Intel CEO: Alder Lake Zen-Like CPU Arch And Alchemist GPUs Will Challenge AMD And NVIDIA

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger
Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, or as he puts it, the "self-appointed Geek-in-Chief," recently sat down for a video chat with analyst Pierre Ferragu to discuss his growth as a leader and what is in store for the world's largest supplier of semiconductor chips. Gelsinger talked about what he learned during his time at VMWare, and also touched on competitive expectations stemming from Intel's upcoming Alder Lake CPU and Alchemist GPU architecture launches. Lest anyone wonder where Gelsinger's mindset is at these days, in simple terms as it relates to Intel, "the geek is back."

Big launches are coming. It starts with Alder Lake, a heterogeneous x86 CPU architecture in which high performance Golden Cove and power efficient Gracemont cores will mingle within the same package, similar to the strategy Arm has employed with its big.LITTLE designs in the mobile space (with its RISC architecture).

Intel delved into Alder Lake a bit more during its recent Architecture Day 2021 event, confirming that it will be offered in up to 16 cores (8 big cores, 8 small cores) and 24 threads, along with a max 30MB of non-inclusive last-level cache (L3). It will also feature a fancy interconnect, a Thread Director to best utilize the big and small cores, and of course both DDR5 and PCI Express 5.0 support, among other things.

Towards the end of the interview, Ferragu asked if there will be a Zen moment for Intel, in reference to the turnaround AMD experienced when it introduced its Zen architecture.

"We have a number of things going on[...] There are some pretty major architectural updates that we are doing. We are rolling out the heterogeneous architecture that is part of Alder Lake where we have big and little cores. You know, AMD only has one," Gelsinger said. "We'll have a higher performance and a more efficient-energy version of the core. Pretty compelling."

Gelsinger didn't stop there. In giving his answer, he also invoked NVIDIA and the GPU space, given that Intel is about to embark on discrete graphics with its Arc lineup, starting with Alchemist next year. The big question on everyone's mind is whether Intel can compete in a space where it is basically a newcomer. Gelsinger exudes confidence that the company can, and will compete.

"We'll lay out our major vector enhancement stuff, we have our GPU architecture where we're gonna start being in a position to really put pressure on NVIDIA for the first time in forever," Gelsinger added. "And we are laying out our, what we call IPU, the network architecture when we get to smart NICs and smart networking fabrics. So, three major architectural announcements[...] that we think are pretty Zen-like in that sense, where you define major new efforts."

Credit to Gelsinger for providing more than a canned response or dodging the question. Instead, he essentially said yes, Intel is going to have its own moment of Zen, both in the CPU space and also in discrete graphics. And he basically put AMD and NVIDIA on notice.

Not that we are shocked. Gelsinger has been saying all the right things since he took over for Bob Swan, and has been upfront about Intel's strategy. Still, it's interesting to hear him set the bar for Intel, with comments that can be scrutinized later, depending on how things turn out.

Looking beyond Alder Lake and Alchemist, Gelsinger hinted at some even bigger launches and technologies further in the distance.

"Trust me, we have a few that are still cooking back in the labs yet, that we're gonna look forward to talking to people about that we think are pretty dramatic steps forward, well beyond anything we've talked about yet. Some of those we might talk about for a couple of years," Gelsinger said.

We can hardly wait. In the meantime, check out the full interview with Gelsinger when you have an hour to spare.