Alder Lake is coming (opens in new tab) to mobile this year, which is something that's been known for a while. What we haven't known until now is exactly how, but if the latest leak is anything to go by it's going to appear in up to 19 different guises. That's 19 chips covering everything from ultra-low power tablets all the way up to chunky desktop replacements.
Pitched as one of the most startling changes to the CPU space, Intel Alder Lake is a complete rethinking of what CPUs and CPU cores are. It marks the introduction of the so-called big.LITTLE architecture, where traditional cores are found alongside multiple Atom cores. This is comparable to the design of ARM chips, where a big powerful core can be found alongside a smaller, more efficient design.
The big "Golden Cove" cores are comparable to what you'll find in current chips today, with some IP improvements. Big chunky swathes of silicon that can do everything you throw at them. It's the little "Gracemont" cores that make the difference here, as these are cut down high-performance offerings that draw their DNA from Intel's Atom line of CPUs. They're efficient and potentially powerful too.
A big factor with this new layout is how Windows 10, or any operating system for that matter, knows which cores to assign to which tasks. You don't want to overload the little cores and have the big cores waiting on them, and vice versa. They need to work in perfect harmony. If it all just works without much fuss, then this could be a more elegant and more efficient CPU architecture.
Alder Lake could be awesome for laptops, basically.
There's also room on these mobile chips for Intel's Xe graphics. In fact, if the leaked slide is to be believed there's room for quite a few of these graphics cores—up to 96EU in fact, depending on the model and wattage. While Intel's new integrated graphics cores aren't going to replace the likes of the RTX 3080 (opens in new tab), they are capable of playing older games and even some newer games at lower settings.
Alder Lake Mobile pic.twitter.com/NXJ0Hk1EJbMarch 6, 2021
Intel is pitching Alder Lake as a single architecture that has something to offer for everything from tablets all the way up to serious desktop replacement, and of course desktops as well. A leaked slide by @HXL (opens in new tab) on Twitter has 19 different versions of Alder Lake pencilled in for release. On the mobile side, you're looking at everything from 5W chips all the way up to 55W monsters.
At the low wattage end of the spectrum, your 5W nets you one single big core and four little cores, along with either a 48EU or 64EU GPUs. These are intended for tablets and probably aren't of much interest to most gamers. Indeed this is probably true of the Ultra-thin and Mainstream Thin and Light models as well, as these are limited to two big cores and up to eight little cores, although you do get 96EU GPUs with those.
It's the 'Performance' and 'Enthusiast' chips that are designed to operate at 20–45W that are going to be of most interest, as these ship with either four or six big cores and eight small cores. It's not going to be as easy as referring to these are 12-core or 14-core models, but we'll have to see how Intel intends to market such a fundamental shift in the market.
Intel needs to get Rocket Lake (opens in new tab) out to desktops before ramping up the switch to Alder Lake, but we'll definitely but watching how this develops with interest.