With the buzz around Skylake, 2015 looks to be one that Intel is going to be remembered for. Even though Broadwell was more than fashionably late to the party, there doesn’t seem to be much that can slow this company down right now as they get set to unleash a 14nm wave of products based on that market.
First up, there are grounds for a slice of humble pie to be eaten by yours truly here. Previously I had made predictions that Skylake may run into 2016 based on the delay of Broadwell, and the unlikely chance that Intel would consider launching multiple architectures during the same year.
It’s rather clear now that the Intel does, in fact, have intentions to go down this route, though it is certainly very probable that they will orchestrate the unveiling in a way that does not result in Skylake overshadowing the newly launched Broadwell hardware.
Courtesy of ZDNet, here is how the intro will shape up
Already pout in the wild in some early devices, the Broadwell Core M market penetration is expected to crank up towards the end of the year.
Projections for a position of market dominance over Haswell by spring may seem lofty, but with fifth generation for the convertible and laptop market, we may be surprised to see what they can pull off.
In the last months of 2015, there will be the launch of a new budget product range, including Braswell and the anticipatedSkylakesporting its new 14nm architecture.
At this point in time, Intel’s official statements reveal nothing more.There are rumors abounding with the possible launch of a number of new desktop parts in the next year, with the hottest word getting around being that of an unlocked Core i7 5000 CPU and some additional desktop SKUs being referred to as Skylake S, or the Core i7-6000 family.
The Broadwell K is apparently designed to ensure compatibility with the Z97 chipset family that is already being despatched, whilst theSkylakeS is going to require a new motherboard.
As the 14nm reboot of Haswell, Broadwell brings with it a few seemingly tiny improvements to the CPU, and a die shrink, but beyond that, there is little more. Where in quite a stark contrast, Skylake brings with it an exciting full refresh on the architecture, which has many of us wondering what its rumored features are.
The Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator (also known as FIVR) project that Intel has put a significant amount of resources into has apparently also beenthe source of some pretty nasty headaches. Whether or not there’s a modicum of truth in that we can’t say for sure.
However, we are rather aware that by installing the voltage regulator and the CPU next to each other can result in a substantial increase in temperature. This then can cause a chain reaction where the heat builds up on the chip, which then causes an increase demand on tthe system as the CPU clock and the voltage climb. The FIVR design is apparently going to be dumped by Skylake, but there is the possibility that it will be retained by the low power CPUs to assist with exploiting the power savings.
There are a number of bonuses to look forward to, including; a revised form of AVX 3.2 / 512F is expected to be included with Skylake, bringing with it support for 512-bit registers and specific directions for the execution of SHA-1 and SHA-2 in a secure manner, and Intel ADX and MPX.
Core M vs. Haswell
The great news is that Broadwell Y is a significantly smaller piece of kit and is great for tablets. With some impressive new GPU enhancements under its belt, there are still some questions left unanswered. It is understandable that integrated graphics continues to be unacceptable for quite a lot of gamers, but there have been some steady improvements in this area, and this drive seems to be consistent, even from Intel.
While it will retain the 128MB ED RAM L4 cache as a maximum, Skylake is expected to factor in additional improvements in the GPU-side performance. We are hoping that there is the ability to support DirectX 12 on this GPU family, and that the uptake of desktop chips being released with some version of the L4 cache.
Skylake will also support SKU-specific DDR4, with some chips remaining on DDR3 up until the end of 2015. There has also be a fair bit of talk about a new UniDIMM form factor, which may introduce compatibility with the DDR4 or DDR3 on the same board. Skylake chips will max out for desktops at four cores + Hyper-Threading.
If you need to increase the threads to eight, you’ll need to shift over to the platform’s E-variant. It is also anticipated that Intel could make moves in pushing its “no cables” plan for the platform, I am still a little unsure on that one but I am keen to see how this goes.
To what extent the raw performance of Skylake actually turns out to be is largely a case of ‘needs to be seen’. We all remember how Haswell looked amazing on paper, but as we saw, with code that was non-AVX optimized the gain was a mere 7% when compared to Ivy Bridge.
As to Intel’s plans on clocking Skylake and whether they will take a more aggressive approach to this, it is largely an open question right now. As frustrating as this may be for desktop enthusiasts, the first SKUs offered will not be unlocked, so you may have to wait until 2016 for the Skylake K.
Tablet and mobile
Intel also has a strong focus on the mobile and tablet market for the next couple of years. Right on the back of the bold target of shipping 40 million Atom SoCs, there is speculation about their chances of a payoff coming. When you consider that they sunk over $3 Billion so far, which many would say that there are fundamentally to be recorded as losses, it’s unclear if they will hit the 40 million goal.
The plan for 2015 is to shift to a cost structure that allows the business to make money. With the launch of the TSMC built SoFIA, currently 3G but anticipated to go quad core Atom+ LTE by early 2016, there are hopes that the budget mobile platform will assist in reaching this goal. We expect that these dates are for product samples rather than vendor intros, as the typical lag for vendors can be as much as nine months after the samples; so set your alarm for some time in late 2016 or early 2017.
Intel is expected to stick with the pairing of its separate Bay Trail / Moorefield and XMM-7260 modem combo until the latter part of the year, when the codenamed “Airmont” version of Atom with a 14nm die shrink is ready to roll.
Putting it all together
From what you can see, Intel certainly looks to be a company in transition. Even though it seems to be on a more stable footing than AMD, Intel still has to make fundamental changes to their cost structure if they intend to compete with ARM products and still be profitable.
From what we can see it is the mobile and tablet space where the majority of the challenges will be in the coming years for Intel. What consumers will want to see here is the delivery on the promise to decrease mobile power consumption. For those sitting on the fence with regard to where to turn in the Devil’s Canyon vs Skylake question, I can’t see there being that much of a difference. Patience may see you get a chip that is between 5% and 10% faster in certain metrics, but the days of epic gains from code in conventional software are no more. We’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds with the biggest challenges around cooling chipsets.