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Intel's dual path: Merging AI and Power with new processors at CES 2024

By Aaron Yip - 14 Jan 2024

Intel's dual path: Merging AI and Power with new processors at CES 2024

Note: This feature was first published on 9 January 2024.

Michelle Johnston Holthaus, Intel's Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Client Computing Group, giving her keynote at the Intel event.

Intel's latest tech showcase at CES 2024 in Las Vegas was a vivid reminder of the tech giant's dual focus when it comes to computing innovation. On one hand, there's a clear tilt towards AI-enhanced computing, particularly evident in the Core Ultra notebook chips. Yet, Intel hasn't overlooked its traditional audience — the mobile gaming enthusiasts and high-performance seekers. Their line-up now includes the new Raptor Lake Refresh 14th Gen processor family, headlined by the powerful mobile HX series like the 24-core i9-14900HX, alongside fresh entries in the mainstream desktop CPU space that was available towards the tail-end of 2023.

Additionally, Intel's unveiling of the Core Processor Series 1 marks a strategic move towards harmonising efficiency and performance in sleeker notebook designs.

If you’re not familiar with how Intel categorizes their chip SKUs, then navigating through Intel's dual laptop chip offerings — the Core Ultra chips and the 14th Gen suite — might seem like a tech labyrinth. Yet, this differentiation is hardly a departure from Intel's historical approach, balancing between chips for ultraportables and those engineered for more robust machines.

The new high-performance mobile processors with the 14th Gen Core models. (Image: Intel)

For the average notebook user, the Core Ultra chips are a compelling proposition. Their decent speed (they are made for productivity, not high-end gaming) and the integration of Intel's latest tech innovations, including AI-boosting NPUs, make them an attractive choice. Plus, some SKUs of the Core Ultra even feature integrated Intel Arc graphics, making them suitable for light gaming and content creation tasks. However, for those seeking a powerhouse for high-end gaming or intensive media creation, the sheer might of the new 14th Gen HX chip is undeniably the most sensible choice for those who prefer an 'Intel Inside' solution.

Take the Core i9-14900HX, for instance — Intel's top-tier offering in the new laptop chip range. Boasting eight P-cores, 16 E-cores, and a turbo frequency of 5.8GHz (making it faster than the 13th Gen Core equivalent but still the same core configuration), it's a beast that will no doubt be found only in desktop-replacement laptops. Slim and portable form factors simply do not provide the space required for optimum thermal efficiency and heat dissipation. During a media presentation, Intel's claims of outperforming AMD's top mobile processor, the Ryzen 7945HX3D, in gaming by 17%, and eclipsing the Ryzen 7945HX in multitasking virtual production tasks by 51% are bold. The jury is still out there until we can test it ourselves, but Intel is confident, and that is a good thing.

Next, there’s the Core i7-14700HX, which isn't far behind. It has a total of 20 cores, including an additional four E-cores compared to its predecessor. Notably, the 14th Gen HX chips also bring compatibility to Thunderbolt 5 and 4, Wi-Fi 6E, and the upcoming Wi-Fi 7 standard.

Finally, the Core Processors platform is set to replace its predecessors in slim and light computers. The series is led by the Intel Core 7 150U, a 10-core processor capable of 5.4GHz speeds. The mid-tier Core 5 120U shares the core count but at lower speeds, while the Core 3 100U offers a 6-core setup reaching 4.7GHz.

Intel's CES showcase marks a pivotal and important transition for the company. This transition is not just about new products but a shift in their processor development strategy. The spotlight on Meteor Lake underscores this change, positioning the new 14th Gen chips in both desktop and mobile categories as precursors to more advanced iterations.

As 2024 unfolds, our focus will shift towards Meteor Lake, followed by Arrow Lake, and potentially Lunar Lake. Intel's ambition to roll out five processor generations by 2025 is ambitious, though the company's phrasing suggests a slight ambiguity in this timeline. The "by 2025" clause seems to carry a lot of weight, leaving room for speculation about the exact timeline.

The move away from the hybrid core architecture, which played a crucial role in Intel reclaiming its position against AMD's Ryzen processors, signifies a major change. The upcoming processor generations, featuring a multi-tile module design, represent a new direction for Intel. While this shift is groundbreaking, it's likely to encounter initial teething problems.

Meteor Lake is a fascinating development, but it's also expected to face its share of challenges in 2024. For instance, implementing new manufacturing processes for advanced chip designs can lead to initial difficulties in achieving high yields. This means that a larger percentage of chips might not meet quality standards, leading to supply constraints or delays. While these are ongoing concerns for any new process, Intel also reminded us that its Advanced Sort process has improved to strategically counter these traditional concerns and actually improve the yield rate. I guess we'll have to see if Q1 2024 goes smoothly for Intel and its vendors to validate Intel's improvements.

Arrow Lake and Lunar Lake are anticipated to refine and improve upon these new architectures as they evolve through subsequent iterations. In the meantime, for those seeking the latest and most powerful from Intel, its final Raptor Lake Refresh (read our Core i9-14900K review here) chips will be the go-to until the new generations fully mature.

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