Platform Retargeting

Since the introduction of Conroe/Merom back in 2006 Intel has been prioritizing notebooks for the majority of its processor designs. The TDP target for these architectures was set around 35 - 45W. Higher and lower TDPs were hit by binning and scaling voltage. The rule of thumb is a single architecture can efficiently cover an order of magnitude of TDPs. In the case of these architectures we saw them scale all the way up to 130W and all the way down to 17W.

In the middle of 2011 Intel announced its Ultrabook initiative, and at the same time mentioned that Haswell would shift Intel's notebook design target from 35 - 45W down to 10 - 20W.

At the time I didn't think too much about the new design target, but everything makes a lot more sense now. This isn't a "simple" architectural shift, it's a complete rethinking of how Intel approaches platform design. More importantly than Haswell's 10 - 20W design point, is the new expanded SoC design target. I'll get to the second part shortly.

Platform Power

There will be four client focused categories of Haswell, and I can only talk about three of them now. There are the standard voltage desktop parts, the mobile parts and the ultra-mobile parts: Haswell, Haswell M and Haswell U. There's a fourth category of Haswell that may happen but a lot is still up in the air on that line.

Of the three that Intel is talking about now, the first two (Haswell/Haswell M) don't do anything revolutionary on the platform power side. Intel is promising around a 20% reduction in platform power compared to Sandy Bridge, but not the order of magnitude improvement it promised at IDF. These platforms are still two-chip solutions with the SoC and a secondary IO chip similar to what we have today with Ivy Bridge + PCH.

It's the Haswell U/ULT parts that brings about the dramatic change. These will be a single chip solution, with part of the voltage regulation typically found on motherboards moved onto the chip's package instead. There will still be some VR components on the motherboard as far as I can tell, it's the specifics that are lacking at this point (which seems to be much of the theme of this year's IDF).

Seven years ago Intel first demonstrated working silicon with an on-chip North Bridge (now commonplace) and on-package CMOS voltage regulation:

The benefits were two-fold: 1) Intel could manage fine grained voltage regulation with very fast transition times and 2) a tangible reduction in board component count.

2005 - A prototype motherboard using the technology. Note the lack of voltage regulators on the motherboard and the missing GMCH (North Bridge) chip.

The second benefit is very easy to understand from a mobile perspective. Fewer components on a motherboard means smaller form factors and/or more room for other things (e.g. larger battery volume via a reduction in PCB size).

The first benefit made a lot of sense at the time when Intel introduced it, but it makes even more sense when you consider the most dramatic change to Haswell: support for S0ix active idle.

Introduction: Stating the Problem The New Sleep States: S0ix


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  • wumpus - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    There is a reason Atom is getting creamed in the phone space by ARM. Also the only way TDP is going to change is with major increases in battery technology. X Joules (typically changed to W/hr in battery speak, but why not stick with SI units) means X seconds a 1 W or X/n seconds at n Watts.

    On the high end, everything that won the war for CISC (namely, Intel's manufacturing skills) is even more true than when they won. There isn't going to be another. That doesn't mean that a chip designed for all out performance is going to have any business competing with ARM on MIP/W. If they wanted to compete on battery life, they would have scaled down the depth and breadth of the queue, not increased it.

    Actually, I was ready to go into full rant when I saw the opening. Then I checked that "ultrabook" meant 1.8GHz i3s. It is quite possible (although I still doubt it is a good way to use a battery) to build a chip that will do that and have low power. I just don't think that Haskel is anyway designed to be that chip
  • FunBunny2 - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    -- everything that won the war for CISC (namely, Intel's manufacturing skills) is even more true than when they won

    It's been true since P4 that the "real" cpu is a RISC engine fronted by a x86 ISA translator. Intel tried to sell a ISA level RISC chip (twice). Not so hot. But Intel does know RISC. I've always wondered why they used all that transistor budget the way they did, rather than doing the entire instruction set in hardware, as they could have. It's as if IBM turned all the 370s into 360/30s.
  • Penti - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    It was Pentium Pro that switched to a modern out of order micro-ops powered CPU. I.e. P6. It's only the front end that speaks x86. Intel's own RISC designs like i960 ultimately failed and EPIC even more so when it failed to outdo AMD and Intel server processors in enterprise applications. In reality customers only switched to Itanium because they already had made up their mind before there even was any product thus killing at the time more appropriate Alpha, MIPS and PA-RISC processors. But as soon as those where fased out, Intel's x86 compatible chips had already gained the enterprise features that it missed previously and that set those older chips apart.

    The front end and x86 decode doesn't use that much space in modern processors at all. CPU architecture aren't really all that important it's today largely about the features it supports, the gpu, video decode/processor etc. ARM just made it into the out-of-order superscalar era in 2011 with A9, superscalar in-order in 2008 with Cortex A8. Atom is kinda designed like a P5 cpu. I.e. superscalar in-order, and moves to an out-of-order design next year. Intel's first superscalar design was in 1988.

    ARM just needs to be fast enough, it was fairly easy to replace SH3, Motorola DragonBall, i386 design in the mobile space it was even Intel that did it to a large part. And earlier 8086-stuff had already been left behind by that time. Now what's impressive is the integration and finish of the ARM SoC's. It was Intel that didn't want companies like Research In Motion to continue use low-power Intel x86-chips in their handheld devices. That only changes when Intel sold off the StrongARM/XScale line in 2006. Intel has no reason to start create custom ARM ISA chips again as they can compete with them with x86 chips which they spend much larger time to adapt development tools and frameworks for any way. Atom as a whole has a much larger market then XScale had on it's own. Remember that Intel dropped stuff like RAID/Storage-processors too. Having Intel as a Marvell in ARM chips today wouldn't have changed anything radically.
  • Penti - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    Also FPU/SIMD has been a large part in later ARM designs and implementations. It's really a big deal as we saw with the chips lacking some of those parts. You shouldn't forget how important those bits are. Others have failed because they didn't take it seriously. That was 15-20 years ago even. Doesn't mean they are yet fighting x86-64 chips in high-end servers and workstation though. We will certainly see them entering that market by 2015 though. Reply
  • Arbee - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Cortex A9's big IPC improvement came from going out-of-order, which kind of ruins your argument.

    Similarly, the X360/PS3 PowerPC chips are strict in order and super ultra slow as a result - at 3.2 GHz they can't match a PowerMac G5 with out-of-order at 2.2 GHz. But I suspect that wasn't the point - Sony and MS can claim the eye-popping (in 2006) 3.2 GHz figure, and the heat production is certainly less than a PPC G5.
  • wumpus - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Has anyone seen an A9 in the wild? I don't doubt huge IPC improvements (back when O-O-O was new, it tended to double performance). My statement is that it will kill GIPS/W and that Intel can much more easily design a chip that can beat it in both raw performance and GIPS/W (note that your mention of heat production agrees with me).

    Also note I suspect that the goal of A9 is to keep the power low enough to keep it out of where Intel wants to go. A rough guess is that ARM might have a chance with dual issue o-o-o, but past that (roughly where Pentium Pro was designed) they can't really go.
  • ElvenLemming - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    The Cortex A9 has been in most major phone/tablet SoCs for the past two or so years. Apple's A5, A5X; Samsung's Exynos 4210, 4212, 4412; TI's OMAP 4 series; Nvidia's Tegra 2 and 3.

    Cortex A15 is probably what you were thinking of that we've yet to see out in the wild. It's out-of-order like the A9, but with a great deal of other improvements.
  • ericore - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Currently AMD has the upper hand on the notebook segment on battery life. Haswell changes that, but as is always the case with Intel, they will be pricey. And that's why AMD will still have 50% of the market because vendors are cheap.

    Power savings are much less relevant on desktop front; I don't care so much about power as i do of heat. AMD X4 700, ship an awsome 4 core cpu for 75$. Technically, it has all that you need from a CPU. Add a Radeon 7770 (again cheap) and your golden. Ya Intel is faster, but both Intel and Nvidia have shitty low end products and that's even more true when you think of atom. 5-15% single threaded performance is not anything that is going to burry AMD lol.

    On top of that, AMD has an atom KILLER, a contracts with all major console vendors.

    Haswell will have surprisingly little impact on AMD; what I am saying is if you look at your own expectations, you'll realize they were highly inflated and you'll wonder why it didn't do more damage to AMD. I've explained the why. Nevertheless broadwell is a significant threat, and we'll probably see AMD start to lose market share (much more than with haswell) unless AMD can fight back and it will; but nobody knows if it will be enough.
  • A5 - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Uh, wow. Reply
  • Zink - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link Reply

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