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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  • zwillx - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Apple. Or are you joking. I personally hate Apple and have since the original iMac but their engineering is top notch when it comes to getting ideal performance from silicon to user. So.. guessing that's the reference. Reply
  • Silma - Monday, October 08, 2012 - link

    A fine read, technically very comprehensive, but still overly melodramatic.

    While it is true that it is crucial for Intel to step a foot in the byod market some things still hold true:
    - In value and profit the PC processor market is much bigger than the byod processor market and will stay so for years because PCs, especially business PCs won't disappear anytime soon.
    - Nobody can touch Intel in this market, it has been proved for decades. Not AMD at the height of its success, not mighty IBM, not Sun, nobody.
    - Contrary to what you say Intel has a definitive production advantage and there are very few fabs able to compete. Note that Apple is incapable of producing processors, it is dependent on external manufacturers.
    - What Apple does with its processor is interesting business wise for its iPods/Pads/Phones, but Apple doesn't have the research power Intel and others have in the chip space and I can't see how it will innovate better than Intel and other competitors.
    - Intel is aware of its shortcomings, is pushing tremendously in the right direction. A competitor that doesn't rest on its laurels is a mighty threat, ARM beware.
    - If Apple stops using Intel processors, it will of course wipe a few hundred millions of Intel's turnover but won't be anything remotely dangerous for Intel
    - It remains to be seen that Apple users will accept yet another platform change.
    - It remains to be seen that it would make sense business-wise for Apple
    - I am quite sure many phone companies will be open about renewed chip competition and not letting a single platform become too powerful.

    All in all it seems to me Intel is as dangerous as ever, executing very well in its core business and heading towards great things in the phone/pad space.
    Reply
  • johnsmith9875 - Thursday, October 11, 2012 - link

    Why couldn't they at least stick to LGA2011? Reply
  • defiler99 - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    One of the best articles on Anandtech in some time. This is great original tech industry reporting. Reply
  • Gc - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    Congratulations, an intel cpu engineer wrote around 27 Dec 2012:

    "... Anandtech's latest Haswell preview is also excellent; missing some key puzzle pieces to complete the picture and answer some open questions or correct some details but otherwise great. ..."

    http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/15iaet/iama_...
    Reply
  • xaml - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    This was first posted here a few handfuls of pages back as a comment by user "telephone". ^^ Reply
  • yhselp - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    A few questions.

    Is there going to be a replacement (37W) for the current IVB 35W quad-core part? Quite a few designs are now dependable on this, lower power quad-core option - Sony S-series and Razer Blade, to name a few.

    When can we expect all mobile CPUs (except maybe for the extreme series) to fall into the 10W-20W range? In three years' time and 10nm?

    The decision to not include GT3 with desktop parts is very disappointing. A 35/45W low-voltage part with GT3 would make for an excellent HTPC build, among other things. Is there a chance Intel change their mind and start shipping GT3 desktop parts at some point?
    Reply

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