with regard to battery life. (Though, to be fair, if you have a laptop with a big power-hungry screen, CPU efficiency doesn't matter as much as one might think.)

  3. eric_rasmussen

    My guess is that software will need to be designed to spin up that single Sunny Cover core as little as possible while still giving acceptable performance. I wonder if Microsoft supports the chip natively in Windows 10 2004? I also wonder if this has anything to do with why 2004 took so long to get released?

  4. Daishi

    I can’t help feeling like this is just Intel pushing out a press release before Apple announce they’re ditching them. We already knew all of this and we still don’t know the most important thing, how much do they cost? My bet, going on their history, is that they’re at least as expensive as a Core M chip, if not more, which is why we didn’t get one in the Surface Go. So now we have yet another, even less powerful, chip series from Intel intended for use in high priced devices while we still can’t get a low cost Window machine worth squat.

    Thanks Intel. You definitely aren’t the biggest roadblock to progress in the PC industry...

    • Paul Thurrott

      Well, it's important to remember that Samsung had already announced the Galaxy whatever it is that Intel mentions, and that it was already coming in June. So this was happening regardless of the Apple thing, which, by the way, is still a rumor and won't actually happen for devices until 2021.
      • Daishi

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        But that’s exactly what I mean. We knew about these chips. We already knew they were 1:4 big, little chips for low powered machines. We already knew Samsung and Lenovo were making devices using them. And in at least the case of the Samsung we knew it must be coming soon, because benchmarks from it have been floating around for a while.

        There’s really not much new here, but with the apparent imminent announcement of Apple’s ARM move Intel had to get out ahead of it with an announcement of their own.

  5. glenn8878

    The problem is Windows 10 is not a low power OS. Any advances it made with Windows 8 like quick start-up and tablet mode was discarded with Windows 10. It's app approach was DOA and a mismash of different technologies. Windows 8 debut on 2012. That could have been 8 years of accumulated experience with a more efficient mobile Windows that was stillborn. While the promise with Lakefield is fine, Intel didn't do itself any favors by discontinuing Atom in 2016 without anything to replace it for years.

  6. codymesh

    when Intel announced Faveros, I didn't think they would actually ship the ARM-like design. This is exciting! It's like big.LITTLE but on x86.

    Atom cores are actually pretty decent performers too, except for the situations during when the PC demands a performance spike, so if they can get the scheduling right, this would be absolutely a winning combo

  7. Pbike908

    We shall see if this truly works or not. This has a chance so long as the price and performance is equal to an Intel 5 processor....

  8. mjgerrard

    This looks to be, in technical terms, a fudge. Good marketing will probably save it though in the immediate future.

    I'm very unlikely to buy an Apple laptop product but the sooner they switch to ARM and show some real clout in terms of battery life vs the competition, the better for all of us. In the short term the lines will be blurred but the sooner the switch to ARM architecture is made the future will be alot brighter.

    • lvthunder

      In reply to mjgerrard:

      How do you know ARM is better in the future then the x64? Yes it works in phones and tablets, but nowhere has it worked on regular computers.

      • mjgerrard

        In reply to lvthunder:

        Because the principle of starting with a low power/TDP base architecture and ramping it up, will work better than trying to make a high power/TDP architecture work more efficiently. It's just a sticking plaster at the end of the day.

        Intel may very soon, hit a smaller nm process but consider how long it has taken them to get there. Consider how long it will take them to hit the next nm architecture base in order to keep flogging the horse.

        • bogdan

          In reply to mjgerrard: sorry to burst your bubble, but see how much power Raspberry Pi burn. They are not that power efficient. 13 -18 watts between Pi 3 and 4. And we know now quick they are. I hope to see a Raspberry pi like SOC boards. I am sick and tired of hunting for programs that actually run on ARM. Lots of hype.

          • mjgerrard

            In reply to bogdan:

            Two counterpoints on that.

            A) Pi chips are incredibly cheap. They aren't exactly the height of technology here. The 8cx on the other end is delivering silly hours of battery life with i5 like performance.

            B) Give it 3 years when technology and software has improved and itll be a different story. It just needs a critical mass, and Apple doing this is a good start.

      • nbplopes

        In reply to lvthunder:

        You mean regular computers as Windows 10 right?

        Because there are plenty evidences that ARM is pretty fast with other OSs. Connected with external 4K monitors ... etc etc

        The core problem is Legacy. In other words, we need a digital transformation of the digital in order to advance to a space of better computing.

      • Paul Thurrott

        Yeah, I wonder about this as well. We'll see how well macOS runs on this platform and how much Apple had to change the A-series chip to accommodate that before declaring victory for ARM.
        • nbplopes

          In reply to paul-thurrott:

          ‘Personally I don’t care who wins or looses. Been using laptops since 97 and none them were close the performance of a desktop at the same price. Heck, a $800 Desktops goes circles around a $3500 laptop. This truth is rarely talked about.

          At least the misguided perception that a PC delivers the same and does everything regardless of form and if it does not it’s the user fault - it’s being challenged. In that sense it actually lost already. But, sheshhh ... don’t tel anyone.

    • glenn8878

      In reply to mjgerrard:

      Never buy first generation, even from Apple. Fourth generation is a better bet.

  9. peterc

    is this really groundbreaking and advancing the PC industry? I can’t help but feel Intel simply lost a decade profit taking and not innovating....

    • madthinus

      In reply to peterc:

      Intel lost decade is because they tied chip design to their manufacturing process. When they moved to 10nm they wanted to get 2.7x density improvements compared to the 2.4x density improvements from the previous process migration. This turned out to be a fatal mistake. It takes three years from design to fab, sometimes longer. Since they designed all their chips towards the 10nm process that they could not get to work they got themselves stuck. It is cleared today that when they stopped the tick tock approach and moved to the tick tick tock that they were stalling. They never wanted to have Skylake for 5 years, but that design is the only one that they had that was taped out at 14nm and designed for 14nm. So that is what we have got. As they matured 10nm, they moved away from the 2.7x density improvement to something less and they have adapted some of the designs to work with this revised process. 11Gen processors will be the first of these designs and from the leaks it looks like a big leap in some areas forward for them.

    • Daishi

      In reply to peterc:

      They lost a decade try to get a functional 10nm chip foundry up and running.

    • lvthunder

      In reply to peterc:

      There is a physical limit to what you can do. You can't innovate forever.

  10. lundp

    Competition is a good thing. Apple perhaps is one company that can push a little competition from chip makers. Complacency is not good in this industry.

  11. madthinus

    This sounds interesting, but one large core makes this effectively a single core processor with four support cores. That is less interesting to me for main stream computing.

    • wright_is

      In reply to madthinus:

      Most laptops and desktops probably spend 90% of their time idling, unless they are being used for CAD, compiling stuff or gaming. That means most users won't notice that their desktop is ticking along on the 4 low power cores, as everything that has their attention will be shoved through the single fast core. Most of the stuff happening in the background is not time critical and it doesn't matter if it takes a couple of milliseconds longer to complete.

  12. Greg Green

    Haven’t they already been there, failed that?

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