Intel’s eagerly awaited next-generation laptop processors, codenamed Meteor Lake, are set to make their debut on December 14. While the availability of actual systems remains uncertain, this announcement marks an important step toward numerous laptop launches expected to be showcased at CES in January.
Meteor Lake’s key features have been the subject of speculation, with details emerging about its chiplet-based design, departure from existing branding, and substantial integrated GPU improvements. Here are some highlights from Intel’s recent Innovation event:
Chiplet-Based Design: Meteor Lake is Intel’s first consumer processor to adopt a chiplet-based structure. Instead of a single monolithic die, it consists of four distinct “tiles” connected by a fifth base tile, facilitating communication among them. This packaging technology, termed “Foveros” by Intel, enables the assembly of chiplets on top of the base tile.
- Compute Tile: This houses the CPU, featuring six high-performance P-cores based on the Redwood Cove architecture and eight high-efficiency E-cores based on the Crestmont architecture.
- Graphics Tile: Responsible for graphics processing, Meteor Lake’s integrated GPU closely resembles an Intel Arc dedicated GPU, complete with hardware ray-tracing acceleration.
- IO Tile: Manages external connectivity, including PCI Express 5.0 lanes and Thunderbolt 4 support.
- SoC Tile: Arguably the most intriguing, it includes two additional Crestmont E-cores, the media encoding and decoding engine typically found in GPUs, and a neural processing unit (NPU) for AI and machine learning tasks. Additionally, it handles Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and connections to external displays via HDMI 2.1 and DisplayPort 2.1.
A noteworthy aspect of Meteor Lake is that not all tiles are produced by Intel. The compute tile, home to P-cores and most E-cores, utilizes Intel 4 process technology, an improvement over the Intel 7 process used in current Core chips. In contrast, the graphics, IO, and SoC tiles are manufactured using TSMC’s 5 nm and 6 nm processes.
Intel has increasingly relied on TSMC’s manufacturing for various components, including its Arc GPUs, reflecting its ongoing efforts to catch up with TSMC’s capabilities. Nevertheless, Intel may ultimately aim to return to using exclusively Intel-made tiles.
E-core Enhancements: While P-cores remain relatively unchanged compared to previous generations, the E-cores receive improvements. Meteor Lake introduces two types of E-cores, including low-power (LP) E-cores in the SoC tile. Thread Director, Intel’s optimization technology, will aim to utilize these LP E-cores for energy-efficient tasks, allowing the compute and graphics tiles to power down as much as possible.
Tasks demanding higher performance than LP E-cores can provide will be directed to the compute tile’s main E-core clusters or the P-cores. This shift in Thread Director’s operation differs from its behavior in previous processors, where high-priority tasks were sent directly to the P-cores without considering the E-cores.
Furthermore, Meteor Lake’s Crestmont E-cores can be added to processors in pairs, a change from the previous requirement of adding Gracement E-cores in sets of four. This flexibility may lead to the inclusion of E-cores in lower-end processors.
The updated E-cores also introduce VNNI instructions for accelerating AI workloads and AVX10, which offers many benefits of Intel’s AVX-512 instructions without the need for 512-bit registers. This contrasts with the 12th- and 13th-generation Core processors, which completely disabled AVX-512 support on E-cores.
Meteor Lake’s innovations and performance improvements are eagerly anticipated, promising a new era of laptop processors with enhanced efficiency and capabilities.