Under pressure from a resurgent AMD, and with Qualcomm intent on entering the PC processor market, Intel has announced its next generation processor architecture. Called Sunny Cove, it will replace Intel’s current Skylake architecture and its derivatives starting from the second half of next year.
Sunny Cove: An Improved Architecture for a 10nm Process
Designed to be an improvement over Skylake, the new Sunny Cove architecture has been optimised for Intel’s upcoming 10nm manufacturing process. It features greater parallelisation, such as the ability to execute more instructions in parallel at a lower latency, as well as larger cache sizes. These should technically allow Sunny Cove processors to execute more instructions per clock than its Skylake predecessors, resulting in greatly improved performance. In addition, Intel has also implemented enhanced instruction sets that should greatly improve specialised tasks such as cryptography and machine learning.
The new Sunny Cove architecture also makes a fundamental change to the way 64-bit processors operate. Currently, only 48 of the 64 bits contain useful information, limiting computers to 64TB of RAM. With Sunny Cove, Intel has increased the number of useful bits to 57, which allows for up to 4PB of memory. While this might not see much use in the near future, as newer memory technology such as Intel’s Optane makes great technological progress, there may come a day when CPUs have crazy amounts of memory.
Combined, all these could make way for a crazy fast processor coming in 2019. Intel demonstrated a Sunny Cove CPU running 7-zip, and it showed a 75 percent improved performance over Skylake in encryption benchmarks, all while consuming the same amount of power. We certainly look forward to seeing greater competition between the blue and red team next year.
Foveros: 3D-stacking CPU Chips
In addition, Intel also unveiled major improvements to its CPU-building technology. Traditionally, CPUs are built along a 2-dimensional x-y-axis. Taking a page out of flash memory’s book, Intel has managed to build CPUs up vertically along the z-axis as well, allowing ‘chiplets’ to be stacked on top of the base processor die. This should allow for processor dies to take up less space, as well as consume less power. Intel calls this new 3D stacking technology Foveros and hopes to start implementing it in late 2019.
This technology brings with it some issues, one of which is heat. Processor cores generate a lot of heat, and stacking them vertically means more heat is generated within a smaller area. Thankfully, 10nm technology should be able to reduce this problem by improving power and thermal efficiency. Intel has also placed careful consideration on the design of chips to make sure that hotter components would be closer to the heatsink, further mitigating the problem.
Integrated Graphics: Breaking the Teraflop Barrier
Finally, on the graphics side of things, Intel has announced that its upcoming CPUs should feature greatly improved integrated graphics performance. It has increased the number of execution units (EU) from 24 in its current CPUs to 64 in its next gen CPUs, allowing them to hit a teraflop of performance. This is still behind AMD’s integrated graphics solutions: A Ryzen 5 2500U with Vega 8 is rated at 1.1 teraflops, while a Ryzen 7 2700U punches well above 1.7 teraflops. However, with support for technologies such as Adaptive Sync, Intel’s new integrated graphics solutions may just bump performance in many games from ‘unplayable’ to ‘somewhat playable.’
Intel says that we should expect its new integrated GPU to feature in its upcoming generation of processors next year.
The past few years have been hard on Intel. It has seen AMD become competitive once more with its Ryzen architecture, slowly chipping away Intel’s market share. Its 10nm process, which was supposed to be released back in 2016, has faced many delays. This has broken Intel’s traditional “tick-tock” strategy, turning it into a 3-step “process-architecture-optimization” model. However, with Coffee Lake and then Whiskey Lake, Intel has been stuck at the “optimization” part for 3 generations, without a step down to the 10nm expected until late next year. Amid the turmoil, Intel’s CEO stepped down following a “consensual relationship” with an employee, adding further to its troubles.
Hopefully, the announcement of Sunny Cove marks a turnaround for Intel. As the traditional market leader in the CPU market, Intel’s chips power most of the world’s laptops, desktops and servers. Complacency has seen AMD catch up in technology, but many still look towards the blue team to bring around the next leap in performance with its much-delayed 10nm process. With luck, next year will be the year these new 10nm processors are released.