This was a good week to be a processor nerd. Shortly after each other we saw that ARM announced its 2020 CPU and GPU designs, Intel unveiled its 10th Gen Core chips and AMD refreshed its Ryzen line. Together with Nvidia and its expansion to more complex calculations than graphic games, these three names are the leaders that determine the direction of future processor development. By extension, these are also the companies that have set the parameters for what the future of Windows laptops, Mac Pro workstations and next-gen game consoles will look, feel and function. The processor is still the beating heart of every computer and it is now a good time to check how evolution is progressing.
The architect of the smartphone era, ARM sketches the instruction sets and blueprint core designs for mobile systems on a chip, which companies such as Qualcomm, Apple, Samsung and (until recently) Huawei subsequently license and develop into products that feed iPhones, Galaxys and Pixels. The newly revealed Cortex-A77 CPU and Mali-G77 GPU are refreshingly simple in that it is all about improving performance and efficiency without having to do much to add functions or specialized capabilities.
ARM needs more challenge if it fulfills its long-held goal of going beyond the mobile domain. Every smartphone, together with a majority of tablets, nowadays works on an ARM-based processor. Intel flopped roughly in its repeated attempts to cram x86 – the competitive instruction set for ARM chips to mobile devices – and ARM is now in a comfortable monopoly. What the British company based in SoftBank now wants to do is to use ARM processors for more laptops and perhaps even for desktop PCs.
Qualcomm has the Snapdragon 8cx, the first purpose-built chip for Windows computers, and Windows on ARM is already something you can buy. Apple is also reportedly building similar components to replace Intel CPUs in Macs sometime in 2020. If you think the ARM confluence focuses on more powerful components for 2020 and Apple develops Mac-oriented variants of its A-series, Apple is a synergistic one, you are probably not the only one. Next year will probably give us a good idea of how close ARM and its partners have come to match the performance of desktop-class x86 processors. Under all circumstances, the increase in ARM-based convertibles and laptops seems inevitable.
Still the name most commonly associated with the term "CPU", Intel nowadays spends most of his time talking about the things that go around the CPU. One reason for this is that Intel has been so bad at improving the performance and efficiency of bread and butter, and improvements in production size. It just released its 10 nm Ice Lake processors on the market, because it was promising and delaying 10-parts for what seemed like a lifetime.
At Computex in Taipei, Intel this week continued its laudable project Athena effort, which aims to set the basic expectations for battery life, connectivity, responsiveness, and thinness in laptops with the latest processor generation from Intel. Away from core counts and clock speeds, Intel wants the glossy "Intel Inside" sticker to be a sign of reassurance for consumers, a sign that is inside, that meets an increasingly general set of ARM-inspired assumptions about modern mobile devices.
The first 10th Gen Intel Core processors first come to thin laptops and tablets. Giving priority to portable computers has become a habit for Intel, and it is not unreasonable to think that the company is investing most of its design and technical resources in making the best chips for portables. The headline promises to add more features than power: AI-driven adaptability, built-in Wi-Fi 6 and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, and improved graphics for creating "pro-level" content and 4K HDR on the go.
Intel also ran the Twin River dual-screen, dust-packed laptop and the Honeycomb Glacier transportable gaming PC from its prototype labs. The latter is also nominally a laptop, because of how compact it becomes when it is closed. Tinkering with alternative form factors is another habit for Intel, giving a little push and giving a hint to hardware partners such as Dell and Asus to broaden their design horizons. Intel has been stuck in an uncomfortable way for years in a place where most consumers are satisfied with their existing, already powerful PC & # 39; s and the latest chips fall short in huge leaps in performance. The company's solution is therefore to develop the ecosystem of designs and devices while at the same time achieving a uniform quality standard through initiatives such as Athena.
Probably the most conventional of tracks is now followed by AMD. The new Ryzen 3000 series ticks the usual check boxes by introducing AMD & # 39; s first 12-core consumer products processor, reducing the production process to 7nm and undermining the comparable Intel alternative on price. Except for the 7nm number, they really aren't flashy things. AMD focuses on the foundations, in the hope and expectation that only better processors will come in handy to sell more of them than before.
These efforts seem to be bearing fruit, such as that of AMD PC market share numbers has risen steadily and the company has a great win by securing the contract to deliver processors for the PlayStation 5. The next Xbox is probably also a candidate for AMD components, and Microsoft has rumored to consider AMD Picasso chips for an upcoming Surface Laptop later this year. The AMD formula of many cores, strong graphics performance of the Radeon division and attractive prices prove to be popular with both consumers and hardware partners, especially at a time when Intel is struggling to overcome security issues and performance streaks.
It is rare to see ARM, Intel and AMD overlapping their announcements as nicely as they did this week, although the coincidence of their timing should not be misunderstood as uniformity in the new things they have to offer. Other than treating laptops as essential to our future in the field of mobile computers, the three companies have adopted a very different approach.
ARM & # 39; s designs, which from the outset were about lightness and efficiency, work on building up its credentials for heavier workloads. The future vision is one of exploiting the strengths of the smartphone and expanding it in size and power to larger and more powerful machines. Intel, on the other hand, spends a lot of energy optimizing the environment around the processor. The idea of selling more chips is a holistic product proposition, similar to what Apple offers with Macs and MacBooks. And AMD just ticks around, focusing on performance per dollar and performance-per-watt efficiency.
In the long run, the balance of power between ARM and x86 processors will be fun to follow and observe. But for the near future, this week has simply been an omen for better, faster and more efficient laptops and mobile devices.