Intel’s new 11th Gen core processors are being touted as the “world’s best processor for laptops” and has many firsts to its credit. This comes at a time when rival AMD has been stealing the silicon major’s thunder with its Ryzen range of processors. We spoke to Chris Walker, corporate vice-president and general manager of Intel’s Mobile Client Platforms Group for a better understanding of what consumers should expect from the latest processors, the Evo Platform and the range of new devices it will usher in.
Could you start with an overview?
Chris Walker: The 11th Gen Core processors have so many firsts in new innovations across the CPU for productivity, graphics for gaming and entertainment, but more importantly, we were able to really harness all the engines together to provide groundbreaking capabilities that help a laptop, go through everybody’s day — being super productive, much better speeds and capabilities than our nearest competitor, graphics to stream high quality shows and eSports on super thin and light systems. We were also able to use these engines together and use AI intelligently on a PC for things like speeding up content creation workflows, making your audio or video conferencing better.
So would it be right to say this is the first time AI is being so fully integrated as part of the processor itself
Chris Walker: We started some of it with our 10th Gen Ice Lake processors and so some things carry forward, things like DL (Deep Learning) boost. But then we enhanced it with new technologies on the graphics side, with the addition of things like DP4 A. How you see that coming out in the system is especially on things like upscaling photos, rapidly selecting in video a feature or frame. That’s kind of the power of AI, to simplify things that were taking many steps. And then we’re able to bring forward our very low-power neural accelerator to offer better quality for conferencing background noise removal.
So if you had to pick one thing that you think was the biggest technological achievement with 11th Gen, what would that be?
Chris Walker: One of the biggest advancements was with the graphics, with the Iris Xe engine. The importance of that is beyond what you might think of, like just playing games… which you can do very well on these systems. They also offer better support for the newest codecs so people can stream high bandwidth or high quality video, but at much lower or at higher quality on congested networks. Then DP4A for better AI processing was also an important step. We did all that while maintaining our power levels, or in some cases, an increase in battery life and that was quite a big advancement from our architecture and design standpoint.
Would it be right to say with the 11th gen every laptop is also a gaming laptop?
Chris Walker: With the 11th Gen and Iris Xe we were able to bring great gaming experiences to very thin and light laptops which many people didn’t expect. When you have Iris Xe on board, you have a laptop that you could have a lot of fun with.
How do you differentiate Evo platform and Project Athena to regular customers who are going to pick up a laptop for their use?
Chris Walker: The Evo platform came out of a lot of feedback to make it easier for people to understand which laptops have been certified under Project Athena. So Evo is simply the best of 11th Gen Core having been certified through the Athena programme. People will know when they see an Evo Platform, it will be the best of 11th Gen core, plus verified for responsiveness, battery, performance and best of our connectivity options.
A decade ago with the Ultrabooks you defined a $1,000 price point. Is that something you are doing this time?
Chris Walker: We don’t specify a price point. The Ultrabook was very much focused on kind of the form factor we were driving with new levels of thin and light. With Evo platform, there continues to be that march on form factor with thin bezels and a certain thickness, but more importantly, we verify with our partners and through our labs that the systems are both responsive and have great battery life. So it is beyond just a spec and goes into very detailed testing work on workloads that people are using every day. So, some of the features make it upper mainstream to premium price points, but we don’t set a price for it. We have worked with the PC makers to make sure it’s got things like premium audio visual capabilities to make sure it’s got the best experience. Over time, we expect many of these features to come into more mainstream price points as well.
With the pandemic situation are you also noticing that these specs have become the basic right now?
Chris Walker: The great thing about these platforms is it really takes you through the day. So you are conferencing and collaborating and we’ve done great advancements for speakers microphones, low power, background noise removal. As you spend more time on your laptop, you need a great experience. The pandemic and the work from home and learn from home have really only made that more important and we see the hours on the PC spike up, we see the types of things people are doing on their PC.
Intel mentioned about 150 new devices coming up. Are we also going to see very interesting very different kind of form factors?
Chris Walker: We said 150 devices 11th Gen platform in all and 50 of them this year. I think we will continue to see some very thin and light designs as well as 2-in-1s. Yeah, more convertibles which is great when you want to flip it over into a tent mode to watch a movie. Also, more and more usage of pen and touch. I think those will continue to be the trends that we’ve seen to be successful in the market. I think very new technologies like foldables are probably a little further out.
How is the thermal footprint of these devices? Is that something that you have been able to manage well with 11th Gen?
Chris Walker: There’s maybe two aspects to that. The first is 11th Gen itself helps, especially when we were designing with our Superfin transistor technology that we’re able to push and get all these performance gains at much lower power levels within the product itself. And then the second is, with Evo, it’s an and: you have a performance and responsiveness AND battery life. We really wanted to make sure that you’re having that same great experience whether plugged in, or running on battery. We were able to shrink the size of the motherboard to either enable bigger batteries or smaller form factors. We do new cooling technologies that we work with our partners to help manage heat incidents of form factors. And a big part of that of Evo, like a modern standby experience in Windows or lucid sleep in Chrome, is about working with many component vendors around the industry to help advance their products from a power standpoint. We have done that through our open labs, we’ve done that through a lot of co-work with many companies to keep pushing the performance without sacrificing form factor battery life, which has been really important.
We are in the 5G era now. How are the new generation devices going to integrate 5G in?
Chris Walker: First is we continue to see pretty strong demand for 4G as well and and we have actually gone through our own modem through it and are continuing to lead. With 5G, we are starting to just see the rollout of PCs. In fact, Samsung announced their Galaxy Flex 5G on 11th Gen Core. So, that’s the first 5G Intel-based PC, with no compromises on compatibility or performance because they built it with us. We have also announced and talked about a broader partnership with MediaTek to bring 5G more broadly to PCs starting next year. It will take time, as you know there’s definitely a premium from both a price point, and from a data standpoint, but we’re excited for DAC level performance with our processors, for what it can do for cloud services and what it can do for your online gaming experiences.
Will you continue needing a partner like MediaTek to go into 5G, or are more and more capabilities being built in within Intel itself?
Chris Walker: We have partnered with MediaTek on the hardware side to provide their base band or modem technology into a module that we can work with. We do a lot of the software work across the OS platform and so in that standpoint it’s a partnership and co-work. What you want for 5G in a PC is a little different for a phone, so you know they adapt and work on their modem to our specifications to drive it forward.
What is your outlook for the 5G Is that going to change the requirements people would have on a PC or a laptop?
Chris Walker: What’s important, when it’s (5G) integrated into a laptop is great combine usage with Wi-Fi. From a technical standpoint, there are things that you have to do with antenna design and placement with our PC partners that require special attention. But from the user and the use case, while you have a great fast 5G connection, I don’t think it’s going to substantially change how or what the requirements are for the PC. There will be some changes and those are probably more under the hood.
Do you think with 11th Gen Core, Intel is going to gain back a lot of the ground? Is there thinking that you’re actually going ahead of the competition again?
Chris Walker: I think we have stayed ahead and now we have just extended that lead. If you look at the broad base of what most people actually do with their PCs, we didn’t chase a synthetic benchmark. You can put more cores in a system, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to perform any better. The quality of the cores matters, and real-world performance matters so what we showed with 11th Gen over Ryzen (AMD processor) is productivity over 20% better, 28% better content creation, 2x better using real application. I’d much rather have that performance than a synthetic benchmark. We showed on those same thin light systems, the ability to game and stream at higher frame rates… AMD systems just get crippled by that workload.
Is there one thing that you would have really wanted 11th Gen to be able to do and you think it will have to wait maybe?
Chris Walker: We did a lot on improving productivity, creativity, graphics, gaming, AI all at once, while maintaining low power. So that hit the mark pretty well. It really created the best processor. The trick is we have to do that again and again and again.
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