In a market that is constantly evolving with new products and even new players, the incumbent leader Intel has just announced two new P and U-series mobile processors. We spoke to Daniel Rogers, Senior Director, Mobile Product Marketing and Intel, to understand the new processors better. Edited excerpts from the interview:
How is the P and U series different from the rest of Intel’s portfolio?
Daniel Rogers: The P series is a new segment for us somewhat. We have had a 28 Watt thin and light design point for a few years, but the reality in the market was that most systems were built to 15 Watts traditionally. So this generation, we did something a bit different, we actually offered two product lines, a P series at 28W, and a U series at 15W. We did this really to drive more performance. P series is similar to our H series and is derived from that fundamental architecture, but we have optimised that for lower power for thin and light designs, so we can bring an enthusiast-class or a high-end creator type performance into that thin and light form factor.
Is there a specific target audience and how you sort of are planning to target them?
Daniel Rogers: The most important audience for P-series is creators on the go, folks who are doing video editing, but still need a thin and light form factor. So maybe they are not looking for a 16-inch with discrete graphics, they are maybe looking for a 14-inch, maybe a system that has great battery life with a nice camera, but they still need some horsepower to get those video editing workflows and photo editing workflows done. So that’s probably the most direct use of a piece or the perfect customer for the P-series.
Is this going to lead to devices that are very powerful, but maybe fan-less, or are looking at devices with fans?
Daniel Rogers: Certainly with fans. In general, it’s somewhere around 12 Watts and below for fanless. So here we are talking 20 to 28 Watts, sometimes 35 Watts. But the thermals are well managed so they won’t be extraordinarily loud or with poor skin temperatures. Like with our Evo program we put a lot of work in with our partners to make sure these are well-built, and they are still meeting the promise of a thin and light.
How are the two series different from each other?
Daniel Rogers: The P series starts with 14 cores. So it’s 14 cores and higher power. Our U series is more tailored. So it’s 10 cores, two performance cores and eight efficient cores and lower power. Other than that, at the technology level, they are very similar. The IO is similar. The breakouts are similar.
In the case of architecture, how are these mobile processors different from the other processors that you have?
Daniel Rogers: So we started with our desktop, which is an LGA socket, pins out, so end users can populate it. And so that’s a 16 core — eight performance, eight efficient cores. Then we moved on to our H Series product line or Halo mobile product line, generally paired with discrete graphics. So that’s just a one-click lower — 14 core with six performance cores and eight efficient cores. It has extra IO to attach to the discrete graphics. Then the mobile, we call it thin and light P series and U series, it goes all the way down to 9 Watts in very small package, very low power optimised for battery life, but of course, still great performance.
Are you also seeing new form factors coming out because of the efficiencies of these processors?
Daniel Rogers: Yeah, we are seeing quite a few new designs. There will be some sort of experimentation in the market, although P-series does sit in between our H series and U series. It is a value proposition, and it is delivering a level of performance that has not been offered previously.
Have you integrated AI capabilities into these processors?
Daniel Rogers: In 10th Gen, we started with, our VNI instructions, which has some nice speed-ups for some AI workloads and in 11th Gen, or Tiger Lake, we added our DB4A, which is another nice instruction on the GT side which gives an important acceleration in the like ML performance. These are accessed through the Intel one API framework. Many applications are using that today, like Gigapixel photo for example. Aside from that, it is essentially a similar implementation to 11th Gen. With our upcoming generation next year, we are bringing some specific IPs for AI.
Intel is also playing in a market that’s very different from what it was maybe three or four years ago with more players now. How are you looking at that? Is that changing how you see the entire product portfolio?
Daniel Rogers: It is an exciting time in the silicon industry. Certainly, it’s an exciting time in the PC and other operating systems space as well. It’s a competitive world and I sort of love it. But we are very proud of what we brought with the 12th Gen and you will notice this in our launch materials where we share some of those performance comparisons. You can see how we sort of stack up this generation.
It is also a market where the entire supply chain is a little bit unpredictable. So is adding new processors to your existing lineup going to add more pressure on the supply side? Or is that managed?
Daniel Rogers: I can’t comment too much on the exact supply-demand specifics, but in general we are certainly ramping up 12th Gen very quickly. In past generations, we haven’t had such a quick ramp-up throughout the entire product portfolio from desktop down to 9 Watt mobile. We are bringing all that here at the beginning of the year. So essentially, the whole mobile portfolio gets the refresh. And we are planning and executing a quick transition. Of course, we are working with partners as well on the overall ecosystem constraints which continues to be challenging in some ways.
So is there visibility on when the new series will be available in the market? And which markets?
Daniel Rogers: No restrictions. So that (availability) will just be sort of logistics driven. But yeah, we are expecting systems to show up really soon. So we are already seeing some systems in the market towards the end of this month and into April we’ll start to see some broad availability.
How have you optimised the new processors for how to work Windows?
Daniel Rogers: That’s a really fundamental part of the 12th Gen, that the hybrid architecture is impossible without software. So really the magic in this generation is its software, if not more so than the hardware. In some ways, we worked in a very deep and collaborative way with Microsoft and other OS vendors to enable the hybrid architecture through the Intel thread director feature, which is really the software layer between our chip and the operating system. What we are doing is providing real-time detailed performance information to the operating system.
And do you expect the processors to make ‘thin and light’ the go-to form factor?
Daniel Rogers: Yeah, U-series is great for traditional thin and lights. And we are also seeing some new form factors with our 9-Watt U series. You will see these show up in like detachables, foldables, chip-behind-glass designs. So all sorts of interesting and advanced form factors that rely on that density and low power.
How do you see the mobile PC market evolving in the coming years, especially when you look at it from the silicon side?
Daniel Rogers: We are working with our partners to bring what we feel are really key experiences to the PC, through our EVO program — great battery life, intelligent collaboration, super responsive systems. In future years, we will have more to share on that. But we have a nice pipeline, like not just on the silicon side, but also on the usage side.
As the pandemic has been raging, the gaming segment has caught a lot of interest, especially in markets like India. Are you looking at gaming as a segment where these kinds of processors can also make an impact?
Daniel Rogers: Absolutely. In a way, in a way 12th Gen is really built first for those high-end enthusiast customers, both in terms of our architecture and our product rollout here. Yeah, 12 Gen makes amazing gaming performance 28% faster gen-on-gen even with the same graphics. Most of our 12 Gen systems are shipping with the latest discrete graphics from third-party and even now from Intel.
How does the thermal architecture of the P series and U series help your power efficiency?
Daniel Rogers: There are a few ways to think about efficiency. So one definition of efficiency is, sort of, performance per watt, or ISO power performance or performance of power. And Alder Lake is really incredible in this regard. It’s really what we mean by performance hybrid. Our intention is to showcase that we built this hybrid architecture explicitly to deliver more efficient performance at power. It also scales up and delivers incredible peak performance as well. But our sustained performance is also significantly better, generation on generation. So that’s maybe one vector of efficiency.
The other is, of course, battery life, not an active case, but more of a low power case. So video playback or, sort of, like light web browsing and those sorts of things. We have a few things happening in this area. So one thing we have done is a lot of work in software to try to tune those cases. It’s still a work in progress and we are really just getting started with hybrid this year. We have a big roadmap of how we plan to use this over the next generations.