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Intel aims next-gen 14nm 'Broadwell' technology at fanless tablets, Ultrabooks

Mark Hachman | Aug. 12, 2014
Intel formally describes the technical secrets behind its 14nm 'Broadwell' process technology, which will power the upcoming Core M for laptops and tablets and the next-generation Core desktop chips.

The upshot, according to Bob O'Donnell, principal at TECHnalysis Research, is consumers have the chance to make a huge leap from a laptop they bought four years ago to the Broadwell crop. In a survey of 2,500 purchasers in the United States, the U.K., China, and Brazil, consumers were interested first in a large smartphone and then a traditional notebook.

"There are major changes there," O'Donnell said. "That's why I don't think Microsoft made the right choice in calling the Surface a tablet. It's the evolution of the PC. That's the challenge, that's the next big thing: incredibly thin designs."

Broadwell optimized for low power
On Broadwell, Intel's design team started with the goal of a Core processor operating within fanless tablets. "That was the starting point, that was the vision that the team started with," Borkar said. 

To reach that goal, Broadwell mixes in a number of improvements: from 14nm process optimizations and improvements in the chip packaging to more aggressive power management or quickly turning of parts of the chip that weren't being used. Finally, Intel attempted to reduce the power of those chips that are running at a given time as aggressively as possible.

In general, Intel's 14nm process cuts the power by 25 percent, compared with the 22nm technology used with Haswell, Intel executives said. According to Mark Bohr, a senior fellow in Intel's manufacturing group, the 14nm process achieved a more than 2X improvement in performance per watt versus the 22nm technology used by Haswell. Intel also added a second generation Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator (FIVR), delivering better efficiencies at lower voltages.  

Intel shrunk the processor package itself by more than 50 percent on the X and Y axis, and an additional 30 percent in height, Jourdan said, to 3 0 mm x 16.5 mm x 1.04 mm thick.

Intel's "turbo boost" technology, which overclocks the chip in short bursts to quickly accomplish tasks and go into a low power mode, also received improvements. While Haswell's PL2 mode allows the system to run at a high-power draw for a few seconds, a new "PL3" mode actually spikes performance even higher--but just for a few milliseconds.  Jourdan also said Intel did some major work rearchitecting I/O functions, such as memory and graphics, to help reduce power across the Core M processors themselves.

Broadwell systems will also do a better job in communicating information back and forth between system components, the processor, graphics, system fan, WiFi chip, memory, battery charger, and more. The idea, Jourdan said, was to better manage across the system itself, maximizing the total battery life.

Intel will manufacture Broadwell chips at two 14nm fabs in Oregon and Arizona, with a third in Ireland coming on line in 2015.


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