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Everything You Need to Know About Intel's Alder Lake Hybrid CPUs.

If there's one thing that never seems to go away in the world of computers, it's the AMD versus Intel debate. With the upcoming launch of Intel's 12th-generation of processors, it looks like this debate won't be going anywhere soon. So, what exactly are Intel's Alder Lake Hybrid CPUs and will they live up to the hype?

 

 

Intel Alder Lake specifications

It’s still early days, but already a few tantalising bits of specification information have emerged.

Here’s what we know about the specification:

 

Architecture Golden Cove and Gracemont Cores
Max Cores 8+8 (24 threads)
GPU Intel Xe (Gen 12.2)
Socket LGA 1700
Process 10nm Enhanced SuperFin
RAM Support DDR5 and DDR4

 

Alder Lake’s Hybrid Design

One of the most notable features of Intel’s forthcoming Alder Lake processors is that they’ll be based on the high-efficiency big.LITTLE hybrid design pioneered by British semiconductor firm Arm (Intel calls their own interpretation of this design Big-Bigger).

They will also be the first processors to use Intel’s 10nm SuperFin production process. Intel claims that this process delivers faster transistors and improved MIM capacitors. According to Intel, it’s "a breakthrough in x86 architecture design"

This hybrid, big.LITTLE architecture features a mix of low-power, high efficiency, single thread cores (to handle low-priority background tasks) and dual-thread, high performance cores to handle heavier, more process-intensive tasks.

Until now, big.LITTLE hybrid processors have been reserved for low power mobile devices, not having enough power to handle the most demanding apps and games on the market. But, as Apple’s M1 chip has demonstrated (which uses the same hybrid architecture), the big.LITTLE architecture is ready for desktops.

Intel’s adoption of this architecture is a major change for the Californian tech giant. They’re used to using their own proprietary designs, but given their recent loss of market share to AMD, they have seemingly seen the need for change.

 

Intel Alder Lake Cores

So, what exactly are the different cores being used in Intel’s Alder Lake processors?

The Atom-based efficiency cores have been dubbed ‘Gracemont’ and will be used to handle background tasks such as handling log-ins, managing the computer’s power when it’s in sleep mode etc.

The performance cores are known as ‘Golden Cove’. They’re dedicated to performing demanding tasks such as gaming, video processing, rendering etc.

The use of two cores in this ‘hybrid’ architecture should yield benefits (yes, even for desktop users!). All those precious processor clock cycles that are used for mundane tasks such as log-ins, will be freed up for game playing or other intensive tasks.

At this point you may be wondering how many of each core Intel’s Alder Lake processors will have. We are too! Although it’s not been confirmed by Intel, the internet rumour machine suggests that Alder Lake-P processors (the Alder Lake ‘laptop’ model) could have six Golden Cove cores with 12 threads and eight Gracemont cores with eight threads.

Higher-end Alder Lake processors could have eight high-powered cores matched with eight low-powered cores, making them essentially 8+8 processors, able to support 24 simultaneous threads.

In other words, the hybrid architecture means that some models of Alder Lake may come with seemingly odd distributions of cores and threads. The 8+8 configuration could fall into the Core i9 classification, an 8+4 configuration could fall into the Core i7 classification, and 6+8 and 4+0 configurations could fall into the Core i5 and Core i3 families respectively.

Talking of models, what will the Alder Lake processor ‘family’ look like? We’ve taken a look below.

 

The Intel Alder Lake Family

Details are still uncertain, as Intel is yet to officially release the specifications for their Alder Lake processors, however recent listings to the open-source Coreboot (a lightweight motherboard firmware option), have given an indication as to what the Alder Lake family will look like.

It appears as though there will be five variations of Alder Lake:

  • Alder Lake-S: Desktop PCs (LGA and BGA models).
  • Alder Lake-P: High performance laptops.
  • Alder Lake-M: Low-power devices.
  • Alder Lake-L: Pure Atom small core.
  • Alder Lake-N: For Chromebook devices.

 

Intel Alder Lake Performance

It all sounds very promising so far, but what can we expect from the Alder Lake processors in terms of performance?

Like much about Alder Lake at the moment, we’re still in the realm of speculation, however the processors are expected to deliver a 20% IPC uplift, thanks to the new Golden Cove cores.

In terms of clock speeds the 16-core desktop model has been spotted in benchmarks with a 1.8GHz base and a 4.0GHz boost clock speed. However, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that final production versions of Alder Lake will feature higher clock speeds.

Alder Lake is also expected to come with Gen 12 Xe graphics. Although Intel’s graphics have been a tad lacklustre for gaming in the past, the Xe graphics (such as those found in Tiger Lake-equipped laptops) have been much better. From what we’ve seen of Xe graphics so far, they are capable of delivering playable frame rates in eSports games at 1080p. It’s also possible (albeit at lower detail settings) to play AAA titles with Gen 12 Xe graphics.

Of course, systems will still benefit massively from a dedicated GPU, but Alder Lake’s onboard Xe graphics may give more options to gamers who are waiting for the current GPU demand frenzy to cool down.

 

Intel Alder Lake Release Date

No release date has been revealed yet, but it's widely expected across the industry that Intel's new processors will make an appearance during Autumn 2021. Should any production delays occur (which is possible given the 10nm SuperFin process), then Alder Lake may instead appear in Spring 2022.

 

Stop the presses!

At the time of writing, we’ve just spotted an intriguing tweet from renowned ‘tech leaker’ OneRaichu which looks like the results of a benchmark test of the Core i9 12900KS (Intel’s top-end Alder Lake chip).

 

Raichu Tweet

Alleged benchmark results for a 12900KS

 

If the performance in this benchmark played out across everything else, then the numbers suggest that Intel’s Alder Lake could be able to reclaim the CPU performance crown from AMD.

With unreleased QS samples of the Core i9 12900KS apparently currently being sold in China, it seems there will be many more benchmark leaks on the way. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled!