How Intel’s hybrid architecture came about and what it means for the future of PCs: Interview with Gregory Bryant

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Immediately after CES 2022, Gadgets 360 had an exclusive interview with Gregory Bryant, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Client Computing Group, Intel. The company’s CES virtual keynote, presented by Bryant this year, was jam-packed with announcements of new Dec 12 desktop and laptop CPUs.

Outside of the stage, the 30-year-old Intel veteran also talked to us about new form factors, what went into the development of the 12th generation CPU series and how the market for laptops and desktop PCs is changing and growing. Here is part 1 of our conversation.

Gadgets 360: Let’s talk about Intel’s 12th generation hybrid architecture first. Why now? Why was this the right time to do it after saying so big. Isn’t small something you want to imitate?

Gregory Bryant: Perhaps there are two ways to answer that. First, we’ve made tremendous strides in our efficient cores over the past few years in achieving extremely high performance and power per watt, on top of the kind of erratic, scalable performance you get with the power cores. I would say it’s a combination of very rapid advances, especially on our efficient cores, and second, the evolving nature of the workload. One of the examples that we showed [during Intel’s virtual CES press event] was gaming and streaming. It’s ubiquitous, almost every gamer I know sees and shares it on Twitch or other platforms. The same goes for people who create content. I’ve shown a few examples of content creation, so I think the hybrid architecture works particularly well.

The last thing I would say is that our implementation is different from Big.little; it is different from the way others have tried to create a multi-core architecture. I like to say it’s big and bigger! Our little one? it’s not small, it’s big! Our efficient cores are very high performing, so I think our implementation is also different from what has been tried in the past.

Gadgets 360: So how do you decide the ratio of P-cores and E-cores for different segments?

Bryant: That’s a great question. We focus on large usage categories and have a whole team within Intel working on so-called Key Experience Indicators (KEIs). Most people would think of KPIs, or key performance indicators, so [it’s like that]. What we do is break down uses like gaming and streaming, content creation, business productivity, and video collaboration. These are real examples, they are not hypothetical. We subdivide these usage models and categories into specific tasks and sub-tasks.

Then I have architects and technologists who break it down to the hardware, the workload, and even the trace level. Then we say: OK, how do we best optimize the products that we build for these segments? It’s really at that level of detail. It’s fascinating and a skill we’ve built over the last 2-3 years based on our Evo platform. I am very proud of it. And that really leads us to say, hey what’s the optimum [experience]? Of course there is no such thing as one size fits all, but what are the best types of configurations we can offer in different segments?

Gregory Bryant holds an ‘Alder Lake’ H-Series 12th CPU during Intel’s CES 2022 virtual event.

Gadgets 360: How Does That Change When You Go For Laptops Versus Desktops For Things Like That? E-cores are probably better when it comes to battery performance, but on the flip side, you still have some expectation of a workload that you can handle with a Core i3, i5, or i7 tier. priced.

Bryant: I would think of it as a two-tier structure. First, what is the overall configuration? How are things structured in the greatest macro sense? Then there is the micro – how do workloads run on which processors and in which context? A connected desktop behaves differently than a thin and light laptop. Intel Thread Director is our software that works in the operating system in collaboration with Microsoft or Google and Chrome that learns and makes intelligent decisions about where to run those threads. Do I run them on the efficient cores, do I run them on the large cores?

We’ve done a good number of studies to understand what types of workloads we think work best, but we also build intelligence into the system so that these decisions can be made dynamically. I expect that machine learning will keep us better at making these micro-individual decisions about where workloads run over time.

It’s pretty exciting! I think we are at the beginning of a journey where we will learn, learn, learn and achieve better and better optimizations in these cores.

Gadgets 360: From what you just said, is there a Thread Director equivalent for Chrome OS? There has been a demand for it on Linux, and I don’t know if there has been any progress in that direction.

Bryant: It’s not called Intel Thread Director, but we worked with them on the scheduler. It’s not a trademark, but we’re still working with Chrome on how these workloads appear on which cores. So it’s not exactly the same; I was [being] more conceptual – higher level. Thread director is Windows. There is a version of the scheduler. We haven’t announced anything yet [Linux] to date, but we’ve been working on the scheduler to take advantage of the P-Cores and E-Cores, and my intent would be to make these things smarter for both Linux and Chrome over time.

Gadgets 360: Check Out the Datasheets you brought out, most of the desktop [mainstream 12th Gen Core] SKUs only have P-cores. In this case, where does the hybrid architecture premise go for these buyers?

Bryant: Well, it really depends on the choices people want to make about what they want to do. I think when you are working on a desktop you are plugged in and your focus is on maximum performance. And we talked about the KS [Core i9-12900KS] on stage, for example, single-core turbo frequencies of up to 5.5 GHz. As you know, this isn’t for everyone, but there are certain games and certain scenarios where very powerful cores and single-core turbo frequency spikes play a huge role.

I think these buyers are very intelligent. Obviously, people who buy this type of product know what they are looking for, they understand the workload they are running, and they will head off in search of the single core peak. There are other people for whom this is less important; they want better multithreaded performance. And then to your point, there will be other buyers who say, “Hey, I have a lot of background work, things I want to get out of the way that could be underperforming; I want them on e-cores ”.

It really depends on the buyer, and I think our job – and it will take time, not instantly – is to show the performance and scenarios and help people make the best choice for the type of To meet work that they have they do. This is the journey we are on now and we will invest in marketing and positioning with our OEM, retail and distribution partners to do this as best we can.

Gadgets 360: Usually a lot of attention is paid to the top-end hero products of each line of products, but Celeron and Pentium configurations have also been announced. Do you see a specific use case or form factor for this CPU level with four E cores and one P core? What will change for cheaper laptops?

Bryant: Well, I think it’s really very important to get another place on the price-performance curve – you downplayed that in the question! Making the system more affordable and performing better is very important in a world where we all use our PCs more and more every day for video calling, collaboration, and education.

So, this generation I would consider Jasper Lake products [based on Tremont E-cores] a considerable leap forward in value for money. This is important to us. We’re big enough to play in every segment of the market, top to bottom, so refreshing these products was important to us. There are significant numbers of customers in these segments in the market.

Intel ces2022 Alder Lake efficiency Intel

Intel claims improved performance and efficiency compared to previous generations and competitors

Gadgets 360: There is still a lot of love for netbooks, especially in India. There are people out there looking for functional and affordable PCs, and this segment seems to have been a little neglected. Do you see anything new at this level?

Bryant: Yeah, I think that’s a great example. If your usage model includes online connections, web browsing, shopping, low productivity, media consumption, this is a great line of products, and I think it would be a good substitute for older, less powerful systems that could be four or five years old. I think that would be a very good choice.

Gadgets 360: The other reason for asking is that these one P-Core and multiple E-Cores configurations mirror what you’ve done with Lakefield, and there isn’t a premium-tier replacement for that in the lineup. Manufacturers won’t try to sell a super premium foldable with a Celeron, so was this segment just an experiment?

Bryant: Lakefield was the first place we did Hybrid Architecture and Foveros for the first time. It wasn’t an experiment; It was a breakthrough product, and we learned this packaging technology and hybrid configuration that, as you said, is becoming the foundation of the entire roadmap. I don’t think most people saw this coming!

We absolutely think of premium, let’s call it ultra-mobile forms of the product line. I didn’t make any announcements at CES, but there are more. There’s going to be at least one more version of Alder Lake that we didn’t PRQ’d [Production Release Qualified] still.

Stay tuned for more information, there will be a few more products to come. Some of them won’t look like Lakefield, but some of them will [aimed] in these segments over time.

Gadgets 360: So What About Foldable Products And Ultra Premium Products? Now that you have the balance between P-cores and E-cores, is Alder Lake going into leaner and lighter fanless form factors? What changes can we expect for laptops in general?

Bryant: From the point of view of scalability, this hybrid architecture with P-cores and E-cores in different configurations offers you an enormous dynamic range of performance; a much bigger offer than in the past. That is an incredibly important point. That will allow us, now and over time, to develop more form factors, more tablet-like form factors, with good performance. That is absolutely part of the direction and strategy. I have nothing new to announce this second, but you’re picking up on the trend.

In Part 2 of our upcoming exclusive interview, Gregory Bryant discusses what’s new with the Evo platform, how Intel is addressing global semiconductor supply problems, and how the pandemic has changed our expectations for PCs.

Check out the latest from the Consumer Electronics Show on Gadgets 360 in our CES 2022 hub.

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