Intel made waves during its recent Innovation keynote, revealing the Intel Core Ultra series, poised to usher in the era of the “AI PC” later this year upon its market debut.
These fresh processors, codenamed Meteor Lake, mark a significant stride for Intel in the consumer market. The key feature, a dedicated neural processing unit (NPU), will fuel AI-driven tasks for everyday users, as disclosed by Intel’s CEO, Pat Gelsinger, during the opening of the Intel Innovation conference in San Jose, California. Gelsinger also confirmed that these groundbreaking processors will hit the market on December 14th.
Gelsinger articulated, “AI is set to reshape and revolutionize the PC experience, synergizing the power of the cloud with PC capabilities, fostering unprecedented personal productivity and creativity. We’re at the dawn of a new AI PC era.”
Beyond the NPU, Intel promises exceptional power efficiency, courtesy of advanced 7nm Intel 4 process technology. Moreover, the Core Ultra series boasts an enhanced integrated GPU powered by Intel Arc graphics architecture. While hands-on experiences are pending, the prospect of an improved GPU alone could make these processors the darlings of 2023, especially for budget-conscious users uninterested in dedicated graphics cards.
The Core Ultra represents Intel’s maiden consumer CPU to adopt a multi-chipset module (MCM) design. This innovation involves bonding two or more silicon slices, each containing the vital transistors that propel computers (referred to as dies) at a microscopic level. This approach permits more versatile chip development compared to the traditional monolithic silicon slabs favored by many.
Intel’s Foveros packaging technology is backing this MCM design, the same technology previously used in the Lakefield chip. Although Lakefield faced various issues beyond the Foveros packaging, the Core Ultra series signifies a substantial shift in Intel’s processor design, surpassing even the hybrid-core architecture introduced with Intel Alder Lake in 2022. Intel places immense faith in this technology to steer its future chip development.
Bringing AI to the Personal Computer Landscape
An integral facet of this year’s Intel Innovations conference is the update to Intel’s distribution of the OpenVINO AI toolkit. This toolkit provides developers with a universal language for crafting AI applications and will leverage the new Intel hardware.
The latest version of the toolkit, 2023.1, has been optimized to harness the potential of the NPU within the Intel Core Ultra processor. This optimization is anticipated to simplify and enhance the development of AI applications for PCs equipped with Core Ultra chips, making it more appealing to developers and consumers.
Jerry Kao, Chief Operating Officer of Acer, emphasized the collaborative effort between Acer and Intel, stating, “We’ve been co-developing a suite of Acer AI applications to harness the potential of the Intel Core Ultra platform, leveraging the OpenVINO toolkit and co-developed AI libraries to bring the hardware to life.”
To illustrate the capabilities of Intel’s Core Ultra, Kao showcased an Acer Swift laptop powered by an Intel Core Ultra chip, running a Stable Diffusion generative AI-powered application. In under a minute, this application transformed a basic photograph of a ballerina into an entirely new image, generated locally, and even created a dynamic parallax desktop wallpaper.
The potential applications of generative AI and multimedia are immediately apparent. Device personalization, advanced settings controls, and other features appearing on Windows PCs in recent years can now leverage specialized hardware to drive them.
Taking a Page from Apple’s Playbook
While the Intel Core Ultra introduces the NPU into the Intel chip lineup, it’s not the first processor to do so. That distinction belongs to Apple, which incorporated a neural engine into its A11 Bionic chip in 2017, followed by the Apple M1 Chip in 2020.
These chips, particularly in mobile devices, have played a pivotal role in advancing photography and video capabilities on top-tier iPhones. Nevertheless, there hasn’t been a groundbreaking “killer app” for these consumer chips on par with the impact of Nvidia’s best graphics cards and their role in powering generative AI technologies like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion.
However, Intel’s entry into the NPU arena is a strategic move. Coupled with the OpenVINO toolkit, it presents a compelling proposition for the extensive developer community focused on Intel hardware. At the very least, it introduces something genuinely innovative from Intel, making it intriguing to observe how this unfolds once users get their hands on these chips.