The 11th generation Intel Core CPUs brought a lot of sophistication resulting in excellent performances from laptops and desktops alike.
However, the AMD Ryzen 5000 series working on AMD Zen 3 architecture performed noticeably better. Moreover, the CPU and GPU benchmarks were better than the 11th gen Intel Core CPUs, especially on the higher core counts. Besides, you had Apple introducing the M1 processors featuring a hybrid design to demonstrate explosive performances.
Therefore, the time is ripe for Intel to wrest back the initiative and regain the pole position in the market.
Intel has confirmed the launch of its 12th gen CPU, also known as Alder Lake architecture while introducing new technological features like PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 to take the lead over AMD and Apple in connectivity technology.
At the same time, Intel’s Alder lake CPUs can outperform AMD Ryzen’s core counts. However, this new technology comes with inherent risks, especially the pairing of high-performance and high-efficiency cores in a single chip. In addition, it is a first for x86 desktop PCs, but the technology has already been tried in ARM chips before with success.
Alder Lake Architecture – The Highlights
- Alder Lake architecture will launch sometime during the last week of October 2021 (27th or 28th). However, it can take a couple of months to be fully available.
- Alder Lake uses an enhanced 10nm SuperFin process, now known as Intel 7. Though Intel 11th gen laptop CPUs work on 10nm SuperFin process, it is a first for desktops since the debut of the 14nm process about six years ago.
- Alder Lake architecture uses a hybrid design that combines two types of processing cores, namely, performance cores and efficiency cores. It is a hybrid x86 design with a mix of Golden Cove performance cores and Gracemont efficiency cores
- The 12th gen Intel CPUs will support PCIe Gen 5 and PCIe Gen 4, besides DDR5 and DDR4 memory. However, users will not be able to mix both DDR4 and DDR memory on the same board.
- The LGA1700 socket will require new motherboards.
- Like the 11th gen Intel CPUs (Tiger Lake and Rocket lake), the 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs support Thunderbolt 4 and Wi-Fi 6E Gig+.
- Alder Lake chips can support up to 16 cores and 24 threads, with 30 MB of non-inclusive L3 cache.
- All Alder Lake CPUs will come equipped with onboard Xe LP graphics, currently available in the Tiger Lake CPUs.
- Alder Lake is a scalable architecture.
- Alder Lake could be available inside inbuilt laptops and desktops with Windows 11.
- Intel will reunify the desktop and mobile lines with Alder Lake.
Alder Lake CPUs will be available in four variants, S for desktop PCs, P for mobile/laptops, M for low-power devices, and L for Atom replacement. Besides, one can also see the introduction of N-educational, probably for Chromebooks.
Alder Lake CPUs – Availability
Reports indicate that Alder Lake CPUs will be released by the last week of October 2021, with the update probably arriving early next year. It seems that Intel will be releasing the Alder Lake chips on the mobile platform first and simultaneously release a few desktop chips, maybe a single i5, i7, or i9 processor.
The full range of Alder Lake will take time because of the delays in developing supporting PCIe 5.0 technology.
Alder Lake CPUs – Architecture
Alder Lake uses a hybrid architecture comprising high-performance Golden Cove cores (the big ones generally found in new generation processors) and high-efficiency Gracemont cores.
The Golden Cove cores handle almost all the jobs you do on a computer, whereas the Gracemont cores handle background tasks to conserve battery life when the performance core is not needed.
Golden Cove cores focus on high-frequency single-threaded performances that use Intel’s new Matrix engine, a co-processor that speeds up AI workloads and handles matric multiplications.
On the other hand, Gracemont cores focus on multi-threaded performances while juggling several tasks across multiple cores. Reports suggest that the Gracemont x86 efficiency cores can outperform the old Skylake cores by 40% at the same wattage.
Besides, Alder Lake architectural change delivers better single-thread performance by 20%, thereby proving an efficient processor for gaming laptops. As a result, Intel plans to release some models with the big cores active to help enhance gaming performances.
Here is the expected configuration for Alder Lake-S Desktop PC specifications
|Big plus Small Cores||Number of cores/threads||GPU|
|8 + 8||16/24||GT1 – Gen 12 32EU|
|8 + 6||14/22||GT1 – Gen 12 32EU|
|8 + 4||12/20||GT1 – Gen 12 32EU|
|8 + 2||10/18||GT1 – Gen 12 32EU|
|8 + 0||8/16||GT1 – Gen 12 32EU|
|6 + 8||14/20||GT1 – Gen 12 32EU|
|6 + 6||12/18||GT1 – Gen 12 32EU|
|6 + 4||10/16||GT1 – Gen 12 32EU|
|6 + 2||8/14||GT1 – Gen 12 32EU|
|6 + 0||6/12||GT1 – Gen 12 32EU|
|4 + 0||4/8||GT1 – Gen 12 32EU|
|2 + 0||2/4||GT1 – Gen 12 32EU|
Intel has not confirmed these specifications. However, this is the expected configuration with the bigger cores coming with hyperthreading.
Thus, we infer that the 10nm Alder Lake CPUs will combine the larger Golden Cove cores supporting hyperthreading with the single-threaded Atom Gracemont cores. Logically, one can assume the 8 + 8 configuration to be available on the Ci9 CPUs. The Ci7 series could have the 8 + 4 combo, whereas the Ci5 and Ci3 will have the 6 + 8 and 4 + 0 configuration.
As regards the clock frequencies, the 16-core desktop model has been spotted with a 1.8GHz base and 4.0GHz boost clock speed. The speeds could even breach the 5.0GHz limit on the Golden Cove cores but with a higher TDP value. Some of the 11th gen CPUs have boost clock speeds as high as 5.3GHz.
The graphics could include a GT1 Xe configuration with a maximum of 32EU. The currently available desktops come with Gen 9.5 UHD 630 graphics with 24EU. However, the 11th gen Tiger Lake CPUs feature 96EU. Besides, people working on desktops who worry about graphics performances can always go for a dedicated GPU.
Let us now look at the probable Alder Lake P and M Mobile processor configuration.
|Big plus Small Cores||Number of Cores/Threads||GPU|
|6 + 8||14/20||GT2 Gen12 96EU|
|6 + 4||10/14||GT2 Gen12 96EU|
|4 + 8||12/16||GT2 Gen12 96EU|
|2 + 8||10/12||GT2 Gen12 96EU|
|2 + 4||6/8||GT2 Gen12 96EU|
|2 + 0||2/4||GT2 Gen12 96EU|
Intel will introduce Alder lake CPUs in laptops in the P and M versions. Though much info is not available about the M-variants, they seem destined for low-power devices and could replace the Lakefield chips.
However, all the laptop configuration settings come with Gen 12 Xe graphics in GT2 configuration while imparting 96EUs. Compared to the desktop CPUs, this amounts to three times the execution units, reducing the necessity of a discrete graphics card. Reports suggest that the 96EU Xe graphics is the equivalent of a GT 1030.
How do the 12th Gen Alder Lake chips differ from the 11th gen Intel CPUs?
As you can gather from the above discussion, the 12th gen chips combine performance and efficiency cores, increasing the core count considerably over the 11th gen CPUs. Therefore, one can expect higher performance levels from the 12th gen Alder Lake chips.
Here are the 11th gen Intel Core processor configuration settings in brief.
|Features||U-Series Laptop chips||H-35 Laptop processors||S-series desktop chips||H-45 Laptop processors|
|CPU process||10nm SuperFin technology||10nm SuperFin technology||14nm technology||10nm SuperFin technology|
|Cores/Threads||Up to 4 cores and 8 threads||Up to 4 cores and 8 threads||Up to 8 cores and 16 threads||Up to 8 cores and 16 threads|
|Maximum Frequency||Up to 4.8GHz||Up to 5.0GHz||Up to 5.3GHz||Up to 5.0GHz|
|Graphics||Intel X-LP up to 96EU||Intel X-LP up to 96EU||Intel UHD 750||Intel X graphics up to 32EU|
|Memory (RAM)||DDR4 up to 3200 and LPDDR4x up to 4266||DDR4 up to 3200 and LPDDR4x up to 4266||DDR4 up to 3200||DDR4 up to 3200|
Other hardware changes to the 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs include DDR4 and DDR5 RAM, PCIe Gen 4.0, and PCIe Gen 5.0. Unfortunately, though the 12th gen CPUs support DDR4 and DDR5 memory, users cannot mix both the modules on the same board.
The desktop CPU will come equipped with 16 lanes of PCIe 5.0 (x16 for graphics or x8 for graphics and x4/x4 for storage). Thus, it will enable a full 64 GB/s bandwidth. Besides, it offers four PCIe 4.0 lanes for additional storage.
These CPUs will also support Thunderbolt 4 and Wi-Fi 6E Gig+.
Like the 11th gen CPUs, the 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs work on the 10nm process technology. This generation could bridge the gap until Intel becomes ready to launch a 7nm desktop CPU.
Another area where Intel consistently lags the AMD processors is its incessant motherboard upgrades requiring new sockets and restricting support within the existing sockets.
In contrast, AMD’s AM4-compatible processors have a long life. The Alder Lake CPUs will use the LGA1700 motherboard and the 600 series chipsets.
The LGA1700 is considerably bigger than the LGA1200 or the LGA1151 motherboards used in the existing CPUs. The LGA1700 can accommodate 500 more pins than the LGA1200. The Alder lake motherboards need them for supporting PCIe 5.0 and DDR5.
Since the new socket is bigger, it might not accommodate the existing coolers, but one can have a cooler conversion kit to overcome this handicap. Similarly, a shift to a faster PCIe interface will require a thicker motherboard. The shift from the PCIe 3.0 to the PCIe 4.0 happened with the introduction of the 11th gen CPUs recently. It involved an increase in the pricing. Similarly, an upward shift to support PCIe 5.0 interface will increase the cost of the motherboard.
As the PCIe 5.0 consumes more power, it could be a challenge in mobile form factors. However, the shift to PCIe 5.0 could first come to workstations and high-performance servers. Thus, Alder Lake will support PCIe 5.0 but will run at the standard PCIe 4.0 rates.
Similarly, Alder Lake CPUs support DDR5, but one cannot ensure that Intel will enable it in all processors. It is because the transition to a higher memory interface results in higher up-front DIMM pricing.
For example, DDR4 came in 2014, and it was priced at more than double the cost of DDR3. In addition, the initial DDR5 RAM modules could run in the DDR5 4800 to DDR5 6400 range. That makes for faster RAM than that available in DDR4. However, reports suggest that the higher-end Alder Lake desktop PCs like the Z-series motherboards will support DDR5, while lower-end boards like the B-Series and H-Series will still support DDR4.
Alder Lake – Performance
Studies show that the Alder Lake CPUs deliver a 20% IPC boost compared to Rocket Lake processors. The Rocket Lake processors themselves delivered a 19% IPC uplift over the earlier generation Comet Lake CPU designs.
Not much is known about the Alder Lake 12th gen CPUs except for their heterogeneous architecture and faster connectivity and memory support. In addition, Intel has not divulged much about the clock frequency. Hence, one cannot say much about how it will affect the CPU’s overall performance across various activities, like gaming, video performance, and productivity.
Many people were skeptical about its gaming performance because of the chipset’s heterogeneous cores compared to the 11th Gen Rocket Lake CPUs.
One of the early benchmarks taken of a 16-core Alder Lake S desktop CPU processor engineering sample showed that the 12th gen CPU performed creditably. Videocardz suggests that the 12th gen Alder Lake CPU with 16 cores and 24 threads performed better than the Core i9 9900K on Geekbench 4.4.
The heterogeneous architecture ensures power savings benefits to laptops. Reports suggest that it can reduce power consumption by up to 50% on idle laptops as Intel pushes for launching a power-efficient ATX12VO standard along with the Alder Lake CPU. However, the standard will require a new motherboard with a 10-pin power connector. Videocardz sources show that the entry-level motherboards and the pre-built systems will leverage ATX12VO, whereas the workstation and high-end gaming rigs could continue using the 24-pin power connector.
Is it a stopgap arrangement for 7nm process technology?
Intel has already tried out the heterogeneous architecture on Lakefield. This CPU features four Atom Tremont cores and a Sunny Cove core. However, this technology will be seen for the first time on desktops. Power efficiency is not a constraint for this hybrid architecture. As Intel will be launching a 7nm desktop CPU soon, the Intel 12th Alder Lake CPU could act as a curtain-raiser.
Intel did not want to commit 16 cores on its 10nm design. Hence, eight big and eight small cores allow Intel to match AMD Ryzen’s 16 cores on its mainstream processor.
Windows 11 – Thread Director
Alder Lake can leverage Windows 11 most efficiently. These processors feature Thread Director, new hardware that helps Windows 11 (or any operating system) assign tasks to different cores.
Thread Director allows Intel to offer full visibility to Windows 11 about the kind of workload the task is handling. As it helps the operating system assign tasks to the appropriate cores better, it helps remove the guesswork from the equation. In addition, the Thread Director allows the processor to enable peak performances whenever demanded while conserving battery when the computer does not have a heavy workload.
Intel was the pack leader amongst CPU manufacturers for nearly a decade, from 2006 to 2016. As AMD and Apple surged ahead, Intel has been trying to match them. The 11th generation CPU bridged the gap to a considerable extent. Still, the higher number of cores available on AMD Ryzen top-end CPUs gave it the edge over its Intel counterparts.
With the 12th generation Alder Lake CPUs release in October, Intel is trying to regain the lead by offering high-performance CPUs that display the highest efficiency levels and power savings.
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Srinivasa is Vsbytes’s Editor-In-Chief. He Is A Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert And Has Been Interested In Computer Hardware, Software, And Gaming Right Since The Time He Was A Child.