Intel job posting hints at major overhaul to the processor core

Intel has hired some top talent and is looking for more, raising speculation that it is going to redesign its Core-branded CPU architecture.

Intel job posting hints at major overhaul to the processor core
Martyn Williams

A job listing on Intel’s official webpage for a senior CPU micro-architect and designer to build a revolutionary microprocessor core has fueled speculation that the company is finally going to redesign its Core-branded CPU architecture after more than 12 years.

Intel introduced the Core architecture in 2006, and that was an iteration of the P6 microarchitecture first introduced with the Pentium Pro in 1995. So, in some ways, Intel in 2018 is running on a 1995 design. Even though its tick/tock model called for a new microarchitecture every other year, the new architecture was, in fact, just a tweak of the old one and not a clean sheet design.

The job is based in the Intel's Hillsboro, Oregon, facility, where all of the major development work is done. It initially said “join the Ocean Cove team to deliver Intel’s next-generation core design in Hillsboro, Oregon.” That entry has since been removed from the posting.

Intel has been using codenames that end with Cove on their upcoming Core designs for future chips. So far, it has announced Ice Lake, Tiger Lake, and Alder Lake, which means Ocean Cove will be used in processors that will arrive after Alder Lake generation. So, we likely won’t see them until 2020 or 2021.

It's time for Intel to rethink the Core architecture

While not confirmed that Ocean Cove will be a replacement for the Core architecture, Intel has reached the end of the line with that design and needs to rearchitect its CPUs, said Jim McGregor, president of Tirias Research.

“They need to take a step back and rethink everything. Intel didn’t have to do that when AMD was on the ropes. For its part, AMD looked at every architecture and picked the best ideas from them. Prior to Zen, they always went down the road of 'we could do that but we don’t have to, we’ll just make a few simple improvements.' Intel’s in that boat now. They have to rethink things,” he said.

There are significant changes in computer workloads now, he noted. It’s not so much running native apps but online interaction. Servers are more throughput-centric than compute-centric, so that will drive a lot of change in PC architectures going forward.

What’s really interesting here is that just a few days before, Intel hired CPU architect Jim Keller, who brought AMD back to life with the Zen microarchitecture and also worked at Apple on its A4 and A5 smartphone processors. Keller, a serial job jumper, had left AMD in 2016 to join Tesla.

But if he were hired to lead the Ocean Cove team, which would be logical, then why run the ad? It seems Keller will work on something else.

Intel has been on a hiring spree of late, bringing in a lot of senior-level outsiders, something it was not known for. Intel had been a company of lifers, promoting people up the food chain and who had never worked anywhere else.

But now it has Keller, and it recently nabbed the vice president of AMD’s Radeon Technologies Group, Raja Koduri, and their marketing head, Chris Hook. McGregor estimates Intel has hired at least 15 top executives in recent months, all reporting directly to CEO Brian Krzanich.

“They are going to have a significant influence on not only future architectures, but the future of Intel,” he said.

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