Intel has revealed more details of what’s under the hood of its upcoming Tiger Lake chip—including its new Willow Cove CPU architecture and integrated Xe GPU, as well as the promise of a dramatic frequency increase over Intel’s current-generation chips.

Intel is claiming that Tiger Lake will offer a “greater than generational improvement in CPU” performance, helped by updating the transistor—you can’t get more fundamental than that. Intel’s also disclosing some of the basic features of the platform—PCI Express Gen 4! Thunderbolt 4!—as it did while setting the stage for the current Ice Lake generation.

Intel’s Tiger Lake comes as no secret. Last year, Intel went public with its plans for Tiger Lake, adding it to the company’s public roadmap. At the time, the company promised Tiger Lake would include a new architecture, the first integration with its Xe core, the latest display technology, and next-gen I/O technology. Intel has also promised “something big” would arrive on September 2, which its investor relations site indicated would be a Tiger Lake launch. Intel representatives confirmed this as well.

One of the few things we do know is that Intel has promised over 50 Tiger Lake notebooks would ship by the holidays. The company is actually holding back more Tiger Lake processors than it originally intended to prevent shortages. 

Intel

Tiger Lake is Intel’s system-on-a-chip platform, with Willow Cove as the CPU architecture that drives it all.

A new transistor steps in to save Tiger Lake

Fundamental improvements in processor performance usually come from two sources: successive advancements in manufacturing technology, and better overall designs. For the last several years, Intel has been stuck in a rut, forced to make incremental improvements on each of its 14nm processors: Skylake, Kaby Lake, Cooper Lake, and so on. Eventually it made the leap to 10nm with Ice Lake and Comet Lake.

Intel’s slow pace allowed AMD to tweak its Ryzen processor to become competitive. AMD’s shift to 7nm arguably allowed AMD to leap ahead. When Intel said recently that it would experience delays moving to 7nm, most thought the trend would continue.

intel intranode process shrink Intel

If Intel’s products live up to its promises, it may be that Tiger Lake may be more competitive than we expected.

Surprisingly, it might not. Ruth Brain, an Intel fellow specializing in technology development and interconnects, said the sum total of all of the intranode improvements made in the 14nm generation would be equaled by one intranode performance increase from Ice Lake to Tiger Lake. “That’s nearly the equivalent of a full-node transition,” Brain said, in effect arguing that Intel was closer to AMD in manufacturing than once thought.

Underlying all of this is the tiny transistor, one of the building blocks of processors like Tiger Lake. A decade ago, Intel rearchitected the transistor to push it upward, which it called FinFET. Now, Intel said it’s tweaked the transistor to create enhanced FinFET transistors with “super metal insulator metal capacitors,” part of the metal stack. Luckily, “SuperFIN” transistors arrived at the right time to help offset Intel’s manufacturing shortcomings.

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