Recently, Intel announced the next generation of Core chips, which is not expected to be called 14th generation Core. This new architecture essentially targets the mobile world and is called Meteor Lake.
And this new architecture takes up some of Apple’s choices and above all generalizes the implementation of a hybrid architecture, a solution that arrived late at Intel, from the 12th generation Core (Alder Lake). One of the new features comes from the structure itself: Intel uses “tiles” (tile) to build its chips. But Intel’s method is not the same as that of AMD, which places several chiplets separated on the same component, and is close to what Apple is doing with the M1 and M2 Ultra chips.
At Apple, two identical chips are connected by a fast bus, while at Intel, a system on a chip is composed of a CPU tile (engraved in Intel 4, equivalent to TSMC’s 4 nm), a GPU tile (engraved in 5 nm by TSMC) and two other tiles (IO and Compute) to manage other tasks. Intel’s solution is called Foveros and consists of placing the tiles on a surface that is used for interconnection, which reduces the space between the blocks.
The CPU tile contains two new architectures. On one side the P cores (for Performance) which move to the architecture Redwood Cove. As is often the case, Intel announces better performance and better efficiency, two logical paths. It is important to understand that Intel’s P cores are already probably the fastest currently on the market, but that they have fairly average efficiency, both compared to Apple’s chips and those of AMD. On the other hand, there are E cores, codenamed Crestmont. More economical, they aim above all to maintain good efficiency on all simple tasks and Intel once again indicates that the new architecture consumes less and offers better performance.
The novelty is the arrival, in a tile engraved in 6 nm by TSMC, of the chipset which integrates – a first – CPU cores. Intel is in fact placing E cores in a “very low consumption” version, with engraving designed to consume less (and probably have lower performance). This tile contains the equivalent of the chipset: Wi-Fi 7, USB, Thunderbolt 4, Ethernet, management of video compression and GPU outputs, etc. Finally, the tile also includes a component that has become classic at Apple: an NPU, that is to say a dedicated unit for accelerating calculations linked to neural networks.
The “GPU” tile is therefore engraved by TSMC in 5 nm. It uses the architecture of Arc graphics cards and contains 33% more units compared to the GPUs integrated in previous Intel chips (1,024 units compared to 768). As is often the case, you shouldn’t expect extremely high performance, and if you have an Intel Mac with an Intel GPU, you understand the problem. The PC world tends to offer solutions with average performance in CPUs, with the main goal of being able to perform classic tasks while allowing gaming at 1080p with low details. While Apple tends to offer larger chips by increasing the number of GPU units, Intel relies on dedicated GPUs to improve performance, whether they come from Nvidia, AMD… or Intel.
A (very) mobile orientation
For the moment, Intel has not yet announced the specifications of the different Core 3, Core 5 or Core 7, but as the release approaches — first on December 14, 2023 — they should be revealed quickly. According to initial feedback, Intel is essentially targeting the mobile world with Meteor Lake, as with the 10th and 11th generation Core, which differed from desktop chips. If Intel announces variations for PCs desktop, it’s a little biased: they would only be deployed in BGA format, that is to say with a chip soldered on the motherboard. They would therefore not aim to replace the 13th generation Cores, which plug into a connector.
On paper, Intel brings at least one thing: innovation. The tiled design overcomes Intel’s engraving limitations, while still offering a little more modularity. Likewise, the integration of “very low consumption” E cores in addition to conventional cores should make it possible to further reduce consumption in conventional use. The only downside, for the moment, comes from the absence of information on real performances: returns indicate that the “new” P and E cores are actually very close to the current versions, which raises questions. Indeed, Intel maintains the lead in the benchmarks mainly because the frequency of its chips is high (6 GHz in the best case, a record) with – in return – extremely high consumption. With Meteor Lakethe final result may therefore depend on the performance of Intel 4 engraving, and Intel’s setbacks in recent years do not encourage us to hope for a particularly significant gain.
In practice, chips Meteor Lake should still be a good vintage and Intel seems to believe in it, so manufacturers should follow and offer many laptops with these new chips. But it remains to be seen how AMD reacts… and a possible Apple M3 which could push some to switch. Because, in conclusion, we must understand one thing: Intel no longer has the aura or the strength of a few years ago, and a failure as for chips Broadwell (mainly seen in Macs…) or even Cannon Lake (seen… nowhere?) could have serious consequences.