Intel’s Socket Swan Song?

Article first published as Intel’s Socket Swan Song? on Technorati.

Are you the type that enjoys getting up to your elbows in computer parts and the thought of buying a PC from Dell repulses you?  Well then, there’s a new rumor based on a supposedly leaked Intel roadmap that shows Intel may be moving from socketed CPU’s to permanently soldered designs.  If true that  would spell the end of CPU upgrades and the end of upgrade paths.

The move is said to be related to an attempt to reduce form factors, a benefit for ultrabooks, as well as to lower the electrical resistance of the CPU to motherboard connection thus reducing TDP on their processors.

The next upcoming processor design from Intel is called Haswell and it’s due out in the latter half of 2013.  According to our supposed Intel roadmap, 3 of the 5 Haswell designs are socketed with the remainder being soldered designs.

According to the leaked chart, after Haswell comes Broadwell in 2014 and all those designs are soldered.  What’s interesting to note is the question marks in the final column of the chart.  Reading the TDP (power dissipation) numbers it’s obvious that the designs that follow the Haswell enthusiast and value CPU families are still up in the air.

The question marks probably say more about future Intel CPU designs than anything else on the chart.

With the explosion of tablet and smartphone devices there’s an obvious trend toward more integrated SoC (System on a chip) configurations.  Since few of us will ever see the inside of our mobile devices let alone upgrade the processors, the roadmap seems viable. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Intel is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, however.

First, this is a rumor and the source is questionable.  Second, To move the entire Intel lineup to a soldered design would have a chilling effect on Intel partners and boutique builders who could no longer differentiate their offerings from OEMs.  With Apple signaling a move away from Intel chips and AMD still in play, Intel can’t afford to alienate its partners.

It’s far more likely that the SoC designs are meant to lower the cost for OEM’s like Dell and Lenovo whose market segment is less concerned about upgradability than price.  Remember, OEM’s make most of their money from business customers who tend to turn over rather than upgrade equipment.  An all in one design is cheaper to produce and support for OEM’s since they have fewer part SKU’s to worry about.  Standardization on a SoC design can also further reduce warranty costs as OEM’s are already used to replacing assemblies instead of individual components.

Few power users or enthusiasts would entertain a commoditized product like an OEM desktop to meet their needs, however.  As such Intel is unlikely to limit their choices any time soon.  With AMD no longer a force in the enthusiast market that also opens the door for Intel to raise prices on the remaining enthusiast parts without consequence.

So is the desktop heading for the big sleep?  The guys marketing tablets and smartphones would like you to think so.  It’s probably not wise to jump to conclusions based on a rumor, however.  Unless ultrabooks and tablets can satisfy power users and enthusiasts alike,  the demise of the desktop is as Mark Twain said, “premature”.

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November 2012
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