Is Intel really killing the desktop?

9th Dec 2012 | 12:00

Is Intel really killing the desktop?

The BGA socket rumour debunked. Sort of

Shock. Horror. Intel is killing the desktop. So shrieked the internet last week. But is it actually true?

It all starts with Intel's Broadwell CPU architecture. Due out in 2014, Broadwell is a 14nm shrink of next year's Haswell family of CPUs.

Haswell, of course, is 22nm just like today's Intel Ivy Bridge chips, but brings a majorly revised architecture. So, that's Ivy Bridge in today's Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 chips, Haswell to follow next year, and Broadwell to shrink everything down to 14nm in 2014. Phew.

Broadwell and BGA

Now the thing about Broadwell is that it's rumoured to be available only in BGA or ball-grid array format only. Unlike the LGA (land-grid array) sockets Intel currently uses for desktop chips, that means it must be soldered onto motherboards.

In other words, there will be no mixing and matching of motherboards and CPUs for desktop PCs using Broadwell. They'll come as a pre-manufactured package. Yikes.

The implications of this don't seem terribly reassuring. What would happen, for instance, if you want a cheap motherboard with an expensive CPU. Will anyone offer that combination?

As far as I know, it's true that Broadwell will indeed be BGA only. What not clear is whether Broadwell is actually intended for desktop use.

If it's not mobile, it's meh

Most of Intel's attention these days when it comes to consumer and client computing platforms is mobile and ultra-mobile. As a die shrink of Haswell, Broadwell is very much a low-power architecture. So, it's much a mobile-orientated architecture.

With that in mind, it's very plausible to imagine that Broadwell doesn't replace Haswell on the desktop at all and that the desktop skips a generation to Skylake (that's yet another family of Intel CPUs, sorry). And Skylake chips will be available in LGA format. Yay. Well, probably.

Intel has form in this area. Back in the days when Lynnfield chips dominated the desktop, Intel released the Westmere generation of CPUs that mostly did duty in mobile platforms. On the desktop, little changed until Sandy Bridge arrived.

Codename conundrum

At this stage, the codenames are getting a little out of control. But all you really have to do is appreciate that the BGA scare has been blown a little out of proportion.

For now at least. A few more years down the road and the whole BGA thing may fit into a broader picture of the modern PC that's not altogether edifying. But that's a whole different story. In fact, it's one you can read about shortly...

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