Business, Graphics, Hardware

GDC 2014: Intel Announces Breadth of New CPUs for 2014

As a bit of a surprise yesterday Intel dropped the veil on all pending consumer launches planned for the year. While the announcement at GDC doesn’t mark a formal product introduction, it paints a clearer picture of the plans of the company we already discussed in our silicon technology outlook earlier this year. Intel’s Lisa Graff, who is their VP of Client Desktop gave the presentation and started off by talking about how important desktop has been to Intel as a company, including the fact that it was one of the places where PC grew within Intel last year.

The first of the new products will be the Haswell refresh due mid-year. While Intel actually didn’t talk about the general Haswell refresh, they talked about two special products closely related to it. The first of these is the Pentium Anniversary Edition, celebrating the 20 year anniversary of the Pentium brand. Technically the 20 year anniversary was last year, as the first Pentium processor was introduced in 1993 at CeBIT. The Pentium Anniversary Edition will be an unlocked Pentium branded chip based on the Haswell core.

Given the current market positioning of the Pentium brand it will be a budget oriented product with most likely only two cores (confirmed), much like the other Pentium branded CPUs. Having an unlocked Pentium is still news in the Intel camp and is comparable to the unlocked Black Edition K-CPUs/APUs AMD offers at the lower end. Intel reminds us that now the Pentium branded CPUs also get Quick Sync Video enabled, which was done for competitive reasons. The functionality was deliberately disabled in the silicon before, but due to competitive pressure from AMDs AM1 platform was retroactively enabled with a graphics driver update. The Pentium Anniversary Edition will be compatible with existing 8 series and upcoming 9 series motherboards. The 9 series chipset will be introduced alongside the Haswell refresh. They will also require use on a Z-series Intel chipset board, which could mean that the motherboard may end up costing more than the CPU since you’re forced to use a Z-series board with a Pentium Anniversary Edition.

Lisa Graff showing off the Intel Gamer-named Devil’s Canyon

The second special product aligned with the Haswell refresh is a new unlocked 4th Gen Core CPU based on the Haswell core. Originally some of the leaked information alluded there won’t be new K-models due to the launch of Broadwell-K later this year but it seems delays of the latter caused some rethinking at Intel. This unlocked refreshed Haswell even got it’s own codename Devil’s Canyon and is also scheduled for mid-year 2014. Devil’s Canyon will come with an improved thermal interface material (TIM).

Overclockers often blamed the change from solder to paste in Ivy Bridge and Haswell for higher operating temperatures and consequently worse overclocking characteristics. Intel didn’t shed any details on what TIM exactly they will be using but it is meant to be optimized to allow a better overclocking experience, but they did say they will let us know at a later date. This CPU is meant to only be used on new 9 series motherboards, but since many other CPUs of the refresh will work on 8 series as well, I wonder whether that’s just marketing talk and some whether some vendors will be able to provide BIOS updates nonetheless.

For the second half of 2014 Intel announced the first 8 core, 16 thread desktop processor, which is no other than the Haswell-E discussed in certain leaks. Intel confirmed that it will be their first platform supporting DDR4 memory and accompanied by the X99 chipset. While technically 8-core and even 10-core CPUs were available for the same platform already if we count the Xeons, a product aimed at consumers will strive to ensure almost no compromise in single-core performance as well. As a Core i7 Extreme Edition this will make this type of CPU a tad more affordable than a comparable Xeon, if we can call a $999 asking price affordable. I expect this CPU to shine in heavily threaded workloads such as rendering, encoding and other heavy content creation and workstation tasks.

Lisa Graff showing off an Intel prototype desktop tablet running on Broadwell-K

Last but not least Intel pre-announced unlocked 5th generation Core processors with the Iris Pro graphics, formerly known as Broadwell-K. As previously rumored this is the 14nm shrink of Haswell accompanied with the 128MB eDRAM dubbed Crystalwell on the same package, that serves as a L4 cache. It brings a modest boost to CPU performance and makes a big difference in integrated graphics performance. Previously enthusiasts asked for such a product to get the highest possible CPU performance from their unlocked mainstream processors. For last years Haswell generation, Iris Pro was only available in a soldered form factor (i7-4770R for example). This chip should be more appealing for gamers who don’t need the workstation class performance of the high.end desktop platform, but want every little bit of single-threaded CPU performance.

Unlike the other products announced, for this CPU Intel didn’t even give a vague ETA. Earlier rumors would have placed it towards the end of the year but it seems Intel isn’t 100% confident to announce that time frame publicly. While Intel continues to assure us everything remains on schedule with their 14nm products, this begs the question whether it is another piece of evidence about potential problems and further delays with the bleeding edge 14nm technology. For now I can’t tell for sure and give Intel the benefit of the doubt.