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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  • DesDizzy - Sunday, October 07, 2012 - link

    I agree. This seems to be something that most people overlook when addressing the Wintel monopoly. The costs of Wintel products are high within the PC/Laptop space. The price of ARM/Apps are cheap within the Smartphone/Tab space. How do Wintel square this circle without damaging their business model? Reply
  • Krysto - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    You may not agree with Charlie, Anand, but reality seems to agree with him:


    I really don't know how you can think Apple would ever start using Intel chips in their iPads when Apple has already proven they want to make their own chips with A6.

    Also, according to Charlie, Haswell will be like 40% more expensive than IVB. Atom tablets already seem to start at like $800. So I wish Intel good luck with that. Ultrabooks and Win8 hybrids won't drop down in price any time soon.

  • Penti - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I don't know how you could fail so much in reading comprehension, Anand only said the same flying spaghetti monster-damn form factor. Nothing else. There also must be an ecosystem, but if you can run the same app on a tablet as well as a desktop on x86 with more performance then ARM why wouldn't you see vendors use it. It is a full system even capable of building itself. It's not about killing ARM. Intel still uses it, they need fairly high-performance RISC chips for stuff like baseband. They had a large markets in smart-phones before 2006 and they made the choice to sell it because they had Atom in their lineup. They didn't forget about it.

    It's Microsoft tablets that costs 500-900 dollars even on Atom, but they only need to compete with Windows RT which is totally retarded as far as corporate customers go and not the same system as 8 Pro, doesn't run the same software. An Android tablet could use a Z2460 (and coming Z2580, after that Valleyview SoC's) and build a 240 dollar tablet. There is no price difference to be had as far as hardware is concerned. Windows 8 tablets are a whole other form factor and device to begin with. Most will have keyboard and multitouch trackpad.

    He only talks about the same form factor, size and battery life here. In the Microsoft ecosystem there is really no reason to go to Windows RT powered ARM-devices which doesn't have better performance and runs no third party desktop (Win32/Full Windows SDK) software. It also lacks the same features in other areas which makes them devices instead of general computing platforms. Remember they offer both here. Hell the built in email is even worse then the one built into Android since version 3.0 or so, it's a lot worse then Third party mail-clients in Android, it's worse then mail-clients in Blackberry 10, Symbian, iOS and so on. If your replacing a desktop your not going with ARM here, not on a Windows device at least, Anand only talks about a new bread of DTR Tablets and Ultra-portables that will fit in the same form factor and battery life scenarios as ARM-tablets. Apple certainly don't need to participate here.

    Intel certainly has sales to be made if they move Haswell down to low-power Atom territory when it comes out later next year. They could be used as the only computing device you have (smartphone + hybrid tablet-pc). Replacing desktops, ARM/ATOM-tablets, media PCs for your TV (just stream with Miracast). Et cetera. ARM-devices would just be cheaper less capable devices there. But it's still different targets. Haswell still targets server (enterprise-market), desktop, notebooks with larger form-factor/power-usage, as well as more portable stuff. Atom is still for the handheld stuff you use with one hand. ARM has moved quiet fast but they have no reason to target high-performance applications or built 100W SoC's that is fast without parallel computing. Applications like high-performance routers for example still uses licensed and custom MIPS and PowerPC chips. There are plenty of markets where a full feature ARM Cortex or x86 won't work either. ARM is just moving into the multimedia-field, replacing customs architectures in TV's, displacing MIPS, PPC etc. If Apple builds a very large custom CPU-architecture compatible with ARM ISA for workstations, notebooks etc they will just be in the same position they were with PowerPC and have to compete with the high-performance chips that most can't compete with, even with much larger resources then Apple. Apple and Samsung has no reason in doing so outside handheld devices, low-power servers, consumer oriented routers, streaming media boxes which leaves plenty of room for Intel and all the rest. Plus WiFi and wireless baseband in a huge market in of it self and it doesn't matter what the application processor architecture is. Stuff like ARM has competed because you could replace previous products with it easily, thus taking some of the SoC-market away from other, but that coincides with the choice to do so.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    It's the other way around: not talking about Apple using Intel in iPads, but rather Apple ditching Intel in the MacBook Air.

    I do agree with Charlie in that there's a lot of pressure within Apple to move more designs away from Intel and to something home grown. I suspect what we'll see is the introduction of new ARM based form factors that might slowly shift revenue away from the traditional Macs rather than something as simple as dropping an Ax SoC in a MacBook Air.

    Take care,
  • A5 - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Yeah. I knew what you were getting at, but I guess it wasn't that obvious for some people :-p.

    Something like an iPad 3 with an Apple-made keyboard case + some changes in iOS would make Intel and notebook OEMs really scared.
  • tipoo - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    So pretty much the Surface tablet. The keyboard case looks amazing, can't wait to try one. Reply
  • Kevin G - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Apple is in the unique position that they could go with either platform way. They are capable of moving iOS to x86 or OS X to ARM on seemingly a whim. Their decision would be dictated not by current and chips arriving in the short term (Haswell and the Cortex A15) but rather long term road maps. Apple would be willing ditch their own CPU design if it brought a clear power, performance and process advantage from what they could do themselves. The reason why Apple manufactured an ARM chip themselves is that they couldn't get the power and performance out of SoC's from other companies.

    The message Intel wants to send to Apple is that Haswell (and then Broadwell) can compete in the ultra mobile market. Intel also knows the risk to them if Apple sticks to ARM: Apple is the dominate player in the tablet market and one of the major players in the cell phone market and pretty much the only success in the utlrabook segment. Apple's success is eating away the PC market which is Intel's bread and butter in x86 chip sales. So for the moment Intel is actively promoting Apple's competitors in the ultrabook segment and assist in 10W Ivy Bridge and 10W Haswell tablet designs.

    If Intel can't get anyone to beat Apple, they might as well join them over the long run. This would also explain Intel toying with the idea of becoming a foundry. If Intel doesn't get their x86 chips into the iPad/iPhone, they might as well manufacture the ARM chips that do. Apple is also one of the few companies who would be willing to pay a premium for Intel foundry access (and the extra ARM not x86 premium).

    So there are four scenarios that could play out in the long term: the status quo of x86 for OS X + ARM for iOS, x86 for both OS X + iOS, ARM for both OS X + iOS and ARM built by Intel for OS X + iOS.
  • Peanutsrevenge - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I will LMAO if Apple switch macs back to RISC in the next few years.
    Will be RISC, x86, RISC in the space of a decade.

    Poor Crapple users having to keep swapping their software.

    I laughed 6 ago, and I'll laugh again :D
  • Kevin G - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    But it wouldn't be the same RISC. ARM isn't PowerPC.

    And hey, Apple did go from CISC to RISC to back to CISC again for their Macs.
  • Penti - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    They hardly would want to be in the situation where they have to compete with Intel and Intel's performance again. Also their PC/Mac lineup is just so much smaller then the mobile market they have, why would they create teams of thousands of engineers (which they don't have) to create workstation processors for their mobile workstations and mac pro's? They couldn't really do that with PowerPC design despite having influence on chip architecture, they lost out in the race and just grows more dependent on other external suppliers and those Macs would loose the ability to run Boot camp'd or virtualized Windows. It's not the same x86 as it was in 2006 either.

    A switch would turn Macs into toys rather then creative and engineering tools. It would create an disadvantage with all the tools developed for x86 and if they drop high-end they might as well turn themselves into an mobile computing company and port their development tools to Windows. As it's not like they will replace all the client and server systems in the world or even aspire to.

    I don't have anything against ARM creping into desktops. But they really has no reason to segment their system into ARM or x86. It's much easier to keep the iOS vs OS X divide.

    Haswell will give you ARM or Atom (Z2760) battery life for just some hundred dollars more or so. If they can support the software better those machine will be loaded with software worth thousands of dollar per machine/user any way. Were the weaker machines simply can't run most of that. Casual users can still go with Atom if they want something weaker/cheaper or another ecosystem altogether.

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