As some of my readers are aware, I regularly scan the job boards of many of the companies I cover to try to glean some insights into what those companies are working on. Knowing what a company is hiring aggressively to work on can help give investors a better sense of where the company is putting its money.
In perusing microprocessor giant Intel's (INTC) job boards, I found what, on the surface, is a pretty standard listing for a core IP design engineer. Intel builds processors, and key to any processor is the central processing unit (CPU) core -- the main brain that runs computer programs -- so it makes sense that Intel would be hiring people to work on future CPU cores.
The interesting thing about the listing is what it had to say about what the new hire would presumably be working on. Let's take a closer look.
A "revolutionary" processor in the works
In the listing, Intel writes the following (emphasis added):
Our goal: to build a revolutionary microprocessor core to power the next decade of computing and create experiences we have yet to dream up. We're looking for micro-architecture, logic design, and high-speed circuit design talent to help us reinvent the Core IP.
Although this might be the standard marketing hype that companies use to try to attract top talent -- after all, no sharp computer or electrical engineer is going to want to work on boring projects -- I think this is probably worth reading into.
The position itself is in Hillsboro, Oregon, which is where Intel's Converged Core Development Organization is located -- one of Intel's two primary processor core development sites. The other is in Haifa, Israel.
The location suggests to me that what Intel is describing here isn't some "moon shot" experimental project, but instead something that the company hopes to commercialize.
Is a "revolutionary" processor needed?
One of the common complaints of Intel's execution is that the company's advances in processor core performance haven't been particularly large over the past several years -- incremental boosts in performance year after year.
To put this into perspective, Intel's latest Kaby Lake processor delivers roughly 20%-30% better performance per clock than the company's Sandy Bridge processor, released all the way back in early 2011.
Now, to Intel's credit, the company has made substantial gains in power efficiency and power management in its processor cores, and the silicon implementations thereof, to allow them to fit a lot of performance into very tight power envelopes.
Those efficiency gains in chip design, aided by advances in manufacturing technology and integration of other components around the processor cores, have allowed Intel to solidly improve the performance levels delivered in power-constrained devices, such as notebooks and data centers.
However, there are segments of Intel's market in which it hasn't been able to push performance up much -- namely, high-performance notebooks and desktop computers, segments that don't benefit as much from nifty power management features.
What Intel might be looking to do with its future Core processors -- should it "succeed" in "reinventing" the Core IP -- is to try to deliver bigger boosts in performance while keeping power consumption in check.
When will we see it?
Don't hold your breath on seeing this "revolutionary" new processor core anytime soon. It takes a long time to develop and validate processor cores, and even longer before those cores are integrated into shipping products.
In late 2017 or early 2018, Intel's product line is expected to use processor cores similar, if not identical, to the ones used in today's seventh-generation Core processors. In late 2018 or early 2019, Intel is expected to roll out a new architecture known as Ice Lake, but it's not clear how large of a departure from the current Skylake, Kaby Lake, and Coffee Lake cores Ice Lake will be.
Intel might shed some light on its future product development strategy at its investor meeting next month, but considering how close to the vest Intel has played things over the past several years, I'm not terribly optimistic about that.