Intel demonstrated its next-generation flagship laptop chip on Monday at CES 2021, a chip codenamed Alder Lake that should be faster when you need performance and more power efficient when you need better battery life. The processor will arrive in the second half of 2021.
The brief demonstration, at an online press conference hosted by Intel Consumer Chip Manager Greg Bryant, showed that Windows is running on the new processor. Intel shared almost no details about the chip, but having it up and running is an important step that shows that the chip – and the manufacturing process used to make it – is maturing. As Intel has many years of manufacturing problems, the screen is more important than usual when it comes to telegraphing the trust of the chip.
Age Lake will arrive in a dramatically different environment than its predecessors, 2019’s Ice Lake and 2020’s Tiger Lake. Apple is now moving its Mac family of Intel chips in favor of its own M-series processors, starting with the M1 in new MacBook Air and smaller MacBook Pro laptops. These machines set new expectations for portable performance and power. They do not run Windows, but they will appeal to Apple loyalists and may entice Windows PC owners.
To improve the outlook for Alder Lake, Intel turned to a trick used in smartphones and Apple’s M1. It uses power-hungry processor cores for moments when the laptop is not busy or needs to run background tasks with low priority and faster, but more power-hungry cores for moments when performance matters, such as playing or launching a new app.
“It combines high-performance, high-efficiency cores in a single product,” Bryant said. “It will be the foundation for leading desktop and mobile processors that deliver smarter, faster and more efficient computing in the real world.”
A chip that powers both laptops and desktops is important. Intel’s most advanced 10th and 11th generation core processors worked only in mobile processors. Intel used earlier designs that could turn up to higher clock speeds for machines that are always connected to a power outlet.
Intel announced that some processors arrived earlier as well. Intel’s new 11th generation H-series processors for super-thin laptops should arrive in the first half of the year. Also new are Pentium Silver and Celeron N-series processors for cost-sensitive laptops. In particular, these chips are now built with Intel’s latest manufacturing process, which can create electronic elements with a width of only 10 billionths of a meter – 10 nm.
Intel’s shift from the older 14nm process to 10nm took place late and is still slow. Alder Lake will use an updated version of the process that provides faster transistors, an important step in matching top speeds in the 14nm process.
Apple does not build its own chips, but it takes advantage of the capabilities of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., which has marched ahead of Intel with production processes of 7 nm and now 5 nm. Intel’s 10nm is comparable to TSMC’s 7nm process, say chip analysts. With the miniaturization benefits of the new process, Apple has been able to cram more and more processing circuits while Intel has had to reuse existing designs.