Here is why you should be excited and wait for Project Athena Laptops

Intel announced in June that it would be opening labs across the world for its Project Athena development via TheVerge Intel plans to open three of such labs in Taipei, Taiwan; Shanghai, China; and Folsom, California. Project Athena aims to create thinner laptops with long real-world battery life and support for the next-generation 5G wireless broadband with its first laptops expected to debut later this year.

Project Athena
Much like the Intel-developed “ultrabook Project” which paved the way for some great windows laptops today like the Dell XPS line, LG Gram, etc, Project Athena is motivated by the lack of windows laptops to compete with Apple’s MacBook line ups in terms of battery life.

The LG Gram has remarkable battery life reaching up to 23hrs but that is only on paper. The Verge’s Sean Hollister pointed out that LG could only achieve the stipulated 23.6hrs of battery life because they used a decade-old benchmark tool which assumes a laptop use scenario without Wi-Fi and with the screen set to very low brightness which does not reflect or come close to a real-world use case. Today, most manufacturers have at least upgraded to MobileMark 2014, so they’re only five years out of date.

Intel plans to run tests on PC components and parts to benchmark validate and certify these parts for Project Athena compatibility. These components will range from solid-state drives to wireless parts to ensure that they meet the requirements for Project Athena. Once certified, they will be made available to manufacturers, like Dell, HP, and Lenovo, for consideration within their own product designs.

Should you be excited for project Athena

Project Athena may push harder for Intel’s first 10nm Ice lake processors which Intel showed at CES 2019. Intel has demonstrated its first Ice Lake 10nm processor based on its new Sunny Cove microarchitecture. Intel is building in Thunderbolt 3, Wi-Fi 6, and DL Boost (deep learning boost) into these Ice Lake chips for laptops and PCs to take advantage of.

Intel’s Sunny Cove architecture which the Ice lake processors are built on utilizes a 10nm process which brings exciting expectations for the processor as they will far more energy efficient than their predecessors increasing the battery life to more than a day and even more so when combined with software tweaks that allow for on the fly adjustments to memory frequency and screen refresh rate. Intel says It’s already managed as much as 25 hours in some early prototypes. 

Native support for Thunderbolt 3 and wifi 6 guarantees any of Project Athena laptops to support these features. This will mean support for external GPUs for those hooked on high frame rates for gaming. It’s reported 11th-gen graphics could be far more capable than the existing “UHD” graphics Intel packs into its Coffee Lake designs, supporting 5K to 8K display. Intel itself has claimed the 11th-generation graphics will offer more than a teraflop of graphics processing power, which would put it on par with some low-level dedicated graphics cards, like the Nvidia GT 1030.

This feature will help battery performance even more on laptops without dedicated graphics cards since these cards account for substantial battery drain in laptops.

Another exciting aspect of these laptops assuming that the Ice Lake processors are used is Wifi 6. Ice Lake will have native support for Wi-Fi 6 (802.11.ax) to give devices access to the highest speed of wireless internet and local data transfers. Linus at Linus Tech Tips demonstrated the speeds of wifi 6 on the Samsung Galaxy s10. The speeds were very impressive for a mobile phone no less  608MB download and 809 upload speeds. This gives the confidence to prospect for even higher speeds on laptops. 

Though there aren’t many routers that support this feature just yet, we expect to see them roll out as demand goes up to feed the market Project Athena laptops will provide. A few WIFI 6 routers appeared at CES.

The not so exciting Project Athena route

Project Athena may also turn to Qualcomm to accomplish its goals for thinner laptop designs that accommodate longer battery life and built-in 5G support. Qualcomm is working with Microsoft to bring Windows 10 on ARM-based PCs known as Always-On PC. The platform ditches the more “power hungry” traditional Intel processors for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon solution to deliver a stated battery life of 20 hours. These are processors used in flagship phones. Early adopters of this technology include the HP Envy X2 and the Asus NovaGo built around the Snapdragon 835 which Qualcomm’s (and HP’s) claimed 20-hour battery longevity.

HP Envy x2

The Qualcomm side of things is far too much of a compromise as support for the architecture is still in its infancy. Models with this setup are janky in performance with lower processor power than the Intel processors.


Asus NovaGo

The Qualcomm laptops will come running Windows 10 S by default with the option of a one-time, free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. Though the platform is compatible with legacy Windows applications, unlike Microsoft’s prior Windows RT efforts, a common complaint among users is that emulating Windows applications on the ARM platform can be slow at times.