Intel details 'Sunny Cove' processors suitable for 2019 Mac Pro, iMac Pro refresh in 2019

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in General Discussion edited December 2018
Intel has revealed some of the innovations it will be putting to use in its upcoming processors, with the introduction of higher-performance Sunny Cove microarchitecture and 3D die stacking for processors potentially making their way into future Mac devices, with arrival more likely in Xeon-equipped iMac Pro and Mac Pro lines first.

Participants looking at demonstration hardware at Intel's Architecture Day (via Intel)
Participants looking at demonstration hardware at Intel's Architecture Day (via Intel)


Intel's Architecture Day on Tuesday offered a glimpse into the chip producer's plans for the coming years regarding its processor ranges. While the company didn't go into detail about specific processors it would produce, it did explain the kinds of technologies it will be employing in its future designs, improving the performance and other elements of the processors.

Among the topics brought up by Intel that could impact processors for use in MacBooks, iMacs, and the Mac Pro are the introduction of a new CPU microarchitecture dubbed "Sunny Cove," Gen11 integrated graphics, and the use of 3D Stacking of Logic Chips.

Sunny Cove

While current-generation chips up to and including Coffee Lake have used variations of the Skylake core since 2015, Intel intends to bring out a replacement sometime in 2019. Produced on a 10-nanometer process, the architecture aims to increase the performance per clock and power efficiency for general computing tasks, while at the same time adding features to accelerate specialized tasks, such as AI and cryptography.

Sunny Cove will be enhanced to execute more operations in parallel, with new algorithms to reduce latency, and increased key buffer and cache sizes to optimize data-heavy workloads. Architectural extensions for specific types of task will be incorporated, such as for boosting performance in cryptography via vector AES and SHA-NI, or for data compression and decompression.

Becoming the basis of Intel's next-generation Xeon processors at first, Sunny Cove will also be used for its client and consumer-aimed Core processors later in the year.

A roadmap for future core releases also revealed Intel's intentions beyond Sunny Cove. "Willow Cove" in 2020 will feature a redesigned cache, a new transistor optimization, and more security features. "Golden Cove," tipped to arrive in 2021, brings with it a focus on AI and single-threaded performance, network and 5G communications improvements, and more security.

Gen11 graphics

The integrated graphics in Sunny Cove-based processors are also expected to be a step up on current versions. Gen11 will offer 64 enhanced execution units, more than double the number offered in the previous Gen9 release, with Intel claiming it is also designed to break the 1-teraflop barrier.

For reference, Gen10 failed to release, as it was intended for Coffee Lake processors but ultimately didn't materialize. Evidently Intel decided moving to Gen11 was the best option.

At the event, Intel demonstrated Gen11's improvements by showing it as close to doubling the performance of a "popular photo recognition application" compared to Gen9. The graphics architecture is expected to double the current computing performance-per clock offered by Gen9 on modern processors.

Gen11 will also include an advanced media encoder and decoder that supports 4K video streams and creating 8K-resolution content, even under constrained power requirements. Intel Adaptive Sync will also make an appearance for smooth frame rates while gaming.

Intel also took the opportunity to reaffirm its plan to provide a discrete graphics processor by 2020, but did not elaborate further.

3D Stacking

While not immediately consumer-focused, the addition of 3D Stacking of Logic Chips is touted as an industry first. Named "Foveros," the technology brings the technique from memory to logic chips for the first time, enabling logic-on-logic integration between layers.

Foveros can allow for a "mix-and-match" approach to chip design, with IP blocks of memory and I/O elements able to be broken up into smaller "chiplets," and then stacked into a single chip, connected together between layers. This can simplify chip production to offer a wider range of processor options, including chips optimized for specific use cases.

An example of a Foveros chip stack
An example of a Foveros chip stack


The first Foveros-based products are expected to arrive in the second half of 2019, with the first thought to combine a 10-nanometer compute-stacked chiplet with a low-power 22FFL base die, putting a high-performance processor into a small form factor.

If successful, the system could be a major advantage for device producers, as packing the processor into a smaller space frees up area for other components to be used by device vendors. For example, a smaller processor could help shrink a motherboard, in turn allowing for smaller or thinner devices, or to maintain the size and mass but add more battery capacity.

What to expect

While the technologies on show are not arriving anytime soon, it does give some suggestions as to what to expect over the next year regarding processor releases. As a preview that didn't detail specific processors, Intel has the opportunity to push everything back if it needs to, as it has previously done before, so the 2019 release estimates should be taken as general guidelines.

The Xeon-first approach is a likely candidate for the forthcoming Mac Pro, or an iMac Pro update. As the technologies move down the line, as with most Intel Core processors, there is always a chance for them to be included in future Mac products, depending on their thermal design points and ultimate utility. Again, such inclusions are far into the future, and rely on Apple deciding to make the jump to using the newer architectures in a timely fashion when they finally arrive.

Apple's shift to newer architectures in its products is to be expected, but the main motivation for when it does so depends entirely on when other devices are released and Intel's ability to deliver at the times it claims.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 45
    The one question I have is if Apple is going to continue to rely upon Intel's roadmap, or have they had enough and go and make their own processors for their Mac lineup? My thinking is that this is too little, too late and Apple will just make their own chips.
  • Reply 2 of 45
    knowitallknowitall Posts: 1,369member
    It seems not so shocking piecemeal improvements of things (except maybe 3D stacking chip technology) already implemented in the A chip range.
    Apple can make a big move and make all its (MAC) products $200 to $300 cheaper.
    Even MS seems to port it’s OS and presumably a lot of its legacy software to ARM which removes the last ‘but but but ...’ from the list.
    edited December 2018
  • Reply 3 of 45
    ... but if you stack the processors, the heat from one processor will affect the performance of the processors above or below it. AMD places their processors next to each other so they can cool all of them at the same time (and also run all of them at the same time).
  • Reply 4 of 45
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,153member
    How will this help being bound to 3rd party; capability, delivery schedules, supplier preference?

    Apple should start designing OS-specific hardware and move beyond this.
  • Reply 5 of 45
    ClassicGeekClassicGeek Posts: 9unconfirmed, member
    ... but if you stack the processors, the heat from one processor will affect the performance of the processors above or below it. 
    I don't think that Intel is talking about stacking processors. Instead it sounds like stacking components e.g processor above layer of memory above I/O layer or something similar.
    macplusplusdysamoriafastasleep
  • Reply 6 of 45
    ciacia Posts: 79member
    Again Intel shows off amazing stuff, but let's be honest....  If this ever actually gets a release it will be 1-2 years later than the timeline Intel put out today.
    dysamoriaMisterKitwilliamlondon
  • Reply 7 of 45
    Any best guesses about when the next 4K iMacs (not the iMac Pros) will arrive?
  • Reply 8 of 45
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,652member
    The one question I have is if Apple is going to continue to rely upon Intel's roadmap, or have they had enough and go and make their own processors for their Mac lineup? My thinking is that this is too little, too late and Apple will just make their own chips.
    I think it would be ignorant to believe that Apple does not have a non-Intel solution in the works to replace Intel.  Too many people think that ARM's capabilities are on-par with Intel's which is flat-out wrong.  

    I myself hope that whatever Apple does, it does license x86 like what AMD was able to pull off.  x86 still rules the world and I do end up using Windows on my Mac quite often.  
    dysamoriamacplusplus
  • Reply 9 of 45
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,743member
    Despite some if the thinking here, the article does express some of what I’ve been reading elsewhere that shows impressive possibilities. Never count Intel out.
  • Reply 10 of 45
    anomeanome Posts: 1,279member

    "Intel announces next line of processors to be delayed by inevitable failures of the fabrication process, film at 11."

    I'd like to see Intel actually get it together, but they're having a rough century so far. I still like the idea of Apple making up for deficiencies in Intel's supply by handing over more of the core OS to the T2 and successors, while keeping the x86 for heavy computation and compatibility, possibly leading to the ultimate "Pro Computing as a Service" model.

  • Reply 11 of 45
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 2,212member
    knowitall said:
    Apple can make a big move and make all its (MAC) products $200 to $300 cheaper.
    ha ha ha ha ha. There is no way Apple would pass any savings on to the user. Cheaper for them to build, maybe. They’d keep the extra profit. That’s the mission: all profit, all the time. No public company serves the consumers. Their real client is shareholders & “investors”. 
    urashidmuthuk_vanalingamwilliamlondon
  • Reply 12 of 45
    It should be an interesting next few years. I wouldn’t place any bets just yet.
  • Reply 13 of 45
    I’m more interested in if the A series will move to 3D stacking.

    For a while now, chip design takes advantage of turning off & on certain parts of the chips to maximize performance.

    For example, turbo charging for single/dual core then turning off the the other cores to reduce heat.  It will be interesting to see if 3D stacking makes a difference.  My guess is it improves multi core performances/tasks.  That sounds like significant graphs performance improvements...
  • Reply 14 of 45
    Nothing Intel does now is an Industry first.
  • Reply 15 of 45
    I’m more interested in if the A series will move to 3D stacking.

    For a while now, chip design takes advantage of turning off & on certain parts of the chips to maximize performance.

    For example, turbo charging for single/dual core then turning off the the other cores to reduce heat.  It will be interesting to see if 3D stacking makes a difference.  My guess is it improves multi core performances/tasks.  That sounds like significant graphs performance improvements...

    The A Series will never compete with chip designs from AMD or Intel. It's just not ever going to happen.
  • Reply 16 of 45
    knowitall said:
    It seems not so shocking piecemeal improvements of things (except maybe 3D stacking chip technology) already implemented in the A chip range.
    Apple can make a big move and make all its (MAC) products $200 to $300 cheaper.
    Even MS seems to port it’s OS and presumably a lot of its legacy software to ARM which removes the last ‘but but but ...’ from the list.

    Apple's big move would be Zen 2 and Vega 2 platform wide and see their CPUs cost between 150-300% less than Intel.
    edited December 2018
  • Reply 17 of 45
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,969member
    For 2019, I would be interested 10nm chips with LPDDR4 and usual performance/power improvement for MAC laptops.
  • Reply 18 of 45
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 1,101member
    Other sites are reporting a Hybrid Core/Atom x86 using the 3D stacking Intel was testing for a customer.
    Be interesting why no reported here.

    Do you not think Apple would be the customer?

    Seems like great option for Macbooks - one big core with better single thread performance 4 small cores to dance arround all the stuff happening sideline to the main demand. Add dGPU in the MacBook Pro's and you'd have a very interesting line up. 
  • Reply 19 of 45
    Interesting they’re starting with Xeons. Traditionally don’t they always start with low power chips and move to desktops and midrange mobiles and end with Xeons a year or more later?
    edited December 2018
  • Reply 20 of 45
    ... but if you stack the processors, the heat from one processor will affect the performance of the processors above or below it. AMD places their processors next to each other so they can cool all of them at the same time (and also run all of them at the same time).
    Read it again. 
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