Intel unveiled a new roadmap at its Intel Accelerated event, laying out the way forward for the next few years. Now that we know what Intel is working on, we have a much clearer picture of how the chipmaker is operating under new leadership, as well as how it will return to the top after some big losses to rival AMD.
Starting in the coming months, Intel will expand the way it builds, packages and sells processors. Although the roadmap is subject to change, it would not be the first time for Intel, the way forward looks exciting for Team Blue.
2021: Intel 7, Alder Lake
Intel’s roadmap begins later this year with the introduction of Intel 7 and the launch of the Alder Lake processors. Intel 7 was previously known as 10nm Enhanced SuperFin, based on the 10nm process featured in Tiger Lake processors. It is the same node, but thanks to various optimizations, it offers up to a 15% improvement in performance per watt.
Although Intel 7 involves a 7nm process, Intel will stick with 10nm until 2021. Instead, the name change helps Intel reflect its improvements in transistor density and performance per watt compared to other chip makers. like TSMC and Samsung.
The Alder Lake processors will be the first to feature Intel 7, and will be released in late 2021. The processors will use a hybrid design, dubbed “big.LITTLE” by chip designer ARM, which uses high-performance, high-performance cores. efficiency cores in the same processor. By delegating work to an appropriate core, high-performance cores have more headroom, and Intel can pack more cores into the processor to improve multi-core performance.
The large Golden Cove cores handle most of the work and are similar to what you would find in a standard Intel processor. Like previous core designs, Golden Cove cores support hyperthreading, giving you access to twice the number of threads based on the number of cores the processor has.
Gracemont’s little cores don’t support hyperthreading, but that’s not really their purpose. The cores are based on an Intel Atom design, shown in high-efficiency, low-power devices. The flagship Intel Core i9-12900K is rumored to feature eight Golden Cove cores and eight Gracemont cores, offering a total of 16 cores and 24 threads.
Although Intel is not moving to 7nm with Alder Lake, the core design changes should bring a significant performance improvement. Early benchmarks show it outperforms AMD’s flagship Ryzen 9 5950X, with a leaked Intel slide claiming up to a 20% increase in single-core performance.
Another advantage of this architecture is its scale. Based on what we know, Intel can design an Alder Lake processor that requires as little as 5W of power. Intel is expected to release Alder Lake-P processors to replace Tiger Lake processors in mobile devices, although we don’t have a specific time frame on when that will happen at this point.
In 2022, Intel is rumored to follow Alder Lake with Raptor Lake. These processors will also use the Intel 7 manufacturing process, which acts as the “tock” in Intel’s traditional ticking release cadence. As such, the Raptor Lake processors will be an improvement on Alder Lake, not an entirely new manufacturing process.
We don’t know that much about Raptor Lake at this point, as Intel likes to play its throws close to the chest. However, as an enhancement to Alder Lake, the processors should feature a similar hybrid architecture. Rumors suggest that Intel will stick with Gracemont for the high-efficiency cores, but will introduce improved Raptor Lake high-performance cores.
In addition to the core enhancements, Intel is rumored to include more Gracemont cores in the design. The flagship chip is said to come with 24 cores (eight Raptor Lake and 16 Gracemont) for a total of 32 threads. The range should also introduce DLVR power delivery, which allows the processor to reduce its clock speed to very low speeds when not in use.
DLVR will also appear on Raptor Lake mobile processors. For the next several years, at least, it looks like Intel is lining up its desktop and mobile versions. The introduction of DLVR should significantly improve the battery life of laptops. The mobile range will also introduce LPDDR5X memory, according to the leaks.
Intel was rumored to transition to its ATX12V0 power standard with the launch of Raptor Lake, building on the standard after it was announced in early 2020. However, recent rumors suggest that motherboard makers have pushed back on the standard, so Intel can backtrack.
2023: Intel 4 and Meteor Lake
In 2023, Intel will go from 10nm to a 7nm process. Known now on Intel 4, the process will debut with the release of Meteor Lake processors in 2023. Behind the scenes, Intel validated the Meteor Lake design in early 2021, suggesting that the range is on track for a release in 2023.
The new process is said to provide a 20% increase in performance per watt thanks to the smaller size and the use of EUV lithography, allowing Intel to create denser and more complex circuits. Until built at 7nm, Intel 4 will outperform TSMC and Samsung with their comparable 5nm nodes, with a transistor density of up to 250 million transistors per square millimeter.
Intel infamously delayed the switch to 7nm as it experienced manufacturing issues. Originally, speculation suggested that Meteor Lake would immediately follow Alder Lake, but the delay appears to have pushed Intel to develop Raptor Lake to fill the gap.
Although we have no specs or products at this time, Meteor Lake has a lot to be excited about. It is also rumored to use a hybrid design, using high-performance Redwood Cove cores with next-gen Gracemont cores. Redwood Cove is said to be node agnostic, allowing Intel to create them in different factories and stack them together.
This is where Intel will be holding its 3D Foveros packaging technology. Foveros made its debut in 2020 with the launch of Lakefield processors, but Intel said it is working on improvements to the packaging in the form of Foveros Omni and Forveros Direct. Meteor Lake is when we should see these packaging technologies come to fruition.
Redwood Cove will also help Intel avoid supply constraints and chip shortages as the company (and the industry) took a hit in 2020. Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger referenced other factories during the Intel Accelerated event at July 2021, suggesting that this is a key part of Intel’s strategy moving forward.
2024: Intel 3, Intel 20A
Beyond 2023, things get a bit sketchy. So far, it’s really not worth speculating on specific products, as they are likely in active development at Intel. At this point, we are dealing with technologies and manufacturing advancements, not with specific product ranges or processors.
Intel says the next step on its roadmap, Intel 3, will start production in the second half of 2023, so we should see the first products to include it in early 2024. Like Intel 7, this is the “tock “in Intel’s development cadence. Instead of a completely new node, Intel 3 will feature enhancements to Intel’s 7nm manufacturing process.
Current tests show an 18% improvement in performance per watt compared to Intel 4, thanks to the expanded use of EUV lithography and other improvements. This node will continue to use the FinFET transistor design that Intel introduced in 2011, serving as the latest generation to introduce it.
Later, in 2024, Intel will begin ramping up Intel 20A, which is the most exciting advance the company has ever made. This would have been known as Intel 1, but the company changed the name to usher in the new “angstrom era” of semiconductors.
In addition to a new manufacturing process, Intel 20A will use two new architecture technologies. The first is PowerVia, which allows Intel to route power through the back of the wafer, not through the front as it has traditionally done. Intel says this delivery method is more efficient, which should translate into real-world performance gains.
Intel will also abandon the FinFET transistor design with Intel 20A. This generation will bring the new RibbonFET design, which is Intel’s name for its gates-all-around (GAA) transistor. Instead of using a single gate, a GAA transistor uses multiple gates on the transistor delivered through ribbons. This allows the transistor to open and close faster, greatly improving speed.
We do not know of any products that use Intel 20A at this time, but the company has already announced a partnership with rival Qualcomm. In the future, Qualcomm will use Intel factories to build some of its chips using Intel 20A.
2025: Intel 18A
The roadmap leads to 2025, where Intel will introduce the Intel 18A and reestablish itself as an industry leader, at least by current estimates. If Intel sticks to its launch cadence, the Intel 18A will be another “tock” in the cycle, relying on RibbonFET and PowerVia in a 5nm manufacturing process.
We don’t know anything about Intel 18A at this point other than the fact that it exists. However, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger says the company has clear plans even beyond this point. “Moore’s Law is alive and well. We have a clear path for the next decade of innovation to reach ‘1’ and well beyond. I like to say that, until the periodic table is exhausted, Moore’s Law will not end and we will be relentless on our way to innovate with the magic of silicon, “he said.
With more partnerships with companies like IBM, Intel could continue to push the limits of transistor density. Earlier this year, IBM unveiled the world’s first 2nm chip, giving a glimpse of what might be in store in the future.