Intel's Broadwell Era Begins, Featuring New Lower Power Designs

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅05.01.2015 15:52:09

Intel look set to start off 2015 on the best possible footing with the announcement of a whole product stack of mobile and low power desktop CPUs at CES 2015. Based on the long awaited Broadwell architecture - the successor to the now well established Haswell - they bring updated graphics packages and a new low-power manufacturing node for improved productivity, gaming and battery life.

On the books this week are Broadwell 'U' SKUs optimised for low power usage, from high-end Core i7 models down to the far more modest Core M designs. Featuring a TDP considerably lower than 45W, they're a fixture in Ultrabooks, 13.1/15.1" laptops, mini desktops and All-In-One designs from a variety of vendors; desktop and performance CPUs over 45W TDP will be addressed at a later date. Partners such as Dell will be announcing their own bespoke designs incorporating Broadwell U CPUs, but it will help to see the broad capabilities of the platform.

Broadwell is a 'tic' revision, and those who are familiar with Intel's development cycle will have deduced that this denotes a process node shrink rather than a major architectural revision (the latter being a 'toc', e.g. Haswell). In this case Intel are down to 14nm utilising 2nd Gen 3-D Tri-Gate Transistors, allowing them to pack in yet more transistors and further shrinking an already diminutive die-size. The impact on instructions per clock (IPC) should therefore be relatively modest, whilst power efficiency will be noticeably improved.

That's not the end of the benefits seen with Broadwell; in common with Ivy Bridge (the previous 'tic' revision) Broadwell features a significant update to the graphics portion of the CPU. Despite minor reductions in the maximum allowable GPU frequency Intel's internal benchmarks place the Core i7 5600U (with HD5500 graphics) roughly 22% faster than the Core i7 4600U (/w HD4400 graphics) at the same 15W TDP. Transcoding is even more improved - up to 50% faster with the new graphics architecture. That's impressive which ever way you cut it.

New graphics horsepower naturally unlocks the potential for new features. With improved gaming capabilities (which are sorely needed on mobile solutions without discrete-class graphics) comes support for UltraHD (4K) displays and across the board improvements in battery life when watching video. Aiding this is the integration of a powerful new Intel audio DSP, which in conjunction with other platform improvements serves to reduce power consumption during video playback and during idle periods.

New Intel HD5000, 6000 and Iris 6100 graphics are compatible with:

DirectX 11.2, DirectX12 Ready, OpenGL 4.3, OpenCL 2.0
4K UltraHD (3840x2160) resolution,1even over WirelessDisplay
New Enhanced media decode support for VP8, VP9, and HEVC
Intel® Quick Sync Video, Intel® Clear Video HD Technology, Intel Wireless Display

Intel believe that the speed of the overall platform will greatly improve users experiences with a range of technologies introduced with Haswell, including Intel RealSense and Intel Wireless Display (WiDi). Furthermore Intel WiDi is to be improved in the coming months (with a driver update) to support DX9/DX11 full screen game formats, new business-ready capabilities, and UltraHD/4K. Alll this is supported by a new $39.99 price point for the new Actiontec Mini2 Intel WiDi adapter, which comes in a convienient HDMI form factor.

So, who are the anticipated market for these new and upcoming devices? Simply put: those on an approximately 4-year and longer upgrade cycle, which market research shows encompasses 600 million PCs worldwide. Indeed, Intel also feel that simply knowing about the advanced capabilities of new laptops and low-power solutions could speed up user upgrade cycles by a year, potentially making users even more receptive to Intel's range.

This is the first time Intel are set to release a full mobile product stack at the same time, encompassing Celeron M up to the high-end Core i5 and i7. This is made possible partially due to Broadwell being pin-compatible with the previous Haswell platform; only a software/firmware update is required to partners to integrate the new CPU with their current designs. Combined with configurable TDP and continued use of DDR3/DDR3L memory, the rollout for Broadwell in all markets should be especially swift.

Looking ahead, designs which make use of SKUs featuring Intel Iris graphics technology will be forthcoming later in the first quarter, whilst Chromebook designs are slated for a February release. Desktop versions of Broadwell by comparison aren't on the cards until much later in the year, with Intel being coy over announcements regarding those parts.

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