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Intel brings next-gen 'Broadwell' processor tech to mainstream notebooks, desktops

Mark Hachman | Jan. 6, 2015
The new chips will bring improved battery life and increased performance, as well as new technologies including wake-on-voice and better wireless capabilities.

intel broadwell u die shot

Intel's Core M processor promised a new wave of small-screen tablets. But at CES 2015, Intel hustled in the main event: the launch of the fifth-generation "Broadwell-U" Core processor for mainstream desktops and notebooks.

The new Core processors--over 14 of them, including new chips designed for consumer and business PCs, as well as Pentium and Celeron-branded chips--were launched on Monday, the preview day before the Consumer Electronics Show begins.

Intel's new Broadwell ships are now shipping--except for the high-end, 28-watt parts that include Intel's premier integrated graphics, the new Iris Graphics 6100. Those will wait until the end of the first quarter to ship. And with Intel's next chip, Skylake, waiting in the wings, it's no wonder Intel's hardware partners plan to show off a slew of Broadwell systems at CES. 

Karen Regis, director of Intel's notebook roadmap and strategy, said that Intel expects the Broadwell transition to be the fastest ever, and no wonder: Intel delayed the new Broadwell chips by months after an unfortunate manufacturing glitch, which has now been fixed. But there's one important note: the desktops shown off at CES will use the 15-watt "mobile" parts, indicative of the fact that the lines between a desktop and a mobile PC are blurring.

The real story:  Intel was happy to spend a great deal of time detailing the speeds and feeds of the new chip, as outlined below. But I suspect that Intel and perhaps its OEMs are much more interested in some of the chip's other capabilities--wake on voice, and a new voice assistant--that will help remake the PC. Like many other tech companies, Intel seems less concerned about the paper specifications, and more interested in providing a better overall experience. 

Better battery life, better PC experiences
The Broadwell chips are Intel's first 14-nm parts for mainstream desktops and notebooks, and will enjoy enhanced performance and battery life simply by being manufactured on the finer process. Intel says notebooks should enjoy about 90 extra minutes of battery life compared to a comparable 4th-gen "Haswell" Core chip, with 22 percent faster integrated graphics and 50 percent faster video conversion.

All told, a dual-core Broadwell contains 1.9 billion transistors. To give that a bit more meaning, Intel launched "Tukwila" in early 2010, with about 2 billion transistors inside. But Tukwila was an Itanium chip designed for high-end database crunching, which should underscore the complexity of the new Broadwell parts. 

The dramatic improvements that go beyond the benchmarks. Intel's new SmartSound technology includes a more sophisticated audio DSP built into the chipset, allowing PCs to wake up simply through a verbal command. The built-in Wireless-C 7265 802.11ac radio included in the 28-watt Broadwell chips should consume 50 percent less idle power, 30 percent less active power, and improve throughput by 15 percent. Intel's WiDi wireless dispay technology has also improved: Version 5.1 includes gaming support, Pro features for manageability, and 4K resolutions. 


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