Intel returns to its roots with slew of overclocker-friendly desktop CPUs

Intel logoFor the last few years, Intel has focused primarily on its mobile CPUs—its chips for laptops, Ultrabooks, tablets, and phones have generated more attention than their high-end desktop lineup. But yesterday Intel threw a bone to the desktop-building, CPU-overclocking desktop set in the form of a few new high-end chips that will go on sale later this year.

First up is a new "Extreme Edition" Core i7 processor based on the "Haswell-E" architecture. These "E" architectures usually go into CPUs reserved for servers and high-end workstations, and generally come with more cores, no integrated GPUs, and beefed up memory controllers (Ivy Bridge-E is used in the 2013 Mac Pro, among many other systems). This new CPU checks all of those boxes—it uses eight CPU cores, supports the emerging DDR4 memory standard, and requires Intel's upcoming X99 chipset (which we don't know much about, yet). This new chip will launch at some point in the second half of 2014. Presumably, we'll hear more about Xeon variants of Haswell-E with even more cores at a later date, since current Ivy Bridge-E chips can cram as many as 15 cores into a single CPU package.

Core i7 Haswell-E features

Other announcements were of a little more interest to people looking to get the most performance for their dollar. First up is a dual-core, Haswell-based Pentium chip that's unlocked for overclocking—while it used to be the case that all of Intel's CPUs could be overclocked if your motherboard supported it, most of the company's CPUs in the last three or four years have been locked down by default. Only special, unlocked, usually-expensive K-series CPUs could be overclocked, which sort of defeated the purpose. Way back in the day, lots of people overclocked so they could get high-end performance out of an inexpensive, low-end CPU. This new Pentium won't be a match for any quad-core CPU, but if the price is right it could be a good investment for adventurous old-school overclockers.


The chip is being released in celebration of the Pentium name's 20th birthday—"Pentium" hasn't been used to describe a flagship processor since the "Core" moniker showed up almost a decade ago, but Intel has continued using it to describe mid-to-low-end CPUs nestled in between Core at the high end and Celeron and Atom at the low end. We don't have pricing or an exact availability date, but the chip is compatible with current 8-series and upcoming 9-series chipsets and will be available around the middle of the year.

Available at around the same time will be a new mid-cycle refresh for Haswell, codenamed "Devil's Canyon." Like the new Pentium, the chip will be unlocked, but its packaging will be altered to enable lower temperatures and better overclocking than current Haswell chips—AnandTech has a good breakdown that describes how overclocking potential has diminished even as Intel has improved the efficiency of its CPU architectures. We know nothing else about the processor—not its core count, not its clock speed, and not even if it will support current 8-series chipsets and motherboards—but expect more information between now and when it goes on sale mid-year.

The most forward-looking announcement Intel made was about a new, socketed desktop chip based on the next-generation "Broadwell" CPU architecture. Broadwell is going to follow Haswell, but Intel hasn't said a whole lot about it yet—we know that it will be built on Intel's new 14nm manufacturing process, and we know that the manufacturing process switch has delayed Broadwell by around three months from its original projected ship date.

This announcement gives us a little new (or new-ish) information: first, contrary to some older rumors, Broadwell will indeed be available for standard socketed motherboards. Enthusiasts will be able to upgrade them and swap them as they please. Second, some of those socketed Broadwell CPUs will use Intel's Iris Pro GPUs, the designation used for the company's best integrated graphics chips. In Haswell chips, Iris Pro is limited strictly to desktop and laptop CPUs that are soldered to the motherboard (one mobile example is Apple's 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, one desktop example is Gigabyte's Brix Pro). The fastest integrated GPU available to socketed Haswell CPUs is the HD 4600, which isn't all that much faster than the HD 4000 GPU used by previous-generation Ivy Bridge chips.

The number of desktop-builders who care about graphics performance but don't care enough to just buy a dedicated GPU probably isn't huge—one assumes this is why no socketed Haswell chips with Iris Pro exist in the first place. However, for those building smaller mini-ITX PCs where power consumption, size, and noise are all important factors, these Iris Pro Broadwell CPUs will probably find a small but enthusiastic niche. It doesn't hurt that they'll also come unlocked, but these will apparently require a new motherboard with Intel's 9-series chipset on board.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Core i7, CPUs, Intel

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