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Alder Lake: Intel’s Next Big Step Forward

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After a very long wait, Intel has finally announced their much-anticipated Alder Lake series of microprocessors. This is Intel’s first major foray into developing on their new Intel 7 branded 10nm manufacturing process, a major step up from the 14nm node that’s been in use since 2014’s Broadwell.

With any die process shrink comes gains in performance, efficiency and power consumption. Intel takes this to the next level by implementing an architecture that’s reminiscent of the big.LITTLE ARM schema that’s typically seen in high-performance mobile processors. Intel’s Alder Lake feature their Golden Cove high-performance CPU cores (P-cores) alongside a series of high-efficiency Gracemont CPU cores (E-cores) in each CPU with a new hardware thread scheduler (Intel Thread Director) to more effectively split computing loads across the heterogeneous CPU cores. Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 11 operating system has also been further optimized to take advantage of the new thread scheduler and cores to further improve performance and power consumption. P-cores are what we’ve come to expect from Intel’s high-performance desktop CPUs – powerful chips running at blazing fast clock speeds delivering no-compromise performance in both single and multi-threaded applications. The i9-12900k offers up to 5.2GHz boost clocks using Turbo Max 3.0 with instantaneous power usage of up to 241W to deliver bursts of intense compute power in exchange for high operating temperatures and power consumption. Meanwhile, the E-cores are high-efficiency processing cores derived from the Atom, Celeron, and Pentium line of Intel CPUs known for their use in low-powered mobile systems, oftentimes with TDPs in the single-digits. The base and boost clocks of these E-cores is significantly lower than that of the power-hungry P-cores but provides more than enough performance for basic computing tasks such as web browsing and media playback. The combination of low power consumption and adequate performance helps to bring the overall system power consumption and efficiency to new levels in typical use cases while also allowing for the option of tapping into the high-performance P-cores for when the user demands more compute power.

Moving beyond the CPU, Alder Lake introduces the first mainstream applications of DDR5 memory and PCI-Express 5.0. DDR5 memory replaces DDR4 and features increased bandwidth, higher clock speeds, double the minimum burst length, and an integrated power management circuit. This allows DDR5 memory to deliver more performance without having to sacrifice latency and power efficiency when compared to DDR4 memory running high clock speeds. PCI-Express 5.0 is the latest update to the PCI-Express high speed communication bus standard and, much like previous major iterations, effectively doubles the available bandwidth from PCI-Express 5.0 enabled add-on cards to the CPU when compared to PCI-Express 4.0 and quadruple the bandwidth of PCI-Express 3.0. When coupled with high-speed solid state storage devices, this allows devices to read and write data with incredibly low latency and high throughput, with up to a potential maximum of 63 GB/s bidirectionally across an x16 lane configuration.

Other platform level improvements include native support for the latest Wi-Fi 6E specification, 1TB/s CPU core-to-core communication, increased L3 cache size, improved integrated GPU performance via the latest Intel Xe 12th generation graphics, Thunderbolt 4, 20 total PCI-Express lanes connected directly to the CPU (16 lanes at 5.0 speeds, 4 lanes at 4.0 speeds), an additional 8 lanes of PCI-Express 4.0 via the motherboard chipset, unlocked overclocking options on K series CPUs, and more.

Wi-Fi 6E allows for less congestion thanks to access to the new 6GHz band, lower latency (down to 3ms, 75% lower than 802.11ac) and increased maximum throughput (up to 3.6Gbps, 4 times that of 802.11ac). Improved core-to-core speeds and increased L3 cache allows for improved performance in intensive, multi-core applications. The new 12th generation integrated GPU is not only a benefit for gamers trying to turn up the eye-candy in the latest games, but the increased processing power is also helpful in applications and compute tasks that benefit from high-degrees of parallelism such as machine learning and video decode/encoding. It also serves as a preview of the technology to be found in the upcoming discreet GPU solutions from Intel.

Intel’s new Alder Lake platform introduces a series of major improvements in performance and efficiency across the board and we look forward to implementing them in our rugged systems and solutions.

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