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Intel 12th-Gen Alder Lake: News, Rumors, Release Date, More | Digital Trends

After suffering numerous delays and setbacks to its 10nm chip design, Intel finally launched its Ice Lake mobile processors in late 2019. On the desktop, however, 10nm won’t be arriving until about two years after Ice Lake’s launch. Intel confirmed at CES earlier this year that Alder Lake will launch toward the end of 2021 with an enhanced 10nm SuperFin process.

Though 10nm will soon be available on both desktop and mobile, Intel still trails behind rival AMD, which pushed ahead to 7nm in 2019. There’s still a lot about Alder Lake to be excited for, however, especially on desktop, as the platform ushers in a new architecture that focuses on efficiency and performance. And with up to 16 cores, Intel has its eyes set squarely on AMD’s 16-core mainstream Ryzen CPU. Little information has been announced about the processor platform since Intel’s CES teaser, but here’s everything we know about Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors so far.

Pricing and availability

Court Mast/Intel via Getty Images

Intel announced that its 12th-gen Alder Lake is slated to debut in late 2021, and we expect the mobile variant to arrive first. This means that desktop variants of the chip will likely arrive in early 2022, which matches up  with a prior rumored timeline posted on Notebook Check. We expect that Alder Lake could be announced as early as September, according to recent leaks.

Intel only announced its 10th-gen Comet Lake-S for the desktop at the end of 2019, before they arrived in the first half of 2020. That processor is based on Intel’s 14nm++ process, representing the company’s fifth optimization for this architecture.

Intel is next expected to move to its 11th-gen Rocket Lake on the desktop, which will again be based on Intel’s 14nm design. A recent leak posted by SharkBay and published by Wccftech suggests that the chipset will come with Gen 12 Xe graphics, eight cores of processing power, and a revision of the Willow Cove microarchitecture that’s been ported back to 14nm.

Despite numerous leaks in recent months about Intel’s silicon plans, the company did not offer any official insights on its future plans when pressed by EE Times for comment.

At this point, pricing information is still unknown for Alder Lake. However, given recent rumors that the Intel Core i5-10500 processor is expected to retail for around $285, we expect the midrange Alder Lake generation to be similarly priced.

Historically, AMD has undercut Intel in pricing, and the company’s future Ryzen processors could do the same. AMD did recently reveal that it has been slowly increasing the profit margins for its chips in recent years, so the pricing gap between Alder Lake and AMD’s Zen-based CPUs may be smaller than in years past.

AMD’s high-end Ryzen 9 3950X desktop processor with 16 cores and 32 threads currently retails for $738. The high-end 16-core Intel Alder Lake is expected to be priced to compete against AMD’s premium processor.

Architecture design

Intel Lake Field at CES 2019

Intel’s Alder Lake will be based on an improved 10nm process, which the company is calling 10nm SuperFin. Intel claims that this process delivers faster transistors and improved MIM capacitors in what is described as a “breakthrough in x86 architecture” design.

And at CES, Intel confirmed earlier leaks and rumors reported by Twitter user @momo_US and published on Chinese e-commerce site PTT suggesting that it will move to a hybrid architecture.

During its keynote presentation, Intel executives stated that the hybrid design, similar to what Arm had been doing with its silicon for smartphones and tablets, will also be coming to the desktop for the first time. This means that Alder Lake will come with efficient cores for handling background and low-level tasks and high-powered cores that will kick in when applications need more performance.

Intel 12th-Gen Alder Lake: News, Rumors, Release Date, More | Digital Trends

For its efficiency cores, Intel will rely on its Atom-based design, known as Gracemont, while the new Golden Cove cores will drive performance. Gracemont is expected to bring more instructions per clock, along with better vector performance.

Intel is expected to combine eight Gracemont cores with eight Golden Cove cores on its premium Alder Lake processor design for a total of 16 cores on desktop, though other configurations will also be available. This makes it hard to compare Intel’s hybrid 16-core CPU against AMD’s homogenous architecture with the same number of cores, though the change to a hybrid design should help Intel stay competitive against a new crop of ARM-based processors, such as Apple’s M1 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon PC processors.

Based on a leaked Intel slide, Alder Lake’s architectural change is expected to deliver up to 20% single thread performance improvement, thanks to the Golden Cove cores and and an enhanced 10nm SuperFin design, and up to 2x multithread performance gain with Gracemont cores.

For its heterogenous architecture, early leaks show that Intel can combine anywhere between one and eight Golden Cove cores with four to eight Gracemont cores on mobile. This suggests that Alder Lake can scale well, and power consumption starts at just 5 watts on mobile. This should help Intel deliver longer battery life on notebooks, an important feature needed to compete against Apple’s recent M1 silicon on the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Alder Lake on laptops isexpected to succeed Tiger Lake in Intel’s lineup, and the mobile variant is expected to be labeled as Alder Lake-P. These chips are destined for various notebooks and tablets.

Intel 12th-Gen Alder Lake: News, Rumors, Release Date, More | Digital Trends

On desktop, an early leak revealed that Intel may also have a six-core version of Alder Lake. With this variant, Intel will have all six cores based on the bigger Golden Cove cores, eliminating the smaller Gracemont cores entirely. The six “big-core” variant of Alder Lake-S is expected to have a TDP (thermal design power) of 80 watts, while the 16-core version can go up to 125 watts, though Videocardz suggested that Intel could scale power up to 150 watts for this design.

In a separate desktop Alder Lake-S leak, the chip was shown in a benchmark with eight cores and 16 threads. This means that this configuration won’t come with the Gracemont cores, a move likely made because Intel’s high efficiency cores lack Hyper-threading support, according to Tom’s Hardware. The processor has been shown with a clock speed of 3GHz in one benchmark, though an earlier benchmark showed it with a 4GHz frequency.

Alder Lake will rely on Intel’s integrated GT1 graphics. Intel has been heavily investing in its integrated graphics, and the Gen 11 graphics will bring casual gaming performance to its Ice Lake laptops. We expect similar performance jumps on the desktop side.

As Moore’s Law is slowing on the processor side, Intel is looking toward improved graphics capabilities to help with data analytics and artificial intelligence applications. The company recently demoed how creative workflows, like video and photo editing, could be sped up with more capable graphics. Intel is also working on its own discrete Xe GPUs based on that same architecture.

Other changes to Alder Lake include support for PCIe Gen 5 and PCIe Gen 4 as well as DDR5 and DDR4 memory. Thunderbolt 4 and WiFi 6E Gig+ will also be supported on Alder Lake.

Performance

Intel 12th-Gen Alder Lake: News, Rumors, Release Date, More | Digital Trends
Source: Videocardz

Compared to current Rocket Lake processors, early rumors suggest that we can see a 20% IPC uplift with Alder Lake, thanks to the new Golden Cove cores. And given that Rocket Lake already delivered a 19% IPC boost over the prior-generation Comet Lake design, this should help Intel deliver consistent gains to those looking to upgrade.

Intel has talked up the 10nm process, its heterogenous architecture, and support for faster memory that will help drive these gains, but there’s still a lot of unknowns about Alder Lake at this time. The company has not released any details about clock speeds, and we don’t know how clock speeds on the different types of cores will affect the CPU’s overall performance across a number of tasks, including productivity, video performance, and gaming.

An early benchmark taken of a 16-core Alder Lake-S engineering sample suggests that Intel’s hybrid architecture is a capable performer. According to Videocardz, the 12th-gen CPU with 16 cores and 24 threads outperformed Intel’s Core i9-9900K on Geekbench 4.4. Because the chipset was an early sample, the benchmarking utility was not able to accurately measure the clock speed. Here, the base speed was listed at 2.19 GHz, and it’s likely that the 27.2 GHz boost speed was an error. The publication speculates that the actual boost speed would be between 2.7 to 3.4 GHz.

A similarly configured 12th-gen CPU was also recently spotted in the Ashes Escalation Benchmark database, according to Hardware Times, and the clock speed was listed at 2.2 GHz.

A stopgap to 7nm

Intel 12th-Gen Alder Lake: News, Rumors, Release Date, More | Digital Trends
11th-gen Intel Core desktop processors (code-named “Rocket Lake-S”) deliver increased performance and speeds. Intel launched the processors on March 16, 2021. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

It’s interesting that Intel is bringing this hybrid architecture to the desktop. On mobile, the company debuted its big.LITTLE approach on Lakefield, which features four Atom Tremont cores and a Sunny Cove core. It’s speculated that Intel’s motive for bringing this hybrid design to the desktop, where power efficiency isn’t such a big constraint, is to help bridge the gap until it is ready to launch a 7nm desktop CPU.

The additional core could also help boost multithreaded performance. On Lakefield, high-performance tasks are performed on Sunny Cove, while background threads are relegated to the Atom Tremont cores. In multithreaded applications, all cores are fired up for a boost in performance. It’s unclear how much gain in performance could be obtained with a desktop design.

The hybrid big.LITTLE design could also be a last-minute decision, according to a report from Tom’s Hardware. It’s been reported that the company initially did not want to commit to all 16 cores on the 10nm design, and having eight big cores and eight little cores could have been a design compromise while still allowing Intel to match the 16 cores on AMD’s mainstream Ryzen processor.

If the timeline for a 2021-2022 launch pans out, AMD’s 7nm process will likely have matured, and a 5nm Zen 4 process could give it an IPC advantage over Alder Lake. AMD announced it will rely on its 3D Infinity Fabric 3 packaging and chiplets expertise for its next-generation Zen 3 architecture, while Intel is leaning on its Foveros acquisition to package its high-performance cores with its low-powered Atom cores for efficiency. Like AMD, Intel has also confirmed it will move toward 5nm in the future for better performance and power efficiency.

New socket

Biostar Z170GT7
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

With Alder Lake, Intel will be moving on to a new socket design. Alder Lake-S is expected to usher in the new LGA 1700 socket, which will support DDR5 and DDR4 memory along with PCIe Gen 5. A number of Asus boards supporting the LGA 1700 socket and Intel Z690 chipset were shown in HWiNFO, according to Wccftech.

The new socket also means that upgraders to this chip will need a new board. Unlike rival AMD, which has maintained socket consistency between successive generations of chipsets, Intel will be moving on from the LGA 1200 socket for its 10th-gen Comet Lake-S CPU.

If Intel continues to change socket designs so quickly, it could limit the processor’s appeal among high-end desktop users, gamers, and PC tinkerers who want the flexibility of just upgrading their silicon.

It’s also unclear if Intel will have the opportunity to address the latest security vulnerabilities by the time Alder Lake launches. A security researcher discovered a vulnerability in Intel’s Converged Security and Management Engine that potentially affects all Intel chips released within the last five years. Malicious actors could exploit the vulnerability to decrypt confidential files if they gain access to a lost or stolen laptop, security researcher Mark Ermolov said.

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