When I first started writing about x86 CPUs Intel was on the verge of entering the enterprise space with its processors. At the time, Xeon was a new brand, unproven in the market. But it highlighted a key change in Intel's strategy for dominance: leverage consumer microprocessor sales to help support your fabs while making huge margins on lower volume, enterprise parts. In other words, get your volume from the mainstream but make your money in the enterprise. Intel managed to double dip and make money on both ends, it just made substantially more in servers.

Today Intel's magic formula is being threatened. Within 8 years many expect all mainstream computing to move to smartphones, or whatever other ultra portable form factor computing device we're carrying around at that point. To put it in perspective, you'll be able to get something faster than an Ivy Bridge Ultrabook or MacBook Air, in something the size of your smartphone, in fewer than 8 years. The problem from Intel's perspective is that it has no foothold in the smartphone market. Although Medfield is finally shipping, the vast majority of smartphones sold feature ARM based SoCs. If all mainstream client computing moves to smartphones, and Intel doesn't take a dominant portion of the smartphone market, it will be left in the difficult position of having to support fabs that no longer run at the same capacity levels they once did. Without the volume it would become difficult to continue to support the fab business. And without the mainstream volume driving the fabs it would be difficult to continue to support the enterprise business. Intel wouldn't go away, but Wall Street wouldn't be happy. There's a good reason investors have been reaching out to any and everyone to try and get a handle on what is going to happen in the Intel v ARM race.

To make matters worse, there's trouble in paradise. When Apple dropped PowerPC for Intel's architectures back in 2005 I thought the move made tremendous sense. Intel needed a partner that was willing to push the envelope rather than remain content with the status quo. The results of that partnership have been tremendous for both parties. Apple moved aggressively into ultraportables with the MacBook Air, aided by Intel accelerating its small form factor chip packaging roadmap and delivering specially binned low leakage parts. On the flip side, Intel had a very important customer that pushed it to do much better in the graphics department. If you think the current crop of Intel processor graphics aren't enough, you should've seen what Intel originally planned to bring to market prior to receiving feedback from Apple and others. What once was the perfect relationship, is now on rocky ground.

The A6 SoC in Apple's iPhone 5 features the company's first internally designed CPU core. When one of your best customers is dabbling in building CPUs of its own, there's reason to worry. In fact, Apple already makes the bulk of its revenues from ARM based devices. In many ways Apple has been a leading indicator for where the rest of the PC industry is going (shipping SSDs by default, moving to ultra portables as mainstream computers, etc...). There's even more reason to worry if the post-Steve Apple/Intel relationship has fallen on tough times. While I don't share Charlie's view of Apple dropping Intel as being a done deal, I know there's truth behind his words. Intel's Ultrabook push, the close partnership with Acer and working closely with other, non-Apple OEMs is all very deliberate. Intel is always afraid of customers getting too powerful and with Apple, the words too powerful don't even begin to describe it.

What does all of this have to do with Haswell? As I mentioned earlier, Intel has an ARM problem and Apple plays a major role in that ARM problem. Atom was originally developed not to deal with ARM but to usher in a new type of ultra mobile device. That obviously didn't happen. UMPCs failed, netbooks were a temporary distraction (albeit profitable for Intel) and a new generation of smartphones and tablets became the new face of mobile computing. While Atom will continue to play in the ultra mobile space, Haswell marks the beginning of something new. Rather than send its second string player into battle, Intel is starting to prep its star for ultra mobile work.

Haswell is so much more than just another new microprocessor architecture from Intel. For years Intel has enjoyed a wonderful position in the market. With its long term viability threatened, Haswell is the first step of a long term solution to the ARM problem. While Atom was the first "fast-enough" x86 micro-architecture from Intel, Haswell takes a different approach to the problem. Rather than working from the bottom up, Haswell is Intel's attempt to take its best micro-architecture and drive power as low as possible.

Platform Retargeting & Platform Power
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  • tipoo - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Speaking of the EUs, is the GT3 part twice as fast as the HD4000 with or without the eDRAM cache? The article seems to imply with, but then what is the performance without it if they've doubled the EUs? Doesn't it seem more likely they doubled performance without the cache, and the cache doubles it beyond that? Reply
  • telephone - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Anand, thanks for the insights. We all enjoyed it very much and look forward to getting the real thing into your labs.

    To clarify some questions:
    As for the design team philosophy, the Hillsboro design team continually tries to outdo the Haifa design team and vice versa. Both teams have access to the other teams' design collateral, as we co-own the tick-tock model.

    Next, the reasons for the "3" clock domains are too complicated (and confidential) to go into. Since designing for "2" clock domains is much simpler, the reason is not that we enjoy pain and misery. Suffice to say, that you are missing a very big piece of the puzzle and accurate conclusions as to why this was done cannot be drawn from the information you have. And the number of clock domains is in quotes because those are not accurate anyhow.

    Sincerely,
    Someone from the Hillsboro Design Team
    Reply
  • Stahn Aileron - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I'm curious as to whether Intel has enough interest to drive the Atom design low enough to hit ARM power level (like Medfield) and integrate an Atom core into a Core CPU design. nVidia introduced a heterogeneous CPU in their Tegra 3 SoC. (Two different ARM core types in the CPU block). From all the stuff I've seen about Intel over the past half decade, I'm pretty sure they have the resources to pull that off. They have top-notch designers and engineers with the basic tech and designs need to start R&D on that, I think.

    On the other hand, if they really are trying to force a Core design in Atom territory... Well, hell ya ^_~ Still, I can't really see Core hitting the sub-1W power levels they've been able to do with Atom (Medfield). I figure using an Atom core for basic S0ix functions would be a little more power efficient than using a Core design, but I'm no silicon engineer. Intel would know about that far better than me.
    Reply
  • jigglywiggly - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    wish the onboard gpu was better =/
    woula been nice for a laptop
    Reply
  • tipoo - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    2x the HD4000 is pretty decent for integrated. I wonder if that's 2x with or without the eDRAM cache though. Reply
  • ElvenLemming - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    It's been known for a while that Haswell was only going to have a moderate improvement in the iGPU and the next big overhaul would be coming with Broadwell. Reply
  • csroc - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    This is impressive, it might convince me it's time for a new laptop. On the other hand I also need to build a new desktop workstation and Haswell so far hasn't impressed me in that space. Reply
  • mayankleoboy1 - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Is Intel sacrificing Desktop CPU performance to make an architecture that is geared to the mobile space ? Reply
  • csroc - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    It feels that way to me. Mobile performance seems to be their big concern now, that and improving the GPU. Two things I generally can't be bothered to care about when I'm looking to build a new workstation. I suspect I'll build an Ivy Bridge system because I could use it now and see nothing worth getting excited about. Reply
  • dishayu - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I fully share your sentiment. TO be very crude, i don't mind at all, paying for power imporvements, because it will pay back for itself in the long term (by consuming less power AND needing lesser cooling). But i DO mind very much, paying for 40 EUs of GPU on my desktop build which i will not use even for a second. Me, you and many others do not care about on-die graphics and Intel should realize that.

    I don't know why intel can't offer us both GPU and GPU-less options, the way they did with motherboards back in the days? P965 had no graphics, G965 did. Pretty sure it's technologically not an issue.
    Reply

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