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Intel’s Tremont: A Bigger Little Core

November 5, 2019

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Intel’s newest low-power x86 core is Tremont, first described in detail at the recent Linley Fall Processor Conference. Tremont averages 30% more throughput at the same clock speed as Goldmont+ on integer and floating-point tasks. The new core also adds secure boot, trusted execution, memory encryption, and new instructions for cryptography and hardware accelerators. Although it won’t compete with Arm-based processors in smartphones, it may slow Arm’s gains in thin notebooks, tablets, Chromebooks, and future dual-screen devices such as the Microsoft Surface Neo. Tremont additionally targets IoT, embedded systems, and even low-power servers. Having already conceded the huge phone market to Arm, Intel is eager to offer small power-efficient processors fit for next-generation systems.

By integrating a powerful Sunny Cove core with four Tremonts, the company can offer a heterogeneous combination of high performance and low power. This unique processor, code-named Lakefield, is a major departure for Intel. In concept, it’s like smartphone processors that use PoP technology to stack DRAM on an Arm Cortex Big.Little die—but their I/O interfaces are fully integrated. PCs need more I/O than phones, necessitating a south-bridge chip. Intel’s Foveros 3D-stacking technology, revealed last year, allows a 10nm multicore processor to piggyback on a 22nm south bridge. Even with the PoP DRAM, the Foveros stack squeezes into a 12mm package only 1mm thick. The first Lakefield systems are due to ship early next year.

Smartphones achieve the same balance with Arm’s Cortex-A CPUs in a Big.Little cluster, but Intel calls its version “hybrid compute” or “big/bigger.” Sunny Cove is the bigger core—the same CPU found in recent Ice Lake PC processors. Tremont easily outperforms the previous Goldmont+ and is a close match for Cortex-A77, Arm’s biggest CPU.

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