Intel Hybrid Core: Gimmick or the Future?
Posted on August 1, 2023
With the 12th Gen Alder Lake lineup, Intel has introduced a new hybrid core architecture. But what exactly does a hybrid core entail? And what does it mean for embedded computing?
Why the Move to Hybrid Cores?
The never-ending semiconductors arms race has revolved around packing more and more cores into a single chip since the introduction of multi-core processors. But this approach has run into trouble in recent years as the increasing complexity of the resultant processors (not to mention their higher fabrication costs) threatened to put a halt to further progress.
AMD overcame this bottleneck with their ingenious chiplet architecture, through which they were able to combine multiple individually fabricated microchips into a cohesive whole. Not only did this process allow them to pack even more processing power into a given surface area, but it also cut down on production costs and engineering complexity.
After trying – and failing – to compete with AMD’s new approach with the traditional method, Intel has finally bitten the bullet and decided to go for a modular design of its own. Called hybrid cores, this architecture allows Intel to be competitive with AMD’s products without falling behind on multithreading performance.
So What Exactly is a Hybrid Core?
A standard chip has multiple cores fabricated onto a single die. This means that all the cores tend to have the same clock speed, even if the workload can be distributed across them using multithreading.
This is not a problem when all the cores are being used, but PC workloads are never constant. Many applications can function perfectly with a lower frequency, but a multi-core chip can only reduce its power intake so much.
Intel’s 12th Generation hybrid core processors combine cores of various clock speeds and capabilities on a single chip. The “P” cores (Performant Cores) are built for performance and can support hyperthreading to juggle parallel workloads. The “E” cores (Efficient Cores) are instead designed to efficiently process lower workloads, using less power and generating less heat.
Does Hybrid Core Improve Performance?
So far we have focused on how hybrid cores make sense from a production point-of-view, but what does it mean for the end user? Do hybrid cores offer any performance boost over traditional architectures?
The answer is yes. A 12th gen hybrid core chip gives significant performance gains when compared to the previous generation. It even outperforms the leading AMD Ryzen processors.
This is all thanks to the ability of the hybrid cores to handle complex tasks more effectively by distributing the workload between the specialized cores. And though multithreading itself isn’t a new concept, multi-threading between cores with different TDPs and clock speeds is revolutionary.
But Isn’t Managing Hybrid Cores Tricky?
One consequence of having cores of different capabilities on the same chip is that allocating tasks is no longer a straightforward process. The firmware now needs to keep in mind the requirements of every thread and allocate it to the best core to handle it.
This is why the 12th Gen Alder Lake processors come with a software component too. The Intel Thread Director is designed to manage tasks effectively on a hybrid core, keeping track of all running processes (background or otherwise) and scheduling them to the correct type of core.
This results in incredible improvements in multitasking performance, as the applications running in the background can now be shifted to the low-demand E cores while the active app runs on P cores.
What Does this Mean for Embedded Computers?
Generally speaking, embedded computing is more concerned with efficiency rather than cutting-edge performance. This makes the hybrid core architecture a big step forward for embedded computers.
Right now, any enterprise setup has to choose between getting a powerful processor that can handle peak workloads versus a more efficient chip that will consume less power overall. But with hybrid cores, this distinction will no longer be necessary, giving embedded computers the flexibility to adapt to the situation.
In the long run, this is also expected to lead to more competitively priced chips as manufacturers move toward a “tiled” approach in fabricating chips, making them easier and cheaper to make.
Is it Worth Going For Intel Hybrid Core?
The best part about the hybrid core architecture is that it will give you gains both on the high-end and low-end parts of the performance spectrum. Whether you want to power a lean IoT device or a powerful Industrial automation workhorse, a 12th gen Alder Lake chip would serve you well.
And this isn’t a one-off thing either. AMD is moving to implement the hybrid core architecture itself, and Intel’s 13th gen is already using it. Hybrid cores are ultimately going to become the paradigm of the processor industry.
So if you are looking to buy new systems or upgrade your old setup, it might be a good idea to go with hybrid core processors and future-proof your investment.