Intel’s Lakefield: Setting the pace for future laptops and tablets? (6/13/20 Part 1)

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Gregory Bryant, Intel senior vice president in the Client Computing Group, displays a “Lakefield” reference board during Intel Corporation’s news event at CES 2019 on Jan. 7, 2019, in Las Vegas. Lakefield features a hybrid CPU architecture with Intel’s Foveros 3D packaging technology. Intel displays how its technology is the foundation for the world’s most important innovations and advances at CES 2019 from Jan. 8-11 in Las Vegas. (Photo and Description Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

Lakefield is the fruit of years of work from Intel, if not the industry at a whole.

Lakefield Processors!

We’ll be seeing a few things with it this year, but it should make for an interesting 2021! Given the scope of this, we’re giving you OUR notes for the show for lots of further reading! 

Lakefield is meant for super light laptops, folding PCs, etc. Preferably the “always on,” cellular connected type of thing. These are premium designs with a focus on portability, long battery life, and will command a premium price we’re sure. 

What’s so cool? 

  • Big/Little. This refers to Lakefield having 4 little cores (Atom Tremont) and 1 big core (Sunny Cove). The Atoms cores are for light work, but the Sunny Cove kicks in if need be. One theory for power efficiency is that finishing a job faster is better than taking a long time, so the power management versus performance must be part of the mentality. 
    • ARM has been doing this since 2010. ARM licenses their CPUs out to different manufacturers like Qualcom, Mediatek, AMD, and Apple. This approach has proven to be quite good for smartphones and tablets (mobile). 
    • Sunny Cove is what Intel uses for their 10th generation I-series chips like Ice Lake. 
  • Tremont is next in line after Goldmont, which is what powered Atom, Pentium, and Celeron chips.
  • Building in 3d. Creating electronics in 3d configurations is nothing new, but its application to computing as we know it is.  AMD has been working on this as have other companies. It really ought to be standard “soon.” This is enabling Intel to include RAM with the CPU itself in a meaningful fashion. 
      • AMD notes that with Moore’ Law (nee Observation) slowing down, newer nm processes not necessarily giving more speed, etc., this is an avenue they (and everyone) is having to chase down. Similar to CPUs becoming multi-core, 3d stacked chips are “the next thing” whether folks like it or not. 
      • Norrod explained the challenges with frequency scaling: “The dirty little secret in the industry, though, over the last ten years that has stopped, and may now be regressing[…]As we continually shrink our processes now, we don’t get any more frequency, and really with this next node, without doing extraordinary things, we get less frequency.” … Norrod also explained that node density improvements are also slowing, and the industry is reaching the limits of scaling to larger die due to reticle limitations (~700mm2). Even multi-chip designs, like AMD’s Threadripper processors, are running into space limitations due to the already-large size of the processor package. 

Why does this matter? 

  • Better battery life has multiple benefits. 
    • Recharging less often prolongs the life of the battery since it will take longer to hit its power-cycling lifespan. 
    • Lower-power consumption = lower power bill, or makes solar charging more viable (built into the clamshell maybe?). 
  • More on a chip is similar. 
    • A SOC (system on a chip) is very efficient. Less electronic bits to be made is more efficient. 
    • Other chips on the laptop could be consolidated, if not into the CPU package then into other chips. Again, fewer things to be made. 
    • Could this be a defense against a cold RAM attack? 
    • Over time this will go from being a premium feature to mainstream. Lighter, longer-lasting laptops would be great. Additionally, with Intel making this move, ARM should really dive into it, which will benefit anyone making their own ARM chips. That will be good for phones, tablets, even server space (where ARM is making some limited inroads).