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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  • jwcalla - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    We'll probably see DDR4 in the ARM space before we have it on Intel.

    Maybe this should be AMD's focus of attack: if they can't compete on performance, at least try on chipset features.

    Perhaps Intel's biggest concern would be if somebody comes along with a super-efficient x86 emulator for ARM. Going forward, "legacy applications" is going to be an increasingly important selling point to prevent ARM inroads on the low end.

    Microsoft keeping their Windows ARM version locked-down is a key to that too, and likely a deference to their relationship with Intel. But Apple is less likely to similarly constrain themselves.
    Reply
  • meloz - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    >We'll probably see DDR4 in the ARM space before we have it on Intel.

    >Maybe this should be AMD's focus of attack: if they can't compete on performance, at least try on chipset features.

    The problem with DDR4 is likely going to be the price. We all know how the memory industry likes to jack up the prices whenever a new spec comes out. Remember how expensive DDr3 was when it started to replace DDR2?

    Some people joke that this transition is the only time they make any money in the RAM business, and considering the low prices of DDR3 you have to wonder.

    DDR4 might offer some performance and power advantage on release, but it will likely be more expensive and take time (12-18 months?) to offer a compelling performance / $ advantage over cheap DDR3 variants.

    If AMD is trying to position itself as 'value' brand, chaining themselves to DDR4 (before Intel's volume brings down the prices for everyone) could spell their doom.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Intel is set to launch Ivy Bridge EX on a new socket late in 2013 on a new socket. The on-die controller will likely use memory buffering similar to what Nehalem-EX and Westmere-EX use. The buffer chips may initially use DDR3 but this would allow for a trivial migration to DDR4 since the on-die controller doesn't communicate directly with the memory chips.

    Come to think of it, Intel could migration Nehalem-EX/Westmere-EX to DDR4 with a chipset upgrade. Vendors like HP put the buffer chips and memory slots on a daughter card so only that part would need replacement.
    Reply
  • rundll - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Four cores and 95 W tdp.
    What is this?
    Reply
  • meloz - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Yes this caught my eye and I would like an answer, too.

    Maybe it is one SKU with GT3 for desktop? Or maybe it is a 6 core part?

    Or maybe.....it is the mother of all overclocking processors. Muhahahahah!
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I suspect that 95W is the rated socket limit. This is similar to how Intel advertises Ivy Bridge at 77 W on the desktop but tells motherboard manufacturers to build around the higher 95 W figure.

    What is odd is that Haswell will move some of the VRM circuitry on the package which should restrict just how far off that 95W figure motherboards can deviate.
    Reply
  • meloz - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    What a great article, Anand!

    Felt so good to read a 'proper' Anandtech article after so long, instead of the usual Apple worship and cheap fillers.

    Haswell is looking very good. Would make an ideal upgrade for Sandy Bridge users. AMD is done, but thankfully Intel sees some threat from ARM so that will keep them innovating.

    I hope Intel make a sensible choice with Haswell SKUs and get away from their artifical crippling and segmentation tendencies. That's about the only thing that can ruin Haswell.
    Reply
  • Wolfpup - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Once again they bump up the number of transistors being used on their worthless video-and this time they even lower CPU performance (L3 cache) to appease their worthless video.

    Interesting article, but I guess I misunderstood previous articles...I thought Conroe through Ivy Bridge had 4 integer execution units per core? (As does Piledriver?)
    Reply
  • haukionkannel - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Good article and information that you need win 8 to fully utilize Haswell was new information to me. It will be interesting to see how much better Haswell will be with win 8 compared to win 7. Seems to be same kind of dilemma as with AMD Bulldoser/piledriver where there seems to be some kind of better performance with new OS, but how much will reamain to be seen. Reply
  • Belard - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Apple owns various CPU tech and design companies such as P.A. Semi. They can build their own CPUs (not x86 of course)...

    Apple will do what they can to take out the middleman.
    Reply

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