Intel builds heterogenous chip

It's esemplastic! A new CPU-GPU multichip for high-end notebooks and small form-factor desktop

Posted: Jon Peddie 11.06.17

By Jon Peddie

As much as it pains me to give Kyle Bennett of Hard/OCP credit for anything other than being the fastest driver in Texas, it turns out he may also be the fastest news reporter too.

Way back in July 2016 when Nvidia was telling the us how great their new Pascal GTX thingies were, Kyle alerted the world to the crazy idea that Intel would use AMD graphics. Kyle has said some pretty crazy things over the years, but he been right more than he’s been wrong.

In May of this year, also reliable news reporter Fuad (Fudo) Abazovic in his portal, Fudzilla, confirmed the deal. Of course, neither AMD or Intel would deny nor confirm the speculations. It sort of reminded me of the year or so leading up to the acquisition of ATI by AMD.

Well AMD and Intel are out of the closet now, and it is an amazing story. Kyle and Fudo were right, maybe more than they knew. Intel will be buying chips from AMD, and then using their amazing manufacturing capabilities marrying an AMD semi-custom GPU, with high band width memory (HBM2), and Intel’s 8th gen H-series CPU into a super-thin package that will enable OEMs to build a thin and light enthusiast notebook, not 26 mm thick as they are today but approaching 15 to 16 mm like a mainstream thin and light notebook. Intel is not pushing this product into the mainstream segment rather, they are bringing the mainstream thin and light form factor to the enthusiast segment. This is science fiction coming true.

One of the tricks Intel is employing to make this magic is Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge (EMIB) that’s impeded within the package to allow the GPU and memory to talk with each other. That has enabled the disparate devices (HBM2, CPU, GPU) talking to each other as fast as an electron could move down a wire, but that was only part of the equation.

EMIB is an interconnect of heterogeneous chips. The industry refers to this application as 2.5D package integration. Instead of using a large silicon interposer typically found in other 2.5D approaches, EMIB uses a very small bridge die, with multiple routing layers. Intel has been able to embed the bridge die using their substrate fabrication process.

Intel’s embedded multi-die interconnect bridge uses multiple routing layer to reduce z-height (Intel)

Intel’s embedded multi-die interconnect bridge uses multiple routing layer to reduce z-height (Intel)

When you run a high-performance machine, you’ve got to be damn careful about how it uses power. You don’t want a $1,000 chip melting or turning itself off because it runs too hot. Intel has that covered and is spreading their dynamic power management software throughout the multi-chip.

By welding together these powerful components Intel is saving 1900 mm2 (~ 3-in sq.) of system board space, which makes cooling better, and allows for a larger battery.

The power sharing framework is a new connection between the processor, discrete graphics chip and dedicated graphics memory made by Intel. They’ve also added unique software drivers and interfaces to this semi-custom discrete GPU that coordinates information among all three elements of the platform. Not only does it help manage temperature, power delivery, and performance state in real time, it also enables system designers to adjust the ratio of power sharing between the processor and graphics based on workloads and usages, like performance gaming. Balancing power between our high-performing processor and the graphics subsystem is critical to achieve great performance across both processors as systems get thinner.

This is not an IP licensing deal as some had speculated. AMD will be selling and shipping semi-custom chips to Intel. Intel will source the memory separately. Intel went with AMD because they liked how AMD integrated HBM2 into the Radeon architecture, and admired AMD’s custom experience.

Intel introduces a new product in the 8th Gen Intel Core processor family that combines high-performance CPU with discrete graphics for a thin, sleek design. (Intel)

This will be the first mobile PC to use HBM2, which consumes much less power and takes up less space compared to traditional discrete graphics-based designs using dedicated graphics memory, like GDDR5 memory.

The new product, which will be part of Intel’s 8th Gen Intel Core family, brings together Intel’s high-performing Intel Core H-series processor, second generation High Bandwidth Memory (HBM2) and a custom-to-Intel third-party discrete graphics chip from AMD’s Radeon Technologies Group—all in a single processor package.

Intel will formally announce and name this new part in Q1’18, and begin shipping later in 2018. This is a major turning point in the industry, and I think a proud moment for Intel. The company has done a tremendous job with the HD series on integrated GPUs, but you simply can’t get enthusiast-class performance with a shared, narrow bus-width memory, and Intel knows that as well as anyone. However, you can’t jam a 250W PCIe AIB into a thin and light notebook either. So Intel did what they are so good at, making an engineering decision and exploiting their strengths, and have come up with what looks like will be a killer product for the high-end enthusiast market.

You can read more about it here.