Combining 10nm CPU + 14nm Chipset

As with Intel’s previous low-power (sub 28W) mobile designs, the company will be combining the CPU and the chipset onto a single package. This typically helps in enabling a smaller motherboard design for thin and light systems that might want to dedicate that area to additional battery, or simply save the footprint altogether. The flip side is that there are more pin-outs, and the board design has to be suitable for the increased signal traces, but this is nothing new. For Ice Lake-U, Intel has stated that the CPU, which is being built on their second-generation 10nm "10+" process, will be paired with a new generation ‘14nm class’ chipset.

As stated on the previous page, the CPU will offer up to four cores, eight threads, go up to 4.1 GHz, provide integrated TB3 (more on that later), and a vast improvement to the graphics capabilities (also more on that later).

One of the big updates to the design will be enabling support for both DDR4 and LPDDR4/LPDDR4X on a single memory controller. Up until this point, only Intel’s latest Atom designs had LPDDR4 enabled, so this is a welcome addition to the main high-performance product line. In this instance Intel will support LPDDR4/X with up to four 32-bit channels at 3733 MT/s for 32 GB, or if a user needs more capacity, up to 64GB of DDR4-3200 with two 64-bit channels. The LPDDR4/X implementation will allow for lower idle power states, saving power and battery life when the memory is not in use, however it does this in exchange for maximum capacity. It’s an interesting tradeoff for sure. The peak power consumption of both modes in an equally populated system, given the respective frequency difference, should be similar.

One element that Intel hasn’t talked about is its ‘new converged chassis fabric’, which we believe to be a scalable power and environment control fabric that connects between chips in order to both transfer data but also to manage how and where power is applied within a system. The fact that Intel calls this ‘IP and Core scalable’ suggests that if vendors want to add additional supported chips to the system, say for example a future Intel AI chip, that might be possible and it could be controlled through this fabric. It will be interesting to see if Intel divulges any more of this information.

Not mentioned in this slide are the new performance enhancements, such as AVX-512 and other new instructions, which we’ll cover in detail a bit later.

The connection to the chipset is through a DMI 3.0 x4 link, as with current generations of Intel products.

The new ‘14nm class’ chipset is also an update from Intel’s 8th Gen Core mobile processors. It does not yet have a series designation, but given the updates, this is likely to be a member of the 400-series chipset line.

With the new chipset, Intel has updated the proprietary CNVi protocol on the die to support CNVi 2, which is found on the latest Wi-Fi 6 Intel-Only RF modules, such as AX201. This update to a second generation implementation is likely to be for throughput reasons, given the increased bandwidth that Wi-Fi 6 provides over Wi-Fi 5.

Intel also promotes better integrated power delivery on the chipset, meaning that the PCH can share the same power rail as the CPU, reducing the number of on-board components inside the mobile system. This should reduce cost, and hopefully the thermal density of the power delivery onboard the chip doesn’t have a negative effect. Also on the power side, Intel states that the audio DSP on the chipset has also been improved for lower power operation.

On the IO side of the chipset, Ice Lake will support up to six ports of USB 3.1 (which is now USB 3.2 Gen 1 at 5 Gbps), or 10 USB 2.0 ports, or a mix. There are also 16 HSIO lanes which are broadly presented as PCIe 3.0, although given previous HSIO models it is likely that certain combinations of ports will be required for specific features. However this should afford at least two, if not three, potential PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe drives in these systems. For SATA, there is access to three direct ports, but there is also an eMMC 5.1 link. Intel does not state if UFS is supported for super-small form factor systems.

Ice Lake is not Intel’s first crack at 10nm

We documented the history of Intel’s 10nm process with our review of the first 10nm CPU to come from the company. Our Core i3-8121U analysis of the Cannon Lake design is one Intel would rather forget – the manufacturing process didn’t yield, the frequency wasn’t there, the power consumption was too high, and the graphics were completely fused off. But hey, Intel still shipped it to customers by the end of 2017, and it found its way into some Chinese educational notebooks, and some NUCs, eventually, satisfying promises made to shareholders.

Fast forward almost 18 months, and we’re about to see Intel’s second take on 10nm with Ice Lake. Under Intel’s nomenclature, Ice Lake is technically being built with the ‘10+’ process, which is meant to be an improved version of the 10nm used in Cannon Lake. The fact that parts of the CPU are now working means that it earns that plus. Intel pointed to an extra metal layer (going from 12 to 13) in the manufacturing has helped with power delivery and frequency, and new transistor library designs and MIM caps have helped with voltages. Intel is also using a thin magnetic inductor array, and a recess in motherboard design for reduced package z-height.

As for Intel’s future, the company has stated at events that it is now developing future process nodes with these ‘BKM’ updates built into the lifecycle of the process node, such as 10+ and 10++ as part of the family of 10nm processes, and then beyond to 7nm with 7, 7+, and 7++ over the next few years. It’s worth noting that while Intel has officially shipped a first generation 10nm product, is promoting Ice Lake as a ‘10+’ second generation 10nm product, and has specified a number of 10nm class products up and down its product portfolio, we are still waiting on an official presentation about how Intel’s 10nm process works in a formal setting, rather than bits and pieces from events like ISSCC and IEDM. What we have pieced together from those events is likely out of date for 10+, however we do know that for 10nm Intel has three different libraries based on performance, each with different transistor densities: from 67 million transistors / mm2 for ultra-high performance, to 101 million transistors / mm2 for high-density logic. You can read more about it here.

Ice Lake and Project Athena Sunny Cove Microarchitecture: Going Deeper and Wider
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  • notashill - Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - link

    Are those RAM/SSD targets really "greater than" 8GB/256GB or is it supposed to be "greater than or equal to"?

    Either way I would love to see an end to companies having >$1000 machines with pathetically low RAM/storage and then charging 500%+ markups to upgrade them to something decent. Like Microsoft's $1200 to go from 4/128 to 16/512.
  • mkozakewich - Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - link

    I can't believe Microsoft has been using 4 GB as their base amount for the last six years. At some point it becomes insulting.
  • repoman27 - Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - link

    “Intel uses the ‘U’ designation for anything from 9W to 28W TDP, which covers all the mobile ultra-premium devices.”

    No they don’t. 9W are Y Series, 15 and 28W are U Series. This is all clearly stated in Intel’s publicly available product briefs for 10th Generation Core processors.
  • HStewart - Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - link

    I be curious for more information on the Y processors - what the performance difference between Y and U. But it looks like these Ice Lake chips are designed for Ultraportable machines and not designed to replace to higher end ones - even like my Dell XPS 15 2in1 - I am really curious about that replacement - it's GPU is probably short lived possibly in updated higher voltage Ice Lake with Gen 11 graphics or new version with Xe graphics. I also have a Dell XPS 13 2in1 with Y processor - I am actually bringing it to meeting today - it is lightweight and does not really need that much power for what I using it for. I think it will be very interesting to compare this new XPS 13 2in1 and the existing XPS 15 2in1 - yes 15 2in1 has faster processor - but it not Ice Lake and that could make a huge difference.
  • Hixbot - Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - link

    4.2% annual IPC growth doesn't sound great but it is better than anything we've seen since SandyBridge.
  • Targon - Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - link

    And that should make people question the claims about performance increases. Mind you, how much performance has been lost on Intel chips due to the security issues? Intel may be comparing theoretical performance increases, without disclosing the fact that first through 9th generation have actually lost performance since launch due to security mitigations.

    So, +18% IPC, but -20% due to security mitigations for issues that are still there. Has Intel actually fixed the problems with the memory controller and other problems that allow for Meltdown and the other problems, rather than mitigating around the problem? If a problem has existed since first generation Core processors that turns out to be a design flaw, that also shows that the fundamental core design hasn't changed all THAT much.
  • rahvin - Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - link

    Meltdown and some of the first spectre mitigations are going to be fixed in the hardware. Later spectre variants are probably only fixed in microcode and software.

    Where that line is drawn is going to be determined by when they froze the physical design for tapeout.
  • eek2121 - Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - link

    I'm not knocking Intel on the IPC growth. If they had an 18% increase, great for them! However, mobile Intel CPUs of any variant (U, HK, Y, etc.) are much slower than their desktop counterparts. My Core i7 2600k absolutely destroys the 6700HK in my laptop. Laptops in general are designed to be low power devices, so performance is never the number one factor in designing a laptop, even on the high end. The only exception to this is the so called 'desktop replacements' that weigh a ton, have desktop class hardware, and basically need to be plugged in to not have the battery die after an hour.

    That's also the reason I take this announcement with a grain of salt. 18% on mobile is one thing. 18% on the desktop is something else. As I've mentioned to people here and elsewhere, the smaller the process, the harder it is to maintain high clock speeds. Also, from reading certain documentation, it seems that part of that 18% is counting the addition of AVX-512. I could be mistaken though.
  • erple2 - Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - link

    Wow, really? That has not been my experience at all. My 6700hq has generally been (usually significantly) better performing than my 2600k for the vast majority of tasks I've thrown at it.
  • jospoortvliet - Monday, August 5, 2019 - link

    Any task that requires sustained compute will of course suffer on thr lower power budget on mobile. But tasks which require short bursts of activity will do better thanks to vastly improved turbo since the 2600k. So depending on what you do your impression might very well be accurate.

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