Intel’s innovative 5-core Lakefield chip could completely redefine the mobile PC

With a Sunny Cove core and a tiny motherboard Intel could help create a whole new class of mobile computer

Intel Lakefield chip

Intel today announced its innovative Lakefield SoC design, a new style of chip using the Foveros chip-stacking technology to create tiny full PC boards for a new breed of thin-and-light laptops and other devices.

We had heard about the Sunny Cove-based chip when Intel had its Architecture Day just before the end of 2018, but now it has a name, and a project to call its own. Project Athena is the Battlestar Galactica-inspired name Intel has given its new program aimed at creating a new class of advanced laptop which will use the efficient, miniscule Lakefield motherboards to power its devices.

The processor itself is just 12mm2, and the board isn’t much longer than a mobile phone. Intel is calling it the company’s smallest full PC motherboard.

“I don’t think you have to be a PhD in Material Science or packaging technologies to understand what it means,” says Intel’s Gregory Bryant. “It means we can do smaller chips, smaller boards, more efficient, better designs. It’s going to unleash some great performance and platform innovation in the industry.”

The Foveros packaging technology used to create the Lakefield chips is what allows Intel to pack so much into such a small design. Sitting on top of the package are two layers of DRAM system memory, with the compute layer (CPU and GPU) sitting underneath that, and finally the base die with its I/O and cache at the bottom.

Intel Lakefield layers

But this chiplet layout also means Intel can use asymmetrical usage of cores and production processes within one SoC. Lakefield utilises a five-core design, using one big and four little cores. The big core is a single Sunny Cove core, with four smaller Atom cores available for less-intensive workloads.

Intel Lakefield cores

It’s an exciting innovation, and while Lakefield isn’t going to be creating powerful gaming machines that are the size of a postcard, it’s altogether possible that a whole new breed of mobile PC will come out of this. Not a laptop, not a tablet, not a phone, but something completely different, but always ready to roll.

Read more: The best gaming CPUs around

Gregory Bryant talked about the whole point of the Project Athena initiative, along with the Lakefield chips, is about unleashing its partners innovation, and the potential power of below 11-inch form factors.

Intel Lakefield board

And Intel has previous form in this sort of thing. Its Centrino brand gave rise to the modern, wireless laptop we all now take for granted, and the Ultrabook initiative helped breed the thin-and-light machines we crave. Lakefield and Project Athena could help create something just as formative over the next few years.