Intel Core M Broadwell Architecture Preview

Intel Cues-Up Broadwell Core M Processor

Competing with Intel's desktop or notebook processors is like taking on the proverbial 800 pound gorilla, but when it comes to resources, the company is more like an 800 pound gorilla on steroids, with advanced weaponry and a big budget.  Intel is a manufacturing and process technology juggernaut.  There was a time when the company would use that prowess to simply enable chips at higher clock speeds with larger memory resources. Since then, market demands have shifted to efficient computing, based on performance-per-watt metrics. With a strong X86 architecture in place, Intel is now using their process and manufacturing advantages to leave competitors in the rear view, enabling more performance and new features at ever lower power envelopes.

Intel's latest processor design and manufacturing effort marks a first for the semiconductor industry.  No other semiconductor manufacturer in the world is building chips at the level of Intel's 14nm (nanometer) process node; even large memory manufacturers like Toshiba and Samsung are just now hitting 19nm.  As we've reported previously, the processor Intel is rolling out for its first volume production vehicle at 14nm is code named "Broadwell." And, as we learned in a recent meeting at the Intel's Hillsboro, Oregon development and fab center, the first processor family based on Intel's Broadwell microarchitecture, will be known as Core M.

Broadwell and the Intel Core M family is what Intel refers to as a "tick" in their product design cadence, where a 'tick" generally marks a die shrink and a "tock" marks a new microarchitecture. The last tick we saw from Intel was their 22nm Ivy Bridge design, then came Haswell's tock, which marked the arrival of new features like Intel's first FIVR (Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator) design and a multi-chip package bringing the system PCH (Platform Controller Hub) or "Southbridge" into the same package and socket as the processor with some models.  Broadwell and Intel's Core M family are a shrink and optimization of Haswell at 14nm, but Intel took the opportunity to engineer in a few new features as well.

Intel Broadwell Core M Processor
Intel Broadwell Core M Processor - PCH Die On Package

Since Broadwell is essentially an optimized and die-shrunk version of Haswell, there aren't many major functional block upgrades or changes.  However, in addition to a few core and package tweaks, Intel's 14nm process affords their current microarchitecture new usage models as a result of dramatically reduced power consumption, along with improved performance.  Specifically, Intel was targeting "fanless designs" with Broadwell, which of course just screams tablets and 2-in-1 hybrid ultralights. In fact, based on this new 14nm technology, Broadwell is able to achieve a 60 percent idle power reduction, which is huge when you consider the target usage model in tablet and other ultra-mobile form factors.
ASUS Transformer Book T300 Chi 12.5" 2-in-1 Detachable
2560X1440 IPS Display, Powered by Intel's Broadwell

Intel is unveiling their first available Broadwell-Y platform variant that will be available in a range of tablets and other ultra-mobile devices in time for the Q4 holiday shopping season. For reference, Broadwell-Y is the lowest power Broadwell processor with a 3.5 Watt to 4.5 Watt TDP.  There will be higher powered versions all the way up to 47 Watt TDP for all-in-one and small form factor desktop designs, but these version won't start arriving until the first half of 2015.

Haswell to the left, Broadwell on the right...

What's also impressive about Broadwell is its physical size reduction.  Broadwell has a 50-percent smaller package size and a 30-percent thinner Z-height versus Haswell.  The net gain in a full-up Broadwell design affords manufacturers roughly a 25-percent board area reduction in their designs.  As you can see, the size difference between 22nm Haswell and 14nm Broadwell is significant, but if you look closely, the smaller PCH (Platform Controller Hub, for, Audio, SATA and other IO) die hasn't changed. On the CPU side of things, Broadwell's integrated CPU/GPU die is nearly 40-percent smaller at 82mm2 versus Haswell at 130mm2.

Intel made a few optimizations to the PCH, as well as to the CPU and GPU designs of course, which we'll get to shortly, but for now, let's dig in on the tech behind Broadwell's 14nm process and transistor technology that make it all possible.

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