Sorry Charlie: Why Intel Broadwell BGA is not the End of the World
This week the Internet has been abuzz about a SemiAccurate report that Intel’s Broadwell CPU is going to be BGA only. The immediate view of this is that the end of the era where users can tweak their PC’s. I don’t think that is necessarily the case and this article will go into a few brief reasons. First, Broadwell is going to be targeted at a segment different to that of the enthusiast. Second, higher-end server-like platforms will unlikely be BGA only. Third, BGA does not mean there is no room for things like overclocking. Fourth, the market will have changed by then.
Intel’s Broadwell is Not an Enthusiast CPU
My first point, that Broadwell is NOT an enthusiast mainstream CPU as we know it today. I have been doing a few posts on my Microsoft Surface. While writing this I am sitting at probably 34,000 ft above North America typing in Microsoft Word on the Microsoft Surface. Both gentlemen to my immediate left and right have iPads but have commented during the flight about how they think Office on the tablet is amazing. They are also impressed on how fast I am typing on my third Touch Cover keyboard. Make no mistake, if this machine had a Haswell or Broadwell generation part, I would use this all the time. With a ULV Core i3 Ivy Bridge part it would likely be even better also. I cannot wait for the Microsoft Surface Pro because that device will replace three of my current devices. Intel sees this trend and the mainstream segment is moving to touch interfaces and portable form factors. Broadwell is going to be targeted at the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, not desktops.
There Will be Socketed Alternatives
Second, the high-end workstation and server markets are not going to bear the costs of expensive BGA only CPUs. So Broadwell-E or Broadwell-EP will not be BGA only. Here’s the simple reason, Intel will be competing with ARM CPU’s that cost a fraction as much. Let’s say you take a $200 or $500+ motherboard of today’s generation with integrated components. Now you add a $300 or $2,000 CPU. It is much harder to replace a failed motherboard + CPU combo in a datacenter than just a CPU. Likewise, you do not want a $2,500 CPU + motherboard combination rendered useless because a tech popped a capacitor on the motherboard. ARM will have easy PCB replacement but is still going to be looking at low power clustered systems in the Broadwell era. Intel will need to stay competitive with a socketed server platform and that will be one that can be customized heavily.
Companies Will Tailor Product for Broadwell
Third, companies like the current motherboard manufacturers may shake out of the space because of this, but likely not all of them. If a few companies remain, there is little reason that a future generation motherboard with BGA CPU cannot be tailored a bit. For example, a K series CPU on an overclocking motherboard while a HTPC SFF PC will get a lower end/ lower power CPU. Intel may still provide the capability to overclock, and it is too early to say one way or another on it.
The World Will be Different by the Broadwell Era
We really are moving more and more to a client server world. This has happened before and seems to ebb and flow in cycles. Even though I have substantial, many CPU systems, I do like the portability of Windows tablets. The enthusiast community will focus on building faster application servers and Broadwell/ ARM devices will be human interface devices, rather than compute engines.
So those are a few of my thoughts in this area. Charlie great job breaking the story. Just not sure it is the end of the world as commentators on the piece have blown this out of proportion. Have thoughts or perspectives on them? We would love to hear them.