Is Intel killing the upgradable PC?

Dave James

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There have been rumours floating around for the last couple days that Intel is going to end the traditional socketed CPU once the Haswell chip is out of the door. Based upon a supposedly leaked processor roadmap, Japanese site, PC Watch , is claiming to show that Intel will be calling time on the CPU upgrade market.

What they are saying is that the Broadwell CPU, the next-generation chip to follow Haswell, will be sold soldered into the motherboard, doing away with the LGA socket altogether. As the Broadwell lineup will represent the die-shrink down to 14nm from the 22nm Haswell variant, it's possible there may be an architectural need for these CPUs to be permanently attached to the motherboard.

A soldered-down chip may help with the thermals of the CPU, and will definitely help with the overall size of the package. This is ideal for the mobile market, where the shrunk-down, low-power chips will need to be tiny and cool. In the enthusiast market though there is less concern for low-power and more of a demand for swappable/upgradable CPUs.

It's entirely possible that this is being put in place for the mainstream market, and that the enthusiast market will still end up getting swappable/upgradable processor options. After all, the enthusiast PC market is actually growing as PC gaming gets ever more traction.

Intel wont comment on such speculation and all they would say to me was that they remain committed to multiple PC segments, including desktop and enthusiast, and will continue to innovate in those markets.

That's definitely not a no, but really, would this all be such a bad thing?

From our point of view, as gamers, the CPU is not the most important part of our PC. So long as the manufacturers don't take away our high-speed PCIe slots, limiting us to the god-awful spectre of integrated graphics forever more, then we'll be ok. If the CPU and motherboard have to come together as a package it's not a huge problem, given that most of us will upgrade both at the same time.

But it will be a different story for the motherboard manufacturers though. Having to spend out on a high-cost component like a CPU for every single motherboard a manufacturer keeps in stock will mean that there'll be an awful lot of capital tied up in unsold boards - far more than there is at the moment.

This could drive a lot of the smaller companies out of the business and less competition most definitely is bad for all of us.

If Intel limits consumer choice in this way, it risks pushing people to its competitors at AMD. Perhaps Intel are gambling that AMD wont be around by the time Broadwell is launched - given AMD's current stock prices and cash levels, their demise is a real threat. If Intel knows it's got the server and desktop market all to itself then soldering down CPUs won't do them any harm at all.

If the world doesn't end on December 21st, it might do for the upgradable processor by 2014.

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