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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  • DanNeely - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    If it makes you feel any better; reports elsewhere are that GT3 will be mobile only, because desktops don't have the power/size constraints driving the need for premium IGPs.

    Intel's not IGP CPUs are the E series parts; unfortunately they've failed to execute on the enthusiast side in terms of price/launch date leaving them as mostly server parts.

    There just aren't enough of us to justify Intel adding another die design for their mass market socket that doesn't have an IGP at all instead of just letting us turn it off and use the extra TDP headroom for more time at boost speeds.
  • Omoronovo - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I'm somewhat in disagreement with you both.

    Whilst I share a concern that Intel is no longer focusing on raw performance improvements in the purely desktop space, they are still delivering incremental updates to the architecture that will benefit all current software (even if only marginally). However, processor performance has been reaching more and more diminishing returns in recent years, namely that software is simply not able to take advantage of multiple cores and improved performance because of (primarily) locks and complexity in creating multi-threaded applications.

    As such, Intel has been focusing on that area - to make it easier for software and software developers to take advantage of the performance that exists *now* rather than brute forcing the issue by simply delivering more raw performance (much of which will be wasted/remain idle due to current software constraints).

    With this, Intel has been able to focus on keeping performance high whilst subsequently dropping power usage substantially - the fact the iGPU is oftentimes not being used in a desktop environment does not invalidate it's utility - QuickSync is a prime example of where the gpu can accelerate certain types of processing, and if more software takes advantage of this we should see even more gains in future.

    For the last 6 years or so, Intel has shown that it knows what demands will be placed on future computing hardware, and they seem convinced that this is the way to go. We might not be there yet, but technologies like C++AMP, OpenCL and such make me hopeful that this will change in a few years.
  • cmrx64 - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I solved this problem by buying an Ivy Bridge Xeon (specifically, an E3-1230v2). No GPU, lower power consumption than the equivalent i5/i7, has hyperthreading, performs really good, and a lot cheaper than an i7.

    If you don't care about the GPU, look to the Xeon line.
  • dishayu - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Woah! I did not even think of that. That is VERY compelling but i can't do without unlocked multiplier, so there is no perfect processor for me still :( Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Or just go with a Socket 2011 Core i7 3930K like I have and do a little bit of undervolting and has no IGP's.

    I think the reason why the Desktop space has seen decreasing/stagnant sales is simply because allot of people see no need to upgrade.

    A Core 2 Quad Q6600 @ 3.6ghz, with a decent chunk of Ram and a decent graphics card is actually fairly capable of running almost every game at maximum settings.

    Heck I know people who are perfectly happy sitting with a Pentium 4 for basic web use.

    I think a change needs to happen where software catches up with hardware to give people a reason to upgrade and drive sales which might reinvigorate Intel and AMD to innovate.

    Windows 8 and the next generation consoles might actually help in that regard.
  • De_Com - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Well said Steve. Couldn't agree with you more.

    I'm running a Core 2 Extreme QX6850 at 3.4ghz, 1066Mhz DDR2 Ram and a GTX295 and it still rocks all the newest games at or close to max settings.

    Will have this system 4 years this November.(all except the GTX295, which was upgraded from a 9800 GX2), even now I'm thinking that was a waste of cash.

    I've gone to upgrade at least twice each year, but can't justify it.

    The only place I'd see returns is in the power costs, but hey, whats a few extra cents.....
    The system meets my needs, and forking out for a similar system today would cost around the €1800 mark.

    Until the software can better utilize the components I'm holding out until Summer 2013, that'll be over 4 years I've gotten out of this system. Up until 2008 I slavishly upgraded every year or 2.
  • lukarak - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    This (late) December, i will have had my i7 for 4 years, and i have not seen a single reason to upgrade. The GPU is 2.5 years old (GTX480, was 280 before that).

    A x58 motherboard has 6 memory slots, and now houses 24 GB of ram for virtual machines, which can go 48 GB for a reasonable price.

    I just don't see the need to do anything more, and this will probably fail from old age before i would need a drastically faster machine.
  • xaml - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    "but hey, whats a few extra cents....."

    Sure, it's probably not your generation to take the hit, having to deal with the consequences of energy excesses.
  • DanNeely - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Is that actually an IGPless chip, or just a standard LGA1155 quadcore chip with a disabled IGP. Reply
  • csroc - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I don't mind power savings, the few times my system is idle it could certainly benefit but overall it would mean reduced consumption even under load. My system just doesn't spend enough time in idle with my Q9450.

    Ultimately it does seem as though the software demand for faster CPU hardware has slowed and between that and the lack of real competition, so has the development.

    If it weren't for the fact that I need more RAM or wanted faster photo processing (and may start doing some video) I'd probably keep what I've got a bit longer. My Q9450 hasn't held me back from playing any games yet. The 20% OC I've been running doesn't hurt but ultimately a lot of things just aren't CPU limited anymore.

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