For the past two years, modern CPUs—particularly those made by Intel—have been under siege by an unending series of attacks that make it possible for highly skilled attackers to pluck passwords, encryption keys, and other secrets out of silicon-resident memory. On Tuesday, two separate academic teams disclosed two new and distinctive exploits that pierce Intel’s Software Guard eXtension, by far the most sensitive region of the company’s processors. The new SGX attacks are known as SGAxe and CrossTalk. Both break into the fortified CPU region using separate side-channel attacks, a class of hack that infers sensitive data by measuring timing differences, power consumption, electromagnetic radiation, sound, or other information from the systems that store it. The assumptions for both attacks are roughly the same. An attacker has already broken the security of the target machine through a software exploit or a malicious virtual machine that compromises the integrity of the system. While that’s a tall bar, it’s precisely the scenario that SGX is supposed to defend against. Is this ever going to stop?
Over the past 12 months, Intel has slowly started to disclose information about its first hybrid x86 platform, Lakefield. This new processor combines one ‘big’ CPU core with four ‘small’ CPU cores, along with a hefty chunk of graphics, with Intel setting out to deliver a new computing form factor. Highlights for this processor include its small footprint, due to new 3D stacking ‘Foveros’ technology, as well as its low standby SoC power, as low as 2.5 mW, which Intel states is 91% lower than previous low power Intel processors. This is Intel’s latest attempt to take on ARM in very thin laptops and tablets and other low-power devices.
One thing that Intel has learned through the successive years of the reiterating the Skylake microarchitecture on the same process but with more cores has been optimization – the ability to squeeze as many drops out of a given manufacturing node and architecture as is physically possible, and still come out with a high-performing product when the main competitor is offering similar performance at a much lower power. Intel has pushed Comet Lake and its 14nm process to new heights, and in many cases, achieving top results in a lot of our benchmarks, at the expense of power. There’s something to be said for having the best gaming CPU on the market, something which Intel seems to have readily achieved here when considering gaming in isolation, though now Intel has to deal with the messaging around the power consumption, similar how AMD had to do in the Vishera days. Intel has been able to eek some god performance out of these processors, but all at the expense of power consumption.
Usually, x86 tutorials don’t spend much time explaining the historical perspective of design and naming decisions. When learning x86 assembly, you’re usually told something along the lines: Here’s EAX. It’s a register. Use it. So, what exactly do those letters stand for? E–A–X. I’m afraid there’s no short answer! We’ll have to go back to 1972… I love digital archeology.
We don’t often talk about power supplies, but Intel’s new ATX12VO spec—that’s an ‘O’ for ‘Oscar,’ not a zero—will start appearing soon in pre-built PCs from OEMs and system integrators, and it represents a major change in PSU design. The ATX12VO spec removes voltage rails from the power supply, all in a bid to improve efficiency standards on the PC and meet stringent government regulations. But while the spec essentially removes +3.3-volt, +5-volt and -12-volt and +5-volt standby power from the PSU, they aren’t going away—they’re just moving to the motherboard. That’s the other big change, so keep reading to find out more. Power supplies are definitely one of the more cumbersome parts of a modern PC build, so any changes there can potentially have a big impact. The new Mac Pro has really shown how a modern PC can be designed to not use ugly and annoying cabling, opting instead for various pogo pins and properly aligned connectors. Sure, that would be much harder to accomplish in the open ecosystem of PCs, but for an easier building experience and thus potential access to a larger segment of the market, players in the PC industry would do well to come together and take a long, hard look at the Mac Pro and how to replicate some of its innovations into the wider PC industry.
Today, you can upgrade a desktop PC’s gaming performance just by plugging in a new graphics card. What if you could do the same exact thing with everything else in that computer — slotting in a cartridge with a new CPU, memory, storage, even a new motherboard and set of ports? What if that new “everything else in your computer” card meant you could build an upgradable desktop gaming PC far smaller than you’d ever built or bought before? Last week, I visited Intel’s headquarters in Santa Clara, California so I could stop imagining and check out the NUC 9 Extreme for myself. The linked The Verge article is a decent overview, but for more information, I’d suggest watching Gamers Nexus’ Stephen Burke’s (praise be upon Him) video, to get an even better idea of what Intel is trying to do here. It’s certainly a very fascinating product, and I’m very happy to finally see a major player trying to do something new to combine small form factors with easy expandability and upgradeability. I still have many questions, though, most importantly about just how open this platform – if it even is a platform to begin with – really is. The bridge board that the processor PCIe card and GPU slot into looks quite basic, and there already seem to be multiple variants of said board from different manufacturers, so I hope AMD could just as easily build a competing module. If not, buying into this platform would tie you down to Intel, which, at this point in time, might not be the optimal choice.
Intel has dominated the CPU game for decades, and at CES 2020, the company officially announced its first discrete GPU, the codenamed “DG1”, marking a big step forward for Intel’s computing ambitions. There were almost no details provided on the DG1, but Intel did showcase a live demo of Destiny 2 running on the GPU. Rumors from Tom’s Hardware indicate that the DG1 is based on the Xe architecture, the same graphics architecture that will power Intel’s integrated graphics on the upcoming 10nm Tiger Lake chips that it also previewed at its CES keynote. The market for discrete GPUs is in desperate need of a shake-up, especially at the higher end. Nvidia has had this market to itself for a long time, and it’s showing in pricing.
Here’s a motherboard Intel very quickly wanted to forget about. It’s the Intel CC820—or Cape Cod—desktop board, a product that was late to market (not unusual) and within a few months, the subject of a recall (quite unusual). As the CC820 designation suggests, the board was built on the ill-fated Intel 820 ‘Camino’ chipset. Fascinating story.
While Intel has been discussing a lot about its mainstream Core microarchitecture, it can become easy to forget that its lower power Atom designs are still prevalent in many commercial verticals. Last year at Intel’s Architecture Summit, the company unveiled an extended roadmap showing the next three generations of Atom following Goldmont Plus: Tremont, Gracemont, and ‘Future Mont’. Tremont is set to be launched this year, coming first in a low powered hybrid x86 design called Lakefield for notebooks, and using a new stacking technology called Foveros built on 10+ nm. At the Linley Processor Conference today, Intel unveiled more about the microarchitecture behind Tremont. AnandTech takes a look at Intel’s upcoming Atom processors, the processor family mostly reserved for lower-end devices and specific markets such as embedded platforms and even some smartphones. Most of us, however, will remember Atom processors best from the netbook craze, where they enabled small, cheap Windows and Linux laptops to be sold in droves.
Way back at CES 2014, Razer’s CEO introduced a revolutionary concept design for a PC that had one main backplane and users could insert a CPU, GPU, power supply, storage, and anything else in a modular fashion. Fast forward to 2020, and Intel is aiming to make this idea a reality. Today at a fairly low-key event in London, Intel’s Ed Barkhuysen showcased a new product, known simply as an ‘Element’ – a CPU/DRAM/Storage on a dual-slot PCIe card, with Thunderbolt, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and USB, designed to slot into a backplane with multiple PCIe slots, and paired with GPUs or other accelerators. Behold, Christine is real, and it’s coming soon. Anything to compete with the default ATX design of a PC is welcome, and this looks incredibly interesting.
Overall, the launch of Comet Lake comes at a tricky time for Intel. The company is still trying to right itself from the fumbled development of its 10nm process node. While Intel finally has 10nm production increasingly back on track, the company is not yet in a position to completely shift its production of leading-generation processors to 10nm. As a result, Intel’s low-power processors for this generation are going to be a mix of both 14nm parts based on their venerable Skylake CPU architecture, as well as 10nm Ice Lake parts incorporating Intel’s new Sunny Cove CPU architecture, with the 14nm Comet Lake parts filling in the gaps that Ice Lake alone can’t meet. Another year, another Skylake spec bump. Intel sure is doing great.
Intel has been building up this year to its eventual release of its first widely available consumer 10nm Core processor, codenamed “Ice Lake”. The new SoC has an improved CPU core, a lot more die area dedicated to graphics, and is designed to be found in premium notebooks from major partners by the end of 2019, just in time for Christmas. With the new CPU core, Sunny Cove, Intel is promoting a clock-for-clock 18% performance improvement over the original Skylake design, and its Gen11 graphics is the first 1 teraFLOP single SoC graphics design. Intel spent some time with us to talk about what’s new in Ice Lake, as well as the product’s direction.
Intel’s Clear Linux Project has been on my radar for months, mainly because of its sheer dominance over traditional Linux distributions — and often Windows — when it comes to performance. From time to time I check in on the latest Phoronix benchmarks and think to myself “I really need to install that.” Up until recently though, the installer for Clear Linux was anything but intuitive for the average user. It also looked considerably dated. Version 2.0 gives the installer a complete overhaul. Aside from the fact it runs Gnome – which is not something I’d want to use – the main issue I have with this project is that it’s from Intel. The processor giant has had many Linux projects in the past, but it often just abandons them or doesn’t really know what to do with them.
From The Verge: Intel this evening said it has decided to leave the 5G mobile modem market to focus its efforts more on 4G and 5G modems for PCs, smart home devices, and its broader 5G infrastructure business. The announcement comes just hours after Apple and Qualcomm struck a surprise settlement in the two companies’ ongoing patent infringement and royalties dispute related to Apple’s use of Qualcomm modems in the iPhone. It’s likely Intel’s decision here was what prompted Apple and Qualcomm’s decision to settle just as lawyers were presenting opening arguments at the latest courtroom trial that began just yesterday in Southern California. I love it when things make sense.
Intel today launched a barrage of new products for the data center, tackling almost every enterprise workload out there. The company’s diverse range of products highlights how today’s data center is more than just processors, with network controllers, customizable FPGAs, and edge device processors all part of the offering. The star of the show is the new Cascade Lake Xeons. These were first announced last November, and at the time a dual-die chip with 48 cores, 96 threads, and 12 DDR4 2933 memory channels was going to be the top spec part. But Intel has gone even further than initially planned with the new Xeon Platinum 9200 range: the top-spec part, the Platinum 9282, pairs two 28 core dies for a total of 56 cores and 112 threads. It has a base frequency of 2.6GHz, a 3.8GHz turbo, 77MB of level 3 cache, 40 lanes of PCIe 3.0 expansion, and a 400W power draw. AnandTech has more information on these technologies, which few of us will ever get to work with.
Intel will not develop new Compute Cards, the company has confirmed to Tom’s Hardware. Compute Cards were Intel’s vision of modular computing that would allow customers to continually update point of sale systems, all-in-one desktops, laptops and other devices. Pull out one card, replace it with another, and you have a new CPU, plus RAM and storage. “We continue to believe modular computing is a market where there are many opportunities for innovation,” an Intel spokesperson told Tom’s Hardware. “However, as we look at the best way to address this opportunity, we’ve made the decision that we will not develop new Compute Card products moving forward. We will continue to sell and support the current Compute Card products through 2019 to ensure our customers receive the support they need with their current solutions, and we are thankful for their partnership on this change.” I’ve always been fascinated by the Compute Card’s concept, but it never seemed to receive much support from partners, stores, or even Intel itself. I’m not surprised they’re cancelling the product line.
Intel on Thursday notified its partners and customers that it would be discontinuing its Itanium 9700-series codenamed Kittson processors, the last Itanium chips on the market. Under their product discontinuance plan, Intel will cease shipments of Itanium CPUs in mid-2021, or a bit over two years from now. The impact to hardware vendors should be minimal – at this point HP Enterprise is the only company still buying the chips – but it nonetheless marks the end of an era for Intel, and their interesting experiment into a non-x86 VLIW-style architecture. Itanium has a long and troubled history, but it’s always been something that I’ve wanted to experiment and play with. Maybe the definitive discontinuation of the platform will inject some more stock of machines into eBay.
AnandTech has seen documents and supporting information from multiple sources that show that Intel is planning to release a new high-end desktop processor, the Core i9-9990XE. These documents show that the processors will not be sold at retail; rather they will only be sold to system integrators, and then only through a closed online auction. This new processor will be the highest numbered processor in Intel’s high-end desktop line. The current top processor is the i9-9980XE, an 18 core part with a base frequency of 3.5 GHz and a turbo frequency of 4.0 GHz. The i9-9990XE, on the other hand, is not simply the 9980XE with an increase in frequency. The Core i9-9990XE will be a 14 core processor, but with a base frequency of 4.0 GHz and a turbo frequency of 5.0 GHz. This makes it a super-binned 9940X. This probably means this is very much a low-yield chip Intel can’t make enough of to sell at retail.
It has been hard to miss the fact that Intel has been vacuuming up a lot of industry talent, which brings with them a lot of experience. Renduchintala, Koduri, Keller, Hook, and Carvill, are just to name a few. This new crew has decided to break Intel out of its shell for the first time in a while, holding the first in a new tradition of Intel Architecture Days. Through the five hours of presentations, Intel lifted the lid on the CPU core roadmaps through 2021, the next generation of integrated graphics, the future of Intel's graphics business, new chips built on 3D packaging technologies, and even parts of the microarchitecture for the 2019 consumer processors. In other words, it's many of the things we've been missing out on for years. And now that Intel is once again holding these kinds of disclosures, there's a lot to dig in to.
AnandTech's coverage of the event.
AnandTech has published its comprehensive benchmarks and tests of the Intel Core i9-9980XE, and while this $2000 processor is unlikely to grace any of our computers, the article has some choice words for Intel. The problem with the 9980XE is that it's basically a 7980XE with slightly higher frequencies partly because Intel switched the TIM from paste to solder, and the numbers confirm this - the performance improvement isn't all that great.
And this is a big problem for Intel.
It all boils down to 'more of the same, but slightly better'
While Intel is having another crack at Skylake, its competition is trying to innovate, not only by trying new designs that may or may not work, but they are already showcasing the next generation several months in advance with both process node and microarchitectural changes. As much as Intel prides itself on its technological prowess, and has done well this decade, there’s something stuck in the pipe. At a time when Intel needs evolution, it is stuck doing refresh iterations.
Intel needs a breakthrough, because it can't keep sucking blood from the 14nm stone forever.