Move is a calculated counterattack on low power ARM server offerings

Intel Corp. (INTC) rebuffed rumors last week that its 14 nanometer (nm) production date had slipped to 2015.  The chipmaker says it is on pace for a H2 2014 launch of Broadwell, the die shrink of this year's 22 nm architecture refresh Haswell.  This week Intel offered some early clues to its server strategy with Broadwell.

In the past, Intel's Xeon series server chips have traditionally ditched the integrated graphics cores that were used in its laptop Core i-Series chips.  But starting with 2011's Sandy Bridge E3-12xx SKUs (code-named Gladden), integrated cores began to creep into some of Intel's server stock, making them true system-on-a-chip (SoC) designs which included a multi-core CPU, graphics, cache, memory controller and PCI-Express connectivity all on a single die.

But there still existed a sharp divide between the lowest powered server chips -- the 32 nm E3-12xx models dipped as low as 25 W for the chip's power consumption, but were still far from the ~5 watt envelope that ARM Holdings plc (LON:ARM) and its allies were targeting for an entire platform power draw.
Haswell shot
Intel currently owns 95 percent of the server market (Haswell is pictured).

Instead Intel targeted that market with Centerton Atom (S12xx series) server chips, a 32 nm dual-core design which launched last December.  The Atom S1240 drew only 6.1 watts.  

With this strategy -- there was a major gap in the middle (9-25 W).  The new server Broadwell SoCs will look to bridge that gap, and in the process try to beat off more powerful, but power-efficient offerings from the ARM camp.

The new Broadwell SoCs will have low power (LP) DRAM (LPDDR3) cell memory built directly into the chips.  Whether this will be in the form of a second die inside the casing, or (more likely) incorporated into the SoC's primary die remains to be seen.

The company revealed the details at a special event in San Francisco on Monday.  Intel's GM of data centers and connected systems, Diane Bryant, commented at the event, "With this new product, we’ll be delivering the best of both worlds: high performance and high density."

Intel still has a busy schedule for the rest of this year as well.  It will be launching Ivy Bridge (22 nm) based Xeons shortly, and the launch of 22 nm Atom Silvermont server chips (codenamed Avoton and Rangeley) is scheduled for sometime in H2 2013.

Broadwell Roadmap
Broadwell SoC will fill in the middle of Intel's lineup, power-wise. [Image Source: PCWorld]

Pat Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, says the lucrative server market is Intel's to lose.  He estimates Intel has 95 percent of the current market.  But he says Intel is wise in acting proactively to avoid losing ground to ARM in the emerging low-power/embedded server space.

He tells Reuters, "Intel's announcements demonstrate they will try to defend their turf against ARM-based servers and specialty processors.  Up until today, it was a bit of a guessing game for Intel."

Intel will also release in "2014+" an Atom server chip codenamed Deverton based on the 14 nm Airmont core, which is expected to deliver even leaner power consumption that Broadwell SoC server chips.  This chip should be an attractive target for embedded applications with a need for very low power server processors.

Intel's new chief executive, Brian M. Krzanich, has promised aggressive changes after a nearly 30 percent slide in profit on a year-to-year basis.  PC sales have been dramatically slowing as customers have moved to mobile devices, but Intel's losses have been buffered somewhat by its stronghold in the server market, where sales have continued their path of quiet growth.

Sources: Reuters, PC World

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)

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