During Intel’s 2021 Architecture Day, Team Blue finally gave a solid picture of what their upcoming processors will look like. The big one is of course Alder Lake, their 12th Generation Intel Core CPUs, which they’ve been teasing about ever since last year’s Architecture Day.
The first thing to know about Alder Lake is that it’s Intel’s biggest CPU architecture shift in over a decade. It’s a hybrid design comprising of Performance Cores and Efficient Cores. You can think of it like how smartphone processors have a prime core for heavy workloads, while background or simpler tasks get handled by slower, but more power efficient cores.
Now despite the name ‘Efficient Core’, it’s still a pretty solid piece of engineering. According to Intel, a single Efficient core has 40% more performance than a 6th Gen Skylake core. Scaled up, four Efficient cores running against two Skylake cores with four threads offers 80% more performance while using less power. As for Alder Lake’s beefier Performance Core, Intel says that it has a 19% improvement over their current 11th Gen Intel Core architecture at the same clock speeds.
By using two different core types, Alder Lake will also feature the new Intel Thread Director technology. Simply put, it’s a scheduler of sorts that will handle the assigning of specific tasks to each core. If you’re gaming for example, the Intel Thread Director will assign it to one of the Performance Cores. Background tasks meanwhile will then get sent over to an Efficient Core. And to make sure it’ll work seamlessly, Intel has also worked together with Microsoft to optimise the Intel Thread Director for Windows 11.
As for how the CPU will actually look like, desktop Alder Lake chips will get up to 16 cores in an 8P+8E layout, with the Performance Cores split to two threads each for up to 24 threads. There will also be two types of mobile CPUs when Alder Lake comes around, with designs comprising of either 6P+8E cores or 2P+8P cores based on its intended use case and power draw. Thanks to the way Alder Lake’s architecture is designed, it’s much easier for Intel to scale their CPU designs accordingly.
Other things of note for Intel’s Alder Lake CPUs include support for both DDR4 and DDR5 RAM, along with LPDDR4 and LPDDR5 too. However, when asked about the performance difference users might expect between DDR4 and DDR5 RAM, they said it’s still too early to tell and that Intel will reveal more closer to its launch date. Furthermore, Alder Lake will be leading the industry in the transition to PCIe Gen 5, with up to twice the bandwidth of PCIe Gen 4 on offer.