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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  • FunBunny2 - Tuesday, October 09, 2012 - link

    If Steve hadn't done what Apple does best (according to Steve) "steal" BSD unix, would you still be crowing? Reply
  • Magik_Breezy - Sunday, October 14, 2012 - link

    His operating system doesn't crash 7 times a day because he doesn't run OS X, I'll rephrase that, because he isn't a retard Reply
  • HisDivineOrder - Sunday, October 07, 2012 - link

    Let's not forget the obscenely high failure rates due of Macbook Pro's because they are huge, metallic, and yet refuse to have vents ruin the smooth awesomeness of their aesthetic.

    Whoops, for many it won't last more than two years, if that. Hell, if you're lucky, your battery will give out before your laptop cooks. Regardless, look up what Apple suggests and you'll get:

    Buy another one. Yours is old. ;)
    Reply
  • Magik_Breezy - Sunday, October 14, 2012 - link

    Anything delivers "solid performance" on Facebook & iWork
    Why pay $2,000 for that?
    Reply
  • random2 - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I agree. admittedly I am not an apple fan and view them as people who have undergone a degree of brainwashing compounded by the need for some to keep up with the Jone's. A certain degree of mind control must be necessary to stick with a company that has had some questionable business practices as far as customer relations, dealing with product issues and denying said issues, not to mention the whole hypocritical stance by apple in regards to copyright infringement has also left a bad taste in my mouth. Reply
  • hasseb64 - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    Disagree, not that much new from already published IDF reports almost 1 month ago. What is intresting is the claimed 40 EU GT3, other sources say lower amounts. Reply
  • JKflipflop98 - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    I totally agree. It's articles like this that have kept me coming back for years. Keep up the good work Anand! Reply
  • tipoo - Sunday, October 07, 2012 - link

    "You can expect CPU performance to increase by around 5 - 15% at the same clock speed as Ivy Bridge. "

    That seems terribly disappointing for a tock, even IVB as a Tick managed 10% in most cases.
    Reply
  • medi01 - Tuesday, October 09, 2012 - link

    One can't be biased !@# !@#@ and a good journalist at the same time.
    One needs to be blind not to see how glass is always half empty for AMD, and half full for nVidia/Intel. F**!@#'s were shameless enough, to test 45W APU with 1000W PSU and such crap is all over the place.
    Reply
  • Paulman - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    As I was reading this article, about part way into the low platform power sections I suddenly had this thought: "Oh man, AMD is gonna die...!"

    I don't know if that's true for the entire microprocessor side of AMD, since they look like they're already starting to transition out of the desktop space, but I don't know if they're going to stand much of a chance if they're planning on entering the same TDP range as Haswell.

    Do you think there's a chance AMD will start focussing on designing ARM ISA cores? Or will expanding on their x86 Bobcat-type cores be enough for them?
    Reply

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