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Intel Highway Map Defined: Going Past 2025

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Intel launched a brand new highway map at its Intel Accelerated occasion, laying the trail ahead for the following few years. Now that we all know what Intel is engaged on, we’ve a a lot clearer image of how the chipmaker is working below new management, in addition to the way it will climb again to the highest after some huge losses to rival AMD.

Beginning within the coming months, Intel will push the envelope in the way it creates, packages, and sells processors. Though the highway map is topic to alter — it wouldn’t be the primary time for Intel — the trail ahead appears to be like thrilling for Staff Blue.

2021: Intel 7, Alder Lake

Former Intel CEO Bob Swan at a presentation.

Intel’s highway map kicks off later this yr with the introduction of Intel 7 and the launch of Alder Lake processors. Intel 7 was beforehand often known as 10nm Enhanced SuperFin, constructing off of the 10nm course of showcased in Tiger Lake processors. It’s the identical node, however thanks to numerous optimizations, it provides as much as a 15% enchancment in efficiency per watt.

Though Intel 7 implies a 7nm course of, Intel is sticking with 10nm by way of 2021. As an alternative, the change in naming helps Intel mirror its enhancements in transistor density and efficiency per watt in comparison with different chipmakers like TSMC and Samsung.

Alder Lake processors would be the first to characteristic Intel 7, and so they’re set to launch in late 2021. The processors will use a hybrid design — dubbed “huge.LITTLE” by chip designer ARM — that makes use of high-performance cores and high-efficiency cores on the identical processor. By delegating work to an applicable core, the high-performance cores have extra headroom, and Intel is ready to pack extra cores into the processor to enhance multi-core efficiency.

The massive Golden Cove cores deal with the majority of the work, and so they’re much like what you’d discover in a typical Intel processor. Like earlier core designs, Golden Cove cores assist hyperthreading, providing you with entry to double the variety of threads primarily based on what number of cores the processor has.

A diagram of intel Alder Lake processors.

The little Gracemont cores don’t assist hyperthreading, however that’s not likely their function. The cores are primarily based on an Intel Atom design, which exhibits up in low-power, high-efficiency units. The flagship Intel Core i9-12900K is rumored to characteristic eight Golden Cove and eight Gracemont cores, providing a complete of 16 cores and 24 threads.

Though Intel isn’t transferring to 7nm with Alder Lake, the modifications in core design ought to deliver a big efficiency enchancment. Early benchmarks present it beating AMD’s flagship Ryzen 9 5950X, and a leaked slide from Intel claimed as much as a 20% enhance in single-core efficiency.

One other benefit of this structure is the way it scales. Based mostly on what we all know, Intel can design an Alder Lake processor that requires as little as 5W of energy. Intel is anticipated to launch Alder Lake-P processors to interchange Tiger Lake processors on cellular, although we don’t have a selected timeframe on when that’s taking place proper now.

2022: Raptor Lake

In 2022, Intel is rumored to observe up Alder Lake with Raptor Lake. These processors may also use the Intel 7 manufacturing course of, serving because the “tock” in Intel’s conventional tick-tock launch cadence. As such, Raptor Lake processors can be an enchancment of Alder Lake, not a completely new manufacturing course of.

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger holding a chip.
Walden Kirsch/Intel Company

We don’t know as a lot about Raptor Lake proper now, as Intel likes to play its releases near the chest. As an enchancment of Alder Lake, nonetheless, the processors ought to characteristic an identical hybrid structure. Rumors counsel that Intel will keep on with Gracemont for the high-efficiency cores however introduce improved Raptor Lake high-performance cores.

Along with the core enhancements, Intel is rumored to incorporate extra Gracemont cores within the design. The flagship chip is claimed to come back with 24 cores — eight Raptor Lake and 16 Gracemont — for a complete of 32 threads. The vary also needs to introduce DLVR energy supply, permitting the processor to cut back its clock velocity to very low speeds when not in use.

DLVR may also present up on Raptor Lake cellular processors. For the following couple of years, at the least, it appears Intel is aligning its desktop and cellular releases. The introduction of DLVR ought to considerably enhance the battery lifetime of laptops. The cellular vary may also introduce LPDDR5X reminiscence, in keeping with leaks.

Intel was rumored to transition over to its ATX12V0 energy commonplace by the launch of Raptor Lake, constructing on the usual after it was introduced in early 2020. Nonetheless, current rumors counsel that motherboard makers have pushed again on the usual, so Intel might backpedal.

2023: Intel 4 and Meteor Lake

In 2023, Intel will transfer on from 10nm to a 7nm course of. Recognized now at Intel 4, the method will debut with the launch of Meteor Lake processors in 2023. Behind the scenes, Intel validated the Meteor Lake design earlier in 2021, suggesting that the vary is on monitor for a 2023 launch.

The brand new course of is claimed to deliver a 20% achieve in efficiency per watt because of the smaller dimension and use of EUV lithography, permitting Intel to create denser, extra advanced circuits. Till constructed on 7nm, Intel 4 will surpass TSMC and Samsung with their comparable 5nm nodes, with a transistor density of as much as 250 million transistors per sq. millimeter.

Intel's process roadmap through 2025.

Intel infamously delayed the transfer to 7nm because it skilled manufacturing points. Initially, hypothesis prompt that Meteor Lake would instantly observe Alder Lake, however the delay appears to have pushed Intel to develop Raptor Lake to fill the hole.

Though we don’t have any specs or merchandise proper now, there’s lots to be enthusiastic about with Meteor Lake. It’s additionally rumored to make use of a hybrid design, utilizing Redwood Cove high-performance cores with next-generation Gracemont cores. Redwood Cove is claimed to be an agnostic node, permitting Intel to create them in numerous fabs and stack them collectively.

That is the place Intel will notice its 3D Foveros packaging know-how. Foveros made its debut in 2020 with the launch of Lakefield processors, however Intel mentioned it’s engaged on enhancements to the packaging within the type of Foveros Omni and Forveros Direct. Meteor Lake is after we ought to see these packaging applied sciences come to fruition.

Redwood Cove may also assist Intel keep away from provide constraints and chip shortages, as the corporate (and the business) was hit with in 2020. Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger referenced different fabs in the course of the Intel Accelerated occasion in July 2021, suggesting it is a key a part of Intel’s technique transferring ahead.

2024: Intel 3, Intel 20A

Past 2023, issues get a little bit obscure. This far out, it actually isn’t value speculating on particular merchandise as they’re possible in lively growth at Intel. At this level, we’re dealing in applied sciences and manufacturing developments, not product ranges or particular processors.

Intel says the following step in its roadmap, Intel 3, will begin manufacturing within the second half of 2023, so we should always see the primary merchandise that includes it in early 2024. Like Intel 7, that is the “tock” in Intel’s growth cadence. As an alternative of a completely new node, Intel 3 will characteristic enhancements to Intel’s 7nm manufacturing course of.

Intel CEO presenting at the Intel Accelerated event.

Present testing exhibits an 18% enchancment in efficiency per watt in comparison with Intel 4, because of the expanded use of EUV lithography and different enhancements. This node will proceed utilizing the FinFET transistor design Intel launched in 2011, serving because the final technology to characteristic it.

Later in 2024, Intel will start ramping Intel 20A, which is probably the most thrilling development the corporate has arising. This is able to have in any other case been often known as Intel 1, however the firm modified the title to usher within the new “angstrom period” of semiconductors.

Along with a brand new manufacturing course of, Intel 20A will make the most of two new structure applied sciences. The primary is PowerVia, which permits Intel to route energy by way of the again of the wafer, not by way of the entrance because it has historically achieved. Intel says this supply technique is extra environment friendly, which ought to translate into real-world efficiency beneficial properties.

Intel will ditch the FinFET transistor design with Intel 20A, as properly. This technology will deliver the brand new RibbonFET design, which is Intel’s title for its gates-all-around (GAA) transistor. As an alternative of utilizing a single gate, a GAA transistor makes use of a number of gates on the transistor delivered by way of ribbons. This permits the transistor to open and shut sooner, vastly enhancing velocity.

We don’t know of any merchandise using Intel 20A proper now, however the firm has already introduced a partnership with rival Qualcomm. Sooner or later, Qualcomm will use Intel fabs to construct a few of its chips using Intel 20A.

2025: Intel 18A

A historic road map of Intel advancements.

The roadmap results in 2025, the place Intel will introduce Intel 18A and re-establish itself as a frontrunner within the business — at the least primarily based on present estimates. If Intel sticks with its launch cadence, Intel 18A can be one other “tock” within the cycle, constructing on RibbonFET and PowerVia on a 5nm manufacturing course of.

We don’t know something about Intel 18A proper now exterior of the truth that it exists. Nonetheless, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger says the corporate has clear plans even past this level. “Moore’s Legislation is alive and properly. Now we have a transparent path for the following decade of innovation to go to ‘1’ and properly past. I prefer to say that, till the periodic desk is exhausted, Moore’s Legislation isn’t over, and we can be relentless in our path to innovate with the magic of silicon,” he mentioned.

With additional partnerships with firm’s like IBM, Intel might proceed to push the boundaries of transistor density. Earlier this yr, IBM unveiled the world’s first 2nm chip, offering a glimpse at what could possibly be in retailer years down the road.

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