Intel’s Next-Gen 10nm ‘Alder Lake’ To Adopt big.LITTLE Design To Balance Power And Performance, Claims Leak

The Intel’s recently perfected 10nm CPU die isn’t abandoned, and interestingly, the company could be contemplating adopting the big.LITTLE processor layout. The radical shift in the way CPU Cores are laid out appears to be chosen for the Intel 10nm ‘Alder Lake’ microarchitecture. The Alder Lake S might not be headed to desktops, and hence, the design choice might just make sense for high-performance portable computing devices like Notebooks and Ultrabooks where battery life matters too.

Contrary to popular belief, Intel’s 10nm Fabrication Node, which Intel recently managed to optimize for a small run of commercially viable CPUs, is alive. Moreover, Intel appears to be adopting a surprisingly different approach to the CPU design. The desktop CPU market has traditionally been defined by equal-sized and equally powerful Cores. However, Intel might just go the smartphone route and deploy CPU Cores of varying power and performance ratings. The methodology is highly common in smartphone CPUs and is referred to as big.LITTLE arrangement.

Intel’s Next-Gen 10nm Alder Lake S Microarchitecture With big.LITTLE CPU Design Headed Towards High-Performance Laptops?

Although it is an uncorroborated rumor and not even a leak, it is quite possible that Intel Alder Lake microarchitecture is alive and being actively developed on the 10nm Fabrication Node. We had previously reported that Intel could be considering giving up the 10nm production process. The reasons were poor yield leading to substantially lower profits per production cycle.

However, it seems Intel is determined to commercially manufacture 10nm CPUs with Alder Lake microarchitecture. But these CPUs will apparently power laptops and not desktops. This would also explain the design choice of big.LITTLE. It is essentially a layout where a CPU has some small but Power Efficient Cores as well as some less efficient larger Performance Cores. Such a design has been used extensively in mobile devices, especially smartphones, to balance power efficiency and performance.

The big.LITTLE helps in preserving battery life by ensuring the CPU runs the power-efficient cores, and only calls in the power cores when absolutely necessary. While the big.LITTLE CPU design doesn’t make sense in a desktop that’s always connected to AC power, it can be very helpful in portable computing devices such as laptops, notebooks, and ultrabooks.

Alder Lake S Specifications And Features That Could Give Intel An Edge In The Portable Computing Market

The Alder Lake S reportedly packs a total of 16 Cores. It might seem huge, but the cores are equally divided between the 10nm Power Efficient Cores and Performance Cores. Taking into consideration the CPU die design and architecture adopted by Intel over the years, this means CPUs based on the Alder Lake S microarchitecture will be using either Willow Cove or Golden Cove cores for the big or performance part and either Tremont or Gracemont Atom cores for the small or power part.

As mentioned above, the CPU Core layout might not make sense for desktops but it will be quite practical for laptops. Traditionally, the primary aspect that differentiated between desktop and laptop CPUs was the thermal output or TDP. Laptops CPUs had severely curtailed TDP ratings to ensure stable performance and longer battery endurance. The big.LITTLE design layout, however, could allow higher TDP performance cores to be paired with lower TDP power-efficient cores. Performance and battery life could be easily managed and optimized with big.LITTLE design.

In addition to addressing the omnipresent challenge of offering better performance without impacting battery life, Intel might be considering the big.LITTLE design to outpace AMD. With the transition of all its CPUs, APUs and GPUs to the 7nm architecture, AMD has managed to gain a substantial lead over Intel in the near future. With the radically different approach in CPU design, Intel might be able to firmly regain its top position in the laptop market.


Alap Naik Desai

A B.Tech Plastics (UDCT) and a Windows enthusiast. Optimizing the OS, exploring software, searching and deploying solutions to strange and weird issues is Alap's main interest.