Intel Alder Lake explained: How it enables a new generation of PCs


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Intel’s next PC microprocessor, Alder Lake, marks a radical change for Intel. Its first mainstream Core hybrid processor mixes “performance” and “efficiency” engines to deliver either performance or longer battery life when your PC needs it most.

According to Intel, Alder Lake is due “later this fall,” most likely as a 12th-gen Core chip. Intel will manufacture three versions of Alder Lake—one for the desktop, and two more for laptops—with up to 16 cores and 24 threads. Alder Lake will also mark Intel’s introduction of PCI Express 5 and DDR5 memory, executives said at its Intel Architecture Day Thursday.

Interestingly, Intel has co-designed with Microsoft a special thread scheduler, destined for Windows 11, that will optimize performance. Desktop and laptop PCs with Alder Lake inside them should mix and match higher performance where it’s needed and offer longer battery life, as Intel continues to get better at assigning the right processor core for the right task. The company says its performance core should deliver 19 percent more performance than today’s 11th-gen “Rocket Lake” desktop chip.

The bottom line? It’s probably fair to say that a major overhaul of the Intel Core PC is in the works for this fall.

intel alder lake core count Intel

A summary of Intel’s Alder Lake chip. Note that hyperthreading, a staple of most modern PC microprocessors, is available only on the performance cores.

What is Alder Lake?

Alder Lake, Intel’s next-gen Core architecture, will ship this fall, inside desktop and mobile PCs. Intel will offer one two-chip socketed desktop processor, plus two mobile chips: one for mainstream PCs, and one for thin-and-lights and tablets. They’re all built on Intel’s newly-renamed Intel 7 process, from 9-watt tablets to 125-watt desktops.

Alder Lake configurations will look like this, below. (Intel also uses the term “P-Cores” to describe performance cores, and “E-Cores” to describe the low-power efficiency cores.)

  • Desktop: 8 performance cores, 8 efficiency cores
  • Mobile: 6 performance cores, 8 efficiency cores
  • Ultramobile: 2 performance cores, 8 efficiency cores

When Intel first disclosed Alder Lake last August, we knew then it wouldn’t be a traditional Intel processor. Inside are two types of processing cores: a “performance” core that will turn on for applications like games, and an “efficiency” core used for background tasks, like email syncing.

Arm has used this hybrid approach for many years, and the niche Intel Lakefield processor did as well. Neither excelled at performance. Raja Koduri, Intel’s senior vice president of its AXG group, sought to differentiate Alder Lake, calling it a “performance hybrid”—think Ferrari SF90 Stradale rather than Toyota Prius.

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