Intel’s Tiger Lake chip delivers a long-awaited laptop speed boost

Intel says its 11th generation Core chip, code-named Tiger Lake, its most significant new processor in a decade.

Intel says its 11th generation Core chip, code-named Tiger Lake, its most significant new processor in a decade.


We knew Intel’s Tiger Lake laptop chips were going to be better than last year’s Ice Lake models. Now we know how much better. At a launch event Wednesday for the chips, formally called the 11th generation Core processors, Intel showed speedups that indicate it’s got some of its mojo back after years of sluggish progress.

For productivity chores like word processing, it’s 32% faster than Ice Lake and 24% faster than AMD’s Ryzen laptop chip, Intel said, citing its own tests of systems with the same power consumption. For video editing, it’s 49% faster than Ice Lake and double the speed of AMD. For streaming online games, it’s got a 77% speedup over Ice Lake and 146% over AMD.

“It’s the most significant leap forward in a laptop processor in more than a decade,” said Gregory Bryant, general manager of Intel’s PC group. At least 50 Tiger Lake laptops are set to ship this year, Intel said.

Higher-end Tiger Lake chips also get a big 68% graphics boost over Ice Lake through Intel’s new Xe technology, designed for everything from lightweight laptops to supercomputers. It’s good enough to play games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Battlefield 5, Bryant said. Tiger Lake has Thunderbolt 4 and USB 4 built in for peripherals like high-speed storage devices and high-resolution monitors, and Tiger Lake PCs will support the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard for fast and reliable networking. 

The Tiger Lake chips come at an important time of change in the PC market. Intel manufacturing difficulties meant years of middling performance increases. That helped Intel rival AMD gain ground and influenced Apple’s decision to eject Intel chips from its Macs and move to its own processors.

Now Intel has a chance at resurgence. Tiger Lake offers better performance and arrives as the coronavirus pandemic triggered a surge in PC purchases. PC shipments increased 11% to 72.3 million units in the second quarter of 2020, according to analyst firm IDC. That’s a refreshing change of pace for a chipmaker that failed to cash in on the smartphone revolution.

Intel’s slow progress

Tiger Lake offers a significant speed boost, particularly when it comes to graphics, Linley Group analyst Linley Gwennap agrees. But he’s not impressed with how long it took Intel to deliver it.

“It’s been three years since there’s been a good bump in performance for these laptop processors,” Gwennap said.

Intel will sell nine initial varieties of Tiger Lake chips ranging from low-end dual-core i3 models and higher-end quad-core i5 and i7 models. In a presentation at the Hot Chips conference in August, Intel detailed a quad-core model but left the door open for more processing cores. “You can expect we’ll build out a family of products on Tiger Lake,” Bryant said.

AMD, which already offers an eight-core Ryzen processor for laptops, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Look for the Evo logo

Intel’s influence extends beyond the chip and surrounding electronics. In 2018, it unveiled Project Athena, a program to ensure high-end laptops offer both performance and good battery life. 

Now Project Athena has grown into Evo, a logo you’ll be able to spot on laptop boxes to make it more obvious. It signifies a laptop has passed tests proving it can:

  • Run for at least nine hours on battery for systems with modest screen resolutions.
  • Be responsive to clicks and scrolling even when on battery power.
  • Wake up from sleep in less than a second.
  • Get at least 4 more hours of battery life after 30 minutes of charging.

Intel PC partners, which cooperated on Athena, liked the idea but wanted something to make it obvious which laptops were certified, Bryant said.

Gregory Bryant, leader of Intel's PC chip business, holds a 300mm wide wafer with hundreds of Tiger Lake processors.

Gregory Bryant, leader of Intel’s PC chip business, holds a 300mm wide wafer with hundreds of Tiger Lake processors.


Intel’s manufacturing woes

Intel struggled to advance its manufacturing from a process where electronics elements measured 14 nanometers to the more advanced 10nm process used to build Ice Lake and Tiger Lake. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.) Moving to a new manufacturing process lets chipmakers double the number of transistors on a chip. That circuitry increase makes it practical to add more speed-boosting features like processing cores, graphics engines, AI accelerators and high-speed cache memory.

Tiger Lake benefits from an upgraded 10nm process, called SuperFin, with better power efficiency and performance options. But Gwennap said the improvements came late.

“The problem is the original 10nm was so bad,” he said. “This is what 10nm should have been from the start.”

In July, Intel delayed its move to 7nm manufacturing by six months and reorganized its technology group. Rival chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. now has about a two and a half year lead, Gwennap said.

14nm manufacturing still important

Intel hasn’t even moved all its chips, like those running on desktop machines, to the 10nm process, added 451 Research analyst James Sanders. Instead, it’s moving core Tiger Lake technology to the older 14nm process.

AMD, Apple and Nvidia use TSMC’s 7nm manufacturing process. The denser circuitry lets AMD pack in more transistors, as in the case of its eight-core Ryzen chips or its more powerful desktop chips popular with gamers.

Now Intel has joined the TSMC bandwagon in earnest, too. That broadens its manufacturing options and shows just how serious its manufacturing problems have been.

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