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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  • vFunct - Sunday, October 07, 2012 - link

    Yes, Apple products are always ahead of compromised Android products.

    Android devices are badly engineered, like incorporating LTE when the battery can't handle it, for example. Apple doesn't compromise on their design.
    Reply
  • Kepe - Monday, October 08, 2012 - link

    How much does Apple pay you for a comment praising them? Reply
  • Magik_Breezy - Sunday, October 14, 2012 - link

    Probably real customer support without paying an extra $200 Reply
  • Spunjji - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    Yawn. Reply
  • Spunjji - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    The bit that aggravates me the most is that even with this lavishing of review pages, the actual comparison of Apple products to competitors tends to lack (particularly with the Macbook article). This is understandable under some circumstances (iPhone battery life - new test, small selection of data points) but not for others. Reply
  • Arbee - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I'm not really seeing any of that. AT's Android and Windows Phone reviews are just as in-depth and complementary where due as their Apple ones. AFAIK both Anand's and Brian's daily-driver phones aren't iPhones, even. They care about the tech, not who it comes from. It just happens that Apple is often the original source of new and interesting things in that space. At this exact moment they're the only people shipping something new and interesting. When the Nokia 920 launches, I'm confident Anand and Brian will be ready with a 15+ page review and discussion of anything novel on the podcast, and when Winter CES brings us Tegra 4 and other Android news, I expect to see eye-glazing levels of detail here at AT.

    (As an aside, I smiled at how closely DPReview's discussion of the alleged "purple haze" problem tracked Brian's rant on the podcast - clearly both writers know what they're talking about, which can be a rare quantity in tech journalism).
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    I think Anand's daily driver is an iPhone, but he frequently carries the latest Android/WP device on the side. Brian and myself end up daily driving like a half dozen phones a month, depending on what shows up at our doorstep. Reply
  • Zink - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    "iPad 3 form factor" was used because all of the other tablets have 25Wh batteries and draw about 5W max. The A5X iPad and it's giant 42.5Wh battery on the other hand can put out over 10W of heat which is the power envelope where Intel might target a Haswell SOC. Reply
  • amdwilliam1985 - Monday, October 08, 2012 - link

    I totally agree with you on the Apple part. That's the biggest pullback on reading Anand writings. Too much Apple praising.

    I used to be an Apple fan, but recently they're becoming the biggest jerks in the technology industry. The human/ethical part of in me hates them so much, that I won't buy anything that has a Apple logo on it.

    I gave away my iPad 2, switched to Samsung Galaxy S phones, and using my HP windows 7 laptop over the 2011 MBA.

    -say NO to bully, say NO to Apple.
    Reply
  • xaml - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    Number of problems solved with this approach: NO. Reply

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