Apple says that only it can conjure performance and battery life magic from PCs, because the electronics giant controls both the Mac OS and its processor mate, the M1 chip.
Intel and Microsoft dispute that, naturally. Moreover, they say, they’ve just turned up their coordination to 11 to give new mobile PCs unveiled at CES last week an unprecedented leap in both battery savings and horsepower.
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Actually, you might say they’ve turned it up to 12 – that is, the Intel 12th-generation Core processors powering laptops running Microsoft Windows 11. And thanks to the two companies’ extraordinary collaboration, they contend, new laptops like the new XPS 13 Plus from Dell, HP’s Elite Dragonfly G3 and the Lenovo Yoga 9i 2-in-1 will fly with next-level speed all day on a single charge.
Of course, there’s no shortage of motivation for Intel and Microsoft to join forces these days. Their hotly competitive battle with Apple for control of the desktop has taken on a new urgency since the work-from-home wave both rekindled and rejiggered our relationships with PCs. We’re not only turning more frequently to our laptops than we did even two years ago. We’re also asking them to do very different things, like power us through back-to-back Zoom calls.
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Picking the best core for the job
There’s also a nuts-and-bolts imperative for Intel and Microsoft to better coordinate. The new 12th-generation Core architecture is radically different than its predecessors, with great potential for performance enhancements and battery life improvements.
“Twelfth-generation Intel Core represents our most significant breakthrough in x86 architecture in more than a decade,” Gregory Bryant, an executive vice president, gushed during the mobile 12th-gen core unveiling at CES just days before announcing his departure Tuesday.
Indeed, the 12th-gen Core processors are the first-ever “hybrid” x86 chips. That is, they contain two different types of cores, one class tailored for full-on performance and the other streamlined for more commonplace workloads.
Even though the everyday cores – efficient cores, in Intel parlance – are smaller and burn less energy, they can perform some tasks just as well as performance cores. So the key to big gains in overall horsepower and battery life is assigning the right cores to various jobs. And that takes extensive, real-time synchronization with Windows.
It’s much like assigning either a desk worker or an Olympic weightlifter to bring you a box of staples, and asking the other to lug a palette loaded with reams of paper. Both can do either job. But there’s clearly a better way to get these tasks accomplished.
At the heart of the 12-gen Core/Windows 11 coordination is a sliver of processor hardware called Thread Director. Thread Director, a lightning-quick AI recommendation engine, calculates the best distribution of the tasks at hand between performance and efficiency cores, and feeds it to Windows. That results in much better performance and battery life.
Thread Director won’t always recommend the same types of cores for jobs. If you’re playing a demanding multiplayer game, for example, Thread Director might suggest that Windows assign a more computing-intensive job to an efficiency core so your game can have more performance cores to help slay your opponents.
It all sounds great in theory. But the new 12-generation laptops don’t start appearing on store shelves until next month. So we’ll have to wait until then to see if two PC collaborators are, as Intel and Microsoft say, better than one.
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