Intel, the world’s leading chipmaker, has recently unveiled its ambitious roadmap for the next five years, which includes new architectures, process technologies, and packaging innovations. Among the most impressive products that Intel plans to launch is the Sierra Forest Xeon processor, which will feature up to 144 cores and target cloud and high-density computing applications.
Sierra Forest: A 144-Core Monster for the Cloud
Sierra Forest is part of Intel’s E-Core (Efficiency Core) lineup that aims to deliver high performance per watt and per area for workloads that do not require high single-threaded performance or advanced features such as AVX-512. Sierra Forest will be based on the Intel 4 process node, formerly known as 7nm, which is expected to offer a 20% improvement in performance per watt over the current Intel 7 (10nm) node1.
Sierra Forest will use a tile-based design with two I/O chiplets and one to three compute chiplets, each containing up to 48 E-cores. The E-cores are derived from Intel’s Atom microarchitecture and will support two-way SMT (simultaneous multithreading), bringing the total thread count to 288 per processor. The E-cores will also feature a new ISA (instruction set architecture) extension called AMX (Advanced Matrix Extensions), which will accelerate matrix operations for AI and data analytics workloads1.
The compute chiplets will be connected by EMIB (Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge) technology, which enables high-bandwidth and low-latency communication between the dies. The I/O chiplets will provide up to 136 lanes of PCIe 5.0/CXL 2.0, up to six UPI (Ultra Path Interconnect) links, and up to 12 channels of DDR5-6400 memory. The I/O chiplets will also include compression, cryptography, and data streaming accelerators1.
Sierra Forest will be compatible with the Birch Stream platform, which will also support the Granite Rapids Xeon processor, based on the P-Core (Performance Core) lineup. Granite Rapids will feature up to 60 P-cores, derived from Intel’s Core microarchitecture, and target high-performance computing, AI, and enterprise applications. Sierra Forest and Granite Rapids will be able to coexist in the same system, allowing customers to optimize their configurations for different workloads1.
Intel expects to launch Sierra Forest in the first half of 2024, along with Granite Rapids. The company claims that Sierra Forest will offer up to 2.5x better rack density and 2.4x higher performance per watt than its fourth-generation Xeon Sapphire Rapids processors, which are based on the Intel 7 (10nm) node and feature up to 56 P-cores1.
Intel’s Roadmap: From Nanometers to Angstroms
Sierra Forest and Granite Rapids are part of Intel’s roadmap that spans from 2021 to 2025 and beyond. The roadmap includes new process nodes, new transistor designs, new packaging technologies, and new foundry services.
Intel has announced that it will rename its process nodes to align with the industry standards and provide a more accurate view of its capabilities. The company will drop the nanometer-based nomenclature and use names based on performance, power, and area metrics instead. The new naming scheme will start with Intel 7 (10nm Enhanced SuperFin), which will debut later this year with the Alder Lake processors for desktops and laptops2.
The next node will be Intel 4 (7nm), which will debut in the second half of 2022 with the Meteor Lake processors for client devices and the Emerald Rapids processors for data centers. Intel 4 will use EUV (Extreme Ultraviolet) lithography for finer patterning and offer a 20% improvement in performance per watt over Intel 72.
The following node will be Intel 3 (5nm), which will debut in the second half of 2023 with the Lunar Lake processors for client devices and the Diamond Rapids processors for data centers. Intel 3 will use more EUV layers and offer an 18% improvement in performance per watt over Intel 42.
The last node in the nanometer era will be Intel 20A (2nm), which will debut in the first half of 2024 with unspecified products. Intel 20A will introduce two groundbreaking technologies: RibbonFET and PowerVia. RibbonFET is Intel’s first new transistor design since FinFET arrived a decade ago. It uses gate-all-around structures that wrap around nanoscale ribbons of silicon, enabling higher drive current and lower leakage. PowerVia is a new backside power delivery technique that eliminates the need for power routing on the front side of the wafer, reducing parasitic resistance and improving performance2.
The next node in the angstrom era will be Intel 18A (1.8nm), which will debut in 2025 with unspecified products. Intel 18A will use refinements of RibbonFET and PowerVia, as well as next-generation EUV with high numerical aperture (NA) lenses. Intel claims that it will be the first company to receive a high NA EUV machine from ASML, the leading supplier of lithography equipment, for its 18A development2.
Beyond 2025, Intel plans to continue its innovation in process and packaging technologies, aiming to retake its leadership position in the semiconductor industry. The company has also announced that it will expand its foundry services to offer its process nodes to other chipmakers, including Qualcomm and Amazon Web Services. Intel hopes that by opening up its technologies to external customers, it will be able to accelerate its learning curve and improve its competitiveness2.
Intel is facing fierce competition from rivals such as AMD, Nvidia, and Apple, as well as emerging threats from Arm-based chipmakers such as Samsung and Ampere. The company has suffered from delays and setbacks in its process technology development, losing its edge over the leading foundries such as TSMC and Samsung. However, Intel is not giving up on its vision of being the leader in every segment of the chip market. The company has unveiled an aggressive roadmap that shows its commitment to innovation and excellence in process, architecture, and packaging. Sierra Forest is one of the products that exemplifies Intel’s strategy of offering differentiated solutions for diverse workloads and customer needs. With up to 144 cores, Sierra Forest will be a formidable contender in the cloud and high-density computing space, challenging AMD’s EPYC Bergamo and Ampere’s Arm-based server chips. Intel’s roadmap is built on the foundation of an unmatched heritage of process technology innovation. The company aims to deliver a new node every year, from nanometers to angstroms, with new transistor designs and packaging technologies. Intel also plans to leverage its foundry services to collaborate with other chipmakers and accelerate its progress. Intel’s roadmap is ambitious and bold, but also realistic and achievable. The company has the resources, talent, and experience to execute on its vision and reclaim its crown in the semiconductor industry.