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Could Haswell be Intel’s last range of swappable CPUs?

by Mark Tyson on 28 November 2012, 11:11

Tags: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), PC

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The existence of socketed CPUs and the component upgradeability of PCs was the bedrock upon which enthusiast computing sites like HEXUS were formed. PCs have been readily customisable, tinker friendly and upgradeable in nearly every way for about 30 years. Could the ability to readily swap out your Intel CPU be hobbled in the not-too-distant future? According to a leaked roadmap from Intel, uncovered by Japanese computer website PC Watch, the answer is yes.

The rumour suggests that Intel’s Haswell line of processors are the last that will be available in a socketed processor package. The successor to Haswell, known as Broadwell, will only be available in BGA or ball-grid-array variants says the Japanese PC Watch website. If these future BGA chips are anything like current BGA processors then they will only be available fixed onto a motherboard using small balls of solder, as the BGA acronym indicates. Some sites suggest that the BGA move could help reduce thermals and also factor thickness; good for portables.

The balls of a BGA chip

As Intel are aiming for the lower power consumption and small form factors that ARM processors are currently found within it seems like some of the socket interchangeable flexibility will have to be given up. PC Watch also says that Broadwell will have the platform controller hub as part of the processor package which moves it closer to SoC territory.

Though I have never actually upgraded a CPU on any PC I have made since 1990, it’s nice to have the future option and I sometimes have planned to do a CPU upgrade. In the end I usually decide to replace the whole of my PC’s innards or just the whole PC. That’s going to happen again soon!

This rumour from Japan might just be part of a bigger picture which does include socket interchangeable CPUs from Intel. It’s hard to know the truth but it’s still interesting to see what might be being planned. As usual all will be revealed in time.

HEXUS Forums :: 55 Comments

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The package used will not determine whether they will be socketed; the cost of the socket and whether it suits the product will determine it.

You can get sockets for BGAs now. They're usually very expensive because the only people that use them are companies buying very small quantities for a specific pitch and pin-out in order to test a batch of chips in a test harness they've built.

However, when Intel/AMD decides on a new package design and suddenly several million of the sockets are going to be needed, the per-unit cost drops somewhat.

Look at LGA and all the low-pitch pins on the socket itself - very expensive unless you're making a hell of a lot of them.

The only thing that might be a problem is that with BGA, unless the socket is well designed and great care taken during insert/remove, the balls will start to fall off, so there's certainly a case there for soldering directly onto the mainboard.
Time will show.
I think I mentioned it elsewhere, but I wonder, if Intel did enforce this, would we see motherboard MFRs releasing CPUs soldered to a third-party socket system? In theory it seems plausible but it would need companies to come together and standardise something or it would be impractical due to cooler mounting/brand incompatibility/cost. I'm wondering if the added path length may cause problems though. I can't see a load of the almost entirely enthusiast-oriented brands just giving up because Intel said ‘jump’.

Personally I think this is all based on a misinterpretation anyway…
there's a lot that could happen here, as mentioned, it could be simply part of the old smoke and mirrors, or it could be something else entirely.

For one thing, if such a change did take place, it would force manufacturers to release each one of their motherboards with a range of chips, thus increasing the potential ranges, this wouldn't be good for the market or the manufacturers, and would likely lead to a lot of them ditching intel as a supplier, this however could be a move by intel to force consumers into buying intel only cpu&board, though that would not be a tremendously good move where market forces are concerned.

The next option would be to create a third party socket system, as was done with the original slot mounts or even original ‘overdrive’ chips, maybe intel themselves want to go back to slots? As mentioned though, that would cause compatability issues for cooling.. but nothing that couldn't be worked out I am sure, socket+interface+chip, should result in a pretty standard height I would expect.

Thirdly of course, there is AMD, which I think would be the reason that intel would not go down this route entirely, while the enthusiast market is small, compared to corporate and new-pc sales, it is significant enough. And should intel go down the route of forcing people into specific hardware solutions, I would expect that more and more consumers, including big business, would abandon intel in favour of a more flexible approach.

I can see there being applications where a less flexible approach would be more useful, such as tablets and smaller netbook type designs, where hardware flexibility is pretty much unnecessary, but at the end of the day, for desktop computers, be they personal or corporate, adaptability is the key. “Adapt and Overcome” is the old saying.. Inflexible and rigid regimes, tend to fall flat on their faces..
In all honesty it's probably not that big of a deal for 99% of CPU sales - how many people really upgrade their CPU, most of the time a fresh install, RAM, graphics or storage update is a more visible improvement - how many times is the CPU the bottleneck now? Given that Intel are increasingly integrating accelerator things into the chip like Quicksync a CPU can last years and still seem quick. Writing this on a Q6600, not even overclocked - this is my work PC and never feels slow. PCs/laptops are following a trend of becoming more integrated and disposable as the market matures, whole device replacement.

That said, looking at the roadmap above the red circled Broadwell appears to be in the higher end mobile row and the LGA row at the top features a rather inconclusive ? - this article is totally rampant speculation.