Alder Lake comes with promising advances, matching AMD's core counts and leapfrogging both AMD and Apple's M1, at least for now, with support for DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 technology. But Intel's goal to redefine its desktop PC and notebook lineups is risky — as Raja Koduri aptly describes it, Alder Lake is one of the biggest shifts in x86 architectures in over a decade.
Alder Lake comes to market at an important time in the company's history. Potent adversaries challenge Intel on both sides, with AMD's Ryzen processors steadily chewing away at Intel's leading position in both desktop PCs and laptops, while Apple's M1 laptop processors with their Arm-based design have set a high bar for hybrid designs and have helped propel Arm to its highest desktop PC market share in history.
In fact, Apple's M1 has brought a step-function improvement in both performance and power consumption over competing x86 chips, with much of that success coming from Arm's long-standing support for hybrid architectures and the requisite software optimizations.
Intel is on a similar trajectory with its collaboration with Microsoft to enable enhanced Windows 11 support for its x86 hybrid chips. In fact, Intel's Thread Director technology could be one of the most important aspects of the Alder Lake disclosures today. This is the sleeper tech that will determine Alder Lake's fate.
Intel fully expects that Alder Lake will be more than the sum of its parts, with its hybrid x86 architecture delivering a non-linear performance increase. Intel has a seemingly great canvas to paint on with its pairing of efficient Gracemont and high-performance Golden Cove cores, but it has to make sure that the paint lands in the right place. Or, in this case, the threads land on the correct cores.
If the threads land where they should, Intel could have a winner. In lightly threaded work, Gracemont purportedly provided 40% (or more) performance at the same power (ISO power) as the Skylake chip, meaning Skylake consumes 2.5 times more power to give the same level of performance as the Gracemont core. In threaded work, Gracemont delivers 80% more performance while consuming less power, or the same throughput at 80% less power. That means Skylake needs five times the power for the same performance, which is impressive indeed. Spam enough of these small cores into a package and you'll have a powerful chip that can trade blows with the heavyweights, even on the Arm side, but at equivalent or lower power.
Things are just as impressive on the performance core side things. Intel claims Golden Cove delivers a 19% increase in IPC over Cypress Cove, which already is plenty impressive in single-threaded work. In fact, Golden Cove's IPC improvement is larger than the improvement from Skylake to Sunny/Cypress Cove. That's impressive, if true. Intel already leads in single-core performance, so Alder Lake could be well-positioned against AMD's Zen 4 chips if it can pull off a comparable advance.
We won't have to wait much longer to see how effective Intel's preparations have been, Alder Lake comes to market in Fall 2021. We're sure to learn more at the inaugural Intel Innovation event October 27-28.