Explaining Intel Core Ultra: Advantages and Disadvantages

Explaining Intel Core Ultra: Advantages and Disadvantages

Intel Corporation announced in June 2023 that it would rebrand its Intel Core line of processors in line with the launching of its Meteor Lake architecture and for more streamlined marketing communications. The company will change the naming convention that was first introduced in 2008. For example, instead of the Intel Core i3 and Intel Core i5 naming, new processors will be rebranded as Intel Core 3 and Intel Core 5. This announcement also came with the introduction of the new Intel Coe Ultra line that was launched on 14 December 2023.

Pros: Advantages of Intel Core Ultra and Notable Features

The Intel Core Ultra is based on the 14th-generation Raptor Lake processor family from Intel and represents the 1st-generation Meteor Lake. There are three sub-brands of processors under this product line. These are the Intel Core Ultra 5, the Intel Core Ultra 7, and the Intel Core Ultra 9. These processors were manufactured using the Intel 4 process that was based on the 5nm process node of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing or TSMC.

It is also important to note that the Intel Core Ultra is positioned as a brand of premium mobile processors for thin laptops and some desktops. The 5nm process node and heterogenous computing or hybrid architecture allow better battery performance. These processors are also designed with artificial intelligence in mind with native support for generative AI applications and AI inferences. Below are its advantages and notable features:

1. Hybrid Processor Architecture

One of the notable features of Intel Core Ultra is its hybrid processor architecture that is similar to other Intel Core processors under the 13th-generation and 14th-generation Raptor Lake. This means that the CPU is based on three sets of cores. These are the performance cores for handling resource-demanding tasks and efficient cores and low power efficient cores for a more efficient power draw. This balances performance and power consumption or enables switching between the three depending on the tasks on hand or use cases.

2. Multicore and Multithreaded

Another selling point of this product line is its higher core count and thread number. Take note that even the entry-level Ultra Core 5 125U has 12 cores and 14 threads. The most premium Core Ultra 9 has 16 cores and 22 threads. These make them suitable for multitasking and for use cases that require a balance between high computational processes and intensive hardware or input-output operations. All three sets of cores support proprietary Intel technologies such as Intel Turbo Boost Max and Intel Hyper-Threading.

3. Integrated Graphics Processors

These processors also come equipped with integrated graphics processing units. The most basic ones are equipped with either an Intel Iris Xe or Intel UHD graphics processors while the more premium ones come with the newer integrated Intel Arc graphics processors. These integrated graphics processors are multi-core and support hardware-based ray tracing. There is also support for 4K UHD and up to 8K UHD display output. These graphics processors can also handle native H.264, H.265, and AV1 encoding and decoding.

4. Artificial Intelligence Acceleration

Another advantage of Intel Core Ultra is the built-in artificial intelligence accelerators. There is a dedicated neural processing unit called Intel AI Boost for native or hardware-based acceleration of artificial intelligence tasks. Furthermore, aside from this AI accelerator, it is also interesting to note that the central processing units and integrated graphics processing units are each equipped with Intel Deep Learning Boost for the native acceleration of machine learning and deep learning inference performance using low-precision arithmetic.

5. Multi-Chip Module Architecture

The Intel Core Ultra is also a multi-chip module. This means that it is an electronic assembly of different components that includes a central processing unit, an integrated graphics processor, and a dedicated neural processing unit. Furthermore, apart from these processing units, it also has a system-on-a-chip design that includes components for input-output hardware operations such as Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7, Bluetooth 5, Intel DisplayPort 2.1, HDMI 2.1, Thunderbolt 5.0, PCI Express 5.0, and USB 2.0 and USB 30.0 via USB-C.

Cons: Disadvantages of Intel Core Ultra and Main Issues

It is important to underscore the fact that the entire Intel Core Ultra product line was developed and marketed primarily for thin and premium laptops. This means that one of its disadvantages is accessibility. They are more expensive than the regular Intel Core processors and might not be suitable for all consumers due to their advanced or dedicated features and higher price points. There is a specific market segment for processors under this product line.

The naming conventions can also be confusing. This has always been true for Intel. Remember that the company rebranded the entire Inter Core brand to streamline its branding and marketing. However, following the introduction of the Intel Core Ultra product line, some consumers might confuse it with the regular Intel Core line. The naming schemes for the processors still follow the same alphanumeric conventions. Below are the more specific disadvantages:

1. Processing Capabilities Variations

One of the main disadvantages of Intel Core Ultra is that its capabilities and use cases are not the same across its different processor variants. The Ultra Core 9 processors are recommended for casual on-the-go PC gaming and are better suited for AI-enhanced video editing on top of multitasking capabilities and native support for accelerating AI inference processes. The Ultra Core 7 and Ultra Core 5 are not recommended for both PC gaming and AI-enhanced video editing due to their inferior integrated graphics processors.

2. Requires Discrete Graphics Processor

The integrated graphics processors in these processors are capable of average to above-average tasks. However, for more advanced and complex graphical requirements, such as in the case of triple-A gaming and extensive video editing, the capabilities of these processors would not be enough and would not be maximized without a discrete graphics processor. The problem is that these processors are designed and marketed for thin laptops that cannot be fitted with a decent and separate graphics processing unit or graphics card.

3. Limited Number of Performance Cores

Another possible disadvantage of the Intel Core Ultra is that there is a limited number of cores for performance-oriented processes compared to the regular Intel Core product line. Take note that the Core Ultra 5 125H has four performance cores compared to the six performance cores of Intel Core i5-14600K. The Core Ultra 9 185H has six performance cores compared to the eight performance cores of the Intel Core i9-14900K. The rest of the cores of the Core Ultra line are divided between efficient-cores and low power efficient-cores.

4. Possible Multithreading Limitations

It is also worth mentioning that the regular Intel Core line tends to have processors with more thread count than the Intel Core Ultra line. This translates to possible multithreading limitations. Adding to this is the limited number of performance cores in Core Ultra processors despite having a higher number of total cores. Hence, to explain further, the threads of Core Ultra processors are concentrated on their more dominant efficient-cores and low power efficient-cores. This means limited high-performance multithreading capabilities.

5. Expensive Line of Intel Processors

Remember that the entire Intel Core Ultra product line sits on top of the overall processor lineup of Intel for the consumer market segment. They are more expensive than the regular Intel Core product line. The high price tag comes from both the advanced integrated graphics processor and the dedicated neural processing unit AI accelerator. However, when it comes to raw performance in consideration of price, most consumers are better off purchasing or using a computer powered by a regular Intel Core processor. The same is true for PC gaming.

Takeaways: Advantages and Disadvantages of Intel Core Ultra

The main advantages of Intel Core Ultra revolve around its new architectures or chip design that takes into consideration native artificial intelligence acceleration. The processors under this line are built to handle the expanding practical applications of AI in personal computers through their dedicated neural processing units on top of AI engines in their CPUs and integrated GPUs. The product line also strikes a balance between performance and efficient power consumption. This makes them suitable for thin laptops. However, because of their higher price points, in addition to some possible performance issues, most consumers are better off purchasing a regular Intel Core processor that falls within their budget and performance requirements.