Intel's Roadmap: A Glimpse into Meteor Lake, Lunar Lake, and Arrow Lake CPUs

Intels future CPU releases, including Meteor Lake, Lunar Lake, and Arrow Lake, hold promise but raise questions about their nodes and manufacturing sources, leaving the chip giants leadership aspirations uncertain.

In the world of computing, anticipation is building for Intel's forthcoming releases. While we await the arrival of Intel's next-gen Meteor Lake CPUs on the retail scene, there's a prevailing expectation that these chips will primarily find their home in laptops, leaving desktop users with a minor refresh in the form of the existing Raptor Lake chips. However, Intel has recently unveiled another generation of CPUs known as Lunar Lake, which is generating quite a buzz.

As it currently stands, Lunar Lake is positioned at least three generations ahead, or four if we factor in the Raptor Lake refresh. After Meteor Lake and the Raptor Lake refresh, the next substantial update for desktops will be Arrow Lake. Only after Arrow Lake's release will Lunar Lake make its debut.

One might question the relevance of Lunar Lake at this point and suggest focusing on the imminent launches of Meteor Lake and Arrow Lake before getting too excited about Lunar Lake. However, what makes Lunar Lake noteworthy is that Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger showcased it not only booting into Windows but also handling real workloads. Furthermore, according to Intel's publicly disclosed roadmaps, Lunar Lake is built on Intel's 18A process technology. This is remarkable because it's three nodes beyond Intel's current state-of-the-art CPUs, which rely on the Intel 7 node. Prior to the arrival of Intel 18A, we will see Meteor Lake on Intel 4 and Arrow Lake on Intel 20A.

Gelsinger's demonstration of Lunar Lake included running several AI-related workloads during the recent Intel Innovation 2023 conference. These workloads encompassed an AI-powered music generation tool called Riffusion and the more familiar text-to-image Stable Diffusion tool. These early glimpses of Lunar Lake indicate that it is shaping up impressively.

However, there are some caveats to consider. First, Intel's counting of nodes is somewhat questionable since 18A is essentially a derivative of 20A. The more critical point is that Lunar Lake is listed as being based on both Intel 18A and an undisclosed external node, most likely a TSMC node. In essence, the Lunar Lake chip demonstrated might not have included any Intel-made silicon. Notably, Gelsinger didn't provide any information about the silicon used in the Lunar Lake demo chip.

Like Meteor Lake and Arrow Lake, Lunar Lake will employ a chiplet design. It's highly probable that some of Lunar Lake's chiplets will be manufactured by TSMC. There are even rumors suggesting that most configurations of Arrow Lake desktop CPUs, scheduled for release next year, will be entirely TSMC-based.

Additionally, Intel has indicated that it won't commence "risk" production of its 18A node until the first quarter of the following year. This makes it improbable that Intel used very early test 18A silicon for the Lunar Lake demo. While it's conceivable that Intel may have altered its roadmap and shifted Lunar Lake to 20A, whether using TSMC silicon or 20A silicon, the demo doesn't shed light on the status of Intel's 18A node.

In summary, the situation surrounding Intel's ambitious goal to regain leadership in chip production by 2025 remains somewhat unclear. Thus far, consumers have not seen any chips for sale beyond those based on Intel 7, which is essentially a rebranding of its 10nm technology. It's evident that Intel needs to transition from presenting roadmaps and demos to delivering tangible progress, and time is of the essence.

Intel has recently announced that Meteor Lake is set to launch on December 14th, barely squeezing into the year 2023. With Arrow Lake and Lunar Lake on the horizon, Intel must move swiftly to demonstrate its commitment to technological advancement and to meet the expectations of its user base.

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