Rumor | Alder Lake-S with 16 cores could see Intel bringing big.LITTLE to the desktop, 80-150W TDP and PCIe Gen4 support in tow
We haven't heard much about Intel's purported Alder Lake-S platform, but we do speculate that it will be a 10nm++ part made on the upcoming Golden Cove architecture that is expected to launch sometime in late 2021-early 2022. Now, a rumored core configuration of Alder Lake-S has leaked on the Chinese PC shopping forum PTT indicating that Intel could offer it's own version of ARM's big.LITTLE architecture tailored for the desktop.
ARM's big.LITTLE architecture powers the majority of smartphones in the world today thanks to its ability to designate less-demanding workloads to the LITTLE core-cluster while reserving the big ones for power-hungry tasks. Intel could also look into offering a similar configuration going by a leaked slide.
big.LITTLE for the desktop - golden cove.GRACEMONT?
The slide denotes Alder Lake-S as having three configurations. The first is an 8+8+1 config with 8 big or high-powered cores and 8 little or low-powered ones along with an iGPU. This particular configuration is slated to have a TDP of 125W, which Intel could be looking to scale up to 150W. The 8+8+1 config will be available in an 80W TDP envelope as well. There is also a 6+0+1 config with 6 big cores and an iGPU with no little cores.
Videocardz speculates that the purported big and small cores could, in fact, be a combination of Golden Cove and Gracemont cores, both of which are slated to be available around a similar time frame.
Another interesting tidbit is that Alder Lake-S is speculated to require a new socket (again!) — the LGA 1700. The upcoming Comet Lake-S requires the new LGA 1200 socket and while we are not sure if Intel would be changing the socket type for the succeeding 11th gen Rocket Lake-S, it is clear that Intel is in no mood to offer long-term socket compatibility like how AMD does.
Alder Lake-S is also expected to offer PCIe Gen4 support although, there is no word on support for DDR5 RAM.
10nm++ or 7nm?
While we expect Alder Lake-S to be a 10nm++ part, Intel's own admission of lackluster 10nm performance during the recent Morgan Stanley financial analyst event does bring-up an interesting conundrum. Assuming Alder Lake-S's 2021-2022 timeline is true, Intel would have moved to a 7nm process by then. Intel's 10nm is thought to be roughly equivalent to TSMC's 7nm and by 2021, Intel's 10nm node would have matured enough with high clocks and core counts that are needed for desktops.
However, trouble looms large in the form of AMD, which is expected to have a highly mature 7nm node around the time Alder Lake-S becomes a reality. AMD is also expected to have a 5nm Zen 4 ready by 2022 and going by the recent Zen 2 Ryzen 3000 launch, it is not improbable that AMD will have a certain advantage in terms of IPC uplift and core counts compared to Intel.
Is big.LITTLE viable for desktops?
We do not know much about what Intel plans to do with Alder Lake-S so it is too early to infer how exactly this ARM-esque configuration will benefit desktops. Unlike smartphones, desktops are generally not constrained by power or TDP. That being said, Alder Lake-S may find good use in laptops for improved battery life.