Intel should work harder to beat AMD in 2018

However you spin it, AMD gave Intel a bit of a kicking over the last year. You can still argue about Intel’s overall performance lead, their vast revenue streams, and that they still have the highest core-count processor, but they need more than that if they want whip the AMD upstarts in 2018.

I’m pretty confident if you were to ask Intel how 2017 had been you’d hear a lot of bluster about their 18-core Skylake-X Core i9, and about how they’d released the most scalable CPU range there’s ever been. You might also hear about how they’d squeezed six HyperThreaded Intel cores into their mainstream desktop range for the first time and how it was the absolute bestest CPU for gamers.

Well, that’s arguably what you’d hear if you spoke to anyone from their marketing department anyways. Anyone outside of marketing trying to feed you such PR spin is probably just talking out loud to convince themselves and barely even noticed you were trying to get their attention.

The reality is that Intel had no idea how good the AMD Ryzen range of processors was going to be, what they were planning to do with their secret mega-core Threadripper lineup, and had no plan in place for how to respond. That resulted in a seemingly panicked Intel yanking in the release dates for every single processor launch post-Ryzen. That, in turn, either screwed over the motherboard vendors, meant customers couldn’t actually buy the new CPUs, or resulted in the early retirement of erstwhile CPUs that had only launched a few months back.

It was all a bit of a mess.

Intel Core X-series CPUs

So what can Intel do to turn things around in this new year? Start early. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicks off in Las Vegas in January, and we’d be willing to bet there will be some serious Intel-ing going on up and down the Strip. But the very first thing they need to do is make sure they get the Intel Coffee Lake stock situation sorted and ensure there are enough CPUs to go around.

The effectively paper launch of Coffee Lake feels like it was a damaging step for Intel. They made big noises about a new generation of processors, released them to the press garnering positive reviews, then only had a handful of retail chips to go around the world. These new chips made at least three of the recently released Core X-series CPUs obsolete and meant that no-one wanted to spend any money on the only Intel processors you could actually buy. Why would you even think about buying a Kaby Lake chip when the promise of Coffee Lake is being dangled like a silicon carrot in front of you?

Intel also need to sort out the Z370 motherboard monopoly. Having only a single possible chipset choice is unforgivable right now. There are reports Intel are prepping a host of new Coffee Lake CPUs for the new year, as leaked via a recent AIDA64 update. So long as these come in decent numbers, alongside the previously ‘launched’ Core i7 8700K, i5 8600K, and i5 8400, that’s great. But if they launch a slew of new chips – featuring four Core i5 CPUs and four Core i3 – without bringing us the mainstream H370 and B360 chipsets they’re missing a trick.

Intel Z370 motherboards are the only option right now

Intel have to get the two lower-end motherboard chipsets released as soon as they can. They’ve created, what I think, is the best gaming CPU they’ve ever made in the Core i5 8400. It’s rocking six full Intel cores, has fantastic single-threaded gaming throughput, and a bargain price… at its release RRP at least. But when all you can partner it with are expensive Z370 motherboards then it’s a waste. The same can be said of the Core i3 8350K, a chip which is effectively just the best gaming CPU of the Kaby Lake generation but with a $100 price cut.

With AMD’s Ryzen 5 / B350 chipset combo offering great gaming and computational performance for a relatively bargain price, Intel are going to have to get a competing platform ready almost as soon as the new year’s hangover has started to ease in January.

But those are the obvious things, things Intel really should have sorted out in the last year. Intel also need to take some risks in order to put AMD back in their box again. And that is exactly what Brian Krzanich has been promising in his Christmas Queen’s Speech to Intel employees.

“The new normal for Intel is that we are going to take more risks,” he said in a December memo. “The new normal is that we will continue to make bold moves and try new things. We’ll make mistakes. Bold doesn’t always mean right or perfect. The new normal is that we’ll get good at trying new things, determining what works and moving forward.”

Intel 9th Gen Core i3 series chips could be budget heroes

The biggest risk they could take would be to ditch their HyperThreading shenanigans. By that I don’t mean kill off the ability for each core to tackle multiple problems concurrently, but stop turning it off for marketing reasons. At the moment Intel segment their chips in such a way that their top Core i7 CPUs include HT as standard, with the Core i5 processors essentially being the same but without HT. It’s a similar situation lower down the stack for the Core i3 chips.

With the rumours of Intel releasing an eight-core mainstream processor at some point in 2018 that would be the perfect opportunity for them to really take the core-count battle to AMD. The red team have built the House of Ryzen on the huge increase in cores and threads their CPUs have brought to the party, but Intel could easily outgun them by retaining HyperThreading on all their processors.

The Core i7 chips could sit on eight cores and 16 threads, the Core i5 range could then utilise the six-core, 12-thread design, with the Core i3 chips following up with four cores and eight threads. That would level the playing field in the Ryzen vs. Core situation at the 7 and 5 strata, but give Intel a huge lead in the budget sector – traditionally a place where AMD has been nesting.

While this has been mooted as a possible move around their 9th Gen Core it would still require some cojones on the part of Intel. It would mean the Core i3 range suddenly looks an awful lot like the Core i7s of the 7th Gen Core architecture. That’s a big jump, and would make them the go-to for the gamer on a budget, but it would mean Intel swallowing the risk that it might cannibalise the sales of their higher-end, higher-margin processors. Such a move would certainly take the wind out of AMD’s sales as they ride the high seas of high core count CPUs, but whether Intel have the chutzpah to go through with it I don’t know.

Intel socket death

I would suggest they stop releasing tiny, iterative updates to their CPU sockets too. While the future-proofing of AMD’s AM4 platform – the basis for all their mainstream CPUs and APUs until 2020 – is a great bulletpoint feature it’s worth has yet to be tested as we’re still sitting on the first flush of Ryzen chips. But Intel constantly changing chipsets and sockets with each successive generation is getting real old. The fact that people have managed to get Coffee Lake operating on the 100- and 200-series motherboards is quite damning, especially given that we’ve effectively been sat on the same ol’ 14nm architecture for years.

The biggest thing Intel can do to take the fight to AMD, however, is get Raja to magic up a discrete graphics card to put the fear of Koduri into his former employers. I can almost guarantee that won’t happen, but if Intel can start talking seriously about what Raja Koduri is up to in the discrete GPU arena, with a few potential hints at where they’re aiming performance at, we could be very much on the way to a third way for graphics cards.

In an ideal world Intel would come back hard against the AMD incursions, which is historically what’s happened whenever the AMD horde has been at the border, and that would only benefit us consumers. After years of stagnation and barely iterative product releases, however, there is always the chance that Intel will remain mired and immovable. That would mean a few slight tweaks to their release schedule, and nothing major. Fingers crossed Brian Krzanich’s risk-taking Christmas message will bear fruit and won’t just be a desktop Core i9 with eight cores.

Intel squeezed an AMD graphics chip, RAM and CPU into one module

Intel may have unveiled its latest Core CPUs for mainstream laptops, but the company has something more advanced up its sleeves for what it calls its “enthusiast” customers. The new chip will be part of the 8th-generation Core H series of processors, and comes with discrete-level graphics cards built in, as well as its own RAM.

Having all this built into the processor frees up space for other components inside a laptop, so device manufacturers can squeeze in things like larger batteries or more optimal fan designs. Intel is not sharing performance details for the new CPUs yet, but it’s promising power that will be good enough for gamers or content creators who often run taxing programs like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

Specifically, the new processor integrates a “semi-custom” AMD graphics chip and the second generation of Intel’s “High Bandwidth Memory (HBM2)”, which is comparable to GDDR 5 in a traditional laptop. The three typically distinct components are able to coexist on one chip because of Intel’s Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge (EMIB), which “allows heterogeneous silicon to quickly pass information in extremely close proximity.” The company also came up with a power-sharing framework that lets the GPU manage each component’s temperature, performance and energy use.

This infrastructure should free up about three square inches of board space that could either be used for other components as described above, or make for thinner laptops altogether. The idea is that powerful laptops for gamers no longer have to be chunky beasts.

The new Core H processor is the first consumer product to use EMIB, and will be released in the first quarter of 2018, and many laptop makers are expected to offer products powered by the chip. This is a pretty significant development that not only benefits the enthusiast audience, but could also have trickle down effects that could improve mainstream laptops (and even other devices) in the future.

 

Intel Debuts New Xeon-W Chips Possibly Destined for iMac Pro

Intel today introduced its new Xeon-W workstation-class processors at the IFA trade show in Berlin, and the new chips line up nicely with the processor capabilities we’re expecting to see in the iMac Pro.

The new chips, which use an LGA2066 socket and Skylake-SP architecture, come in 8, 10, and 18 core configurations with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz, 48 PCI Express 3.0 lanes, and support for up to 512GB of DDR4–2666 ECC memory.

Apple has said the iMac Pro will feature Intel’s Xeon processors, with 8, 10, and 18 core chips available as optional configurations with up to 42MB cache and maximum Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz.

Specifically, Apple could be planning to use the 8-core 3.7GHz Xeon W–2145, the 10-core 3.3GHz Xeon W–2155, and the 18-core 2.3GHz Xeon W–2195. Pricing on the chips starts at $1,113, but a price is not yet listed for the high-end 18-core processors.

According to Intel, the Xeon-W chips offer a 1.87x boost in performance compared to a 4-year old workstation with an Intel Xeon E5–1680 v2 Romley processor, like the 2013 8-core Mac Pro, and up to 1.38x higher performance compared to previous-generation Xeon E5–1680 v4 chips.

Intel plans to release its high-end 18-core chips in the fourth quarter of 2017, which also lines up with the target release date of the iMac Pro. The other chips may see earlier release dates.

Though Xeon-W chips do appear to work for the iMac Pro, there is still some question as to whether they’re the chips Apple plans to use. A June report from Pike’s Universum suggested Apple would use Intel’s server-grade Purley processors with an LGA3647 socket rather than the desktop-class LGA2066 socket.

That information was based on firmware files found in the macOS High Sierra beta, but it’s possible it was inaccurate. Intel announced some Purley chips in July, but that announcement did not include chips that would be appropriate for the iMac Pro.

Along with Xeon processors, the iMac Pro will include Radeon Pro Vega graphics, up to 4TB of solid state storage space, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, up to 128GB of ECC RAM, and a redesigned thermal architecture to support those components.

Rumors based on firmware findings suggest the iMac Pro could also include a Secure Enclave with an ARM coprocessor like the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, but it’s unclear at this time what that functionality will be used for as Apple has made no mention of Touch ID support.

The iMac Pro is positioned as a workstation class machine aimed at pro users with demanding workflows, and it’s priced accordingly. When it launches in December, pricing for the iMac Pro will start at $4,999.

Intel has decided to retire its older chipset Atom x5-Z8100P SoC which has been available for years. Microsoft’s Hololens has also been using this chipset since its first launch. According to reports, Intel has asked the customers of this chipset to place their final order until September 30th.

While the orders will be shipped to them by October 30th. And after this deadline, there won’t be any production for this chipset by Intel. While Microsoft has been working on the next version of their Hololens Augmented Reality product. This news may indicate us that Microsoft may have included a new chipset for the next version of HoloLens.

Microsoft had already revealed that they would be using a newer Hololens Processing Unit HPU) 2.0 that will have an AI co-processor integrated into it. Microsoft Hololens’ next version is expected to come in mid-2018 and they will be ready with the consumer version of Hololens in 2019-2020.

Microsoft has many times reiterated that they consider Mixed reality and artificial intelligence as the future of computing. Microsoft had said at Computex last June that they hope to see 80 million VR devices in consumers’ hands by 2020. It looks Microsoft is well on track with their Mixed Reality vision.

 

Blockchain is practically tailor-made for business, and not just because it’s a cornerstone of Bitcoin. Its decentralized, speedy approach to secure transactions is more convenient for tracking cargo around the world or providing digital IDs to those who’d otherwise have nothing.

And Microsoft knows it — it’s partnering with Intel to introduce a framework, Coco, that promises to make blockchain accessible to virtually any large business where it might help.

It draws on Intel’s Software Guard Extensions to provide blockchain’s distributed tech with speed (up to 1,600 transactions per second) and security that scales to just about any kind of business with relative ease. You don’t need to spend as much time crafting a custom blockchain system, or pay through the nose for computing power as your demands grow.

There are catches. Although Coco should work with any operating system and hypervisor (virtual machine monitor) that supports the right trusted execution environments, you need Microsoft’s Azure cloud services and Intel hardware. This is clearly aimed at enterprises with fairly run-of-the-mill setups. Microsoft and Intel ultimately plan to offer the work from Coco as part of an open source project in 2018, though, and there are already takers like Ethereum and JP Morgan.

This doesn’t mean that blockchain will be ubiquitous. However, it could lower many of the barriers to the technology. Rather than treat blockchain as an experiment or a niche tool, your workplace might use it whenever it makes sense. This might be the ticket to making blockchain mainstream.

Toyota is teaming up with Intel, and an assortment of tech and automotive firms, to develop an ecosystem for connected cars. By sharing self-driving vehicle data, the companies aim to develop maps and improved driver assistance systems based on cloud computing. Rounding out the alliance (dubbed the “Automotive Edge Computing Consortium”) will be Ericsson, Japanese auto parts-maker Denso Corp, and telecoms firm NTT DoCoMo.

Practically everyone is wading into the autonomous car space. And, collaboration between firms is just as common. Alphabet’s Waymo, and GM, are buddying up with Lyft. Renault is cozying up to Nissan.

And China’s search giant Baidu is targeting, well, everyone. And that’s just a smattering of the team-ups currently taking place. Toyota itself also recently hooked up with Nissan to build a US assembly plant for EVs and self-driving cars.

All those connected car tests are already racking up big data, which will ramp up exponentially over time. In fact, it’s estimated the data volume between vehicles and the cloud will reach 10 exabytes per month by 2025, said Toyota.

That’s approximately 10,000 times larger than the present amount, according to the company. Pooling some of that data in the form of an alliance therefore makes a lot of sense. Especially, if Toyota and Intel intend to keep up with the competition.

 

After killing its Joule, Edison, and Galileo compute modules, Intel has axed two more products. The company has announced that it’s discontinuing Intel Curie module and Arduino 101’s manufacturing.

The final orders for Curie-based Arduino 101 could be made until September 17, 2017. The online support for Curie will also last through September 17, 2017.

Last month, Intel announced that it’s discontinuing its 3 compute module offerings — Joule, Edison, and Galileo. The company didn’t list any specific reasons, but it could be attributed to the explosive popularity of competitors like Raspberry Pi. Now, Intel has taken one more step back from the world of maker boards.

In a post published on its community forum, Intel announced the end-of-life timeline of the Intel Curie module. It accompanied the news that the company will discontinue the manufacturing of Arduino 101 board, which are themselves powered by Intel Curie modules.

As a result, Intel will support the last orders of Arduino 101 products through September 17, 2017, and complete those orders through December 17, 2017.

Image: Intel
Image: Intel

Talking about the support, the current forum-based support for these products will be available through September 17, 2017. After that, the resources will be only available for review and continue to be available until June 15, 2020. The open source offerings will remain available on GitHub.

This final blow to the maker community has made clear that Intel is giving up on hardware tinkerers in a small time. The company is actively looking for other manufacturers to take over Arduino 101 production but that doesn’t make up for Intel’s lack of public documentation that discouraged certain developers from trying out these offerings.

These steps could also be seen as a response to the increased competition from AMD. Whatever might be the case, Arduino 101 and Intel Curie will surely be missed.

Earlier in the year it was revealed that quad core processors will soon make its appearance by end of this year. We did not have much details about the processors at that time, but now there are reports that Intel’s eight generation “Coffee Lake” processors will be making its appearance later this year.

Details leaked online confirm that the new Core i5-8250U and Core i7-8550U for Ultrabooks will be coming with the 15W Quad core processors. Up until now we have seen only Ultra Low Voltage processors were found in the devices like the Surface Pro.

This would mean that devices like the Dell XPS 13 would be moving from dual core to quad core and Microsoft might also plan for a quad core Surface Device. As far as core are concerned the single core benchmark has been set around 4000 on similar lines to Intel’s Kaby Lake chips.

The first batch of notebooks sporting Intel’s 8th generation CPUs include the Lenovo Yoga 720-13IKBR, the HP Pro Book 440 G5, Asus Zen Book UX340UAR and Spectre x360, Acer Swift 3 and Dell XPS 13 SKUs.

 

In their latest effort to boost diversity in leadership, Intel, IBM and Pfizer have promised to invest $300m in women-led businesses over the next three years.

Of late, Intel has revealed some major spending in the advanced fields of autonomous vehicles and the internet of things (IoT), but its latest effort aims to boost the number of women in leadership positions.

Intel, IBM and Pfizer have jointly announced plans to source a total of $100m each through their supply chains from women-owned businesses and minority groups.

Announced on stage at the Global Citizen Festival in Hamburg, Germany, the trio’s promise was echoed by foundations from Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands agreeing to commit $172m towards the She Decides movement, which promotes fundamental human rights for women across the globe.

Intel’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, Barbara Whye, said this is part of the company’s wider diversity funding plans.

“Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our constantly evolving culture at Intel,” she said.

“They accelerate our ability to consistently innovate and drive the business forward. Supplier diversity adds tremendously to our competitive advantage while stimulating growth in a global marketplace.”

Back in 2015, Intel announced plans to increase spending with diverse suppliers to $1bn annually by 2020.

In other Intel news, the company revealed last month that it plans to play a big part in the next Tokyo Olympics, having partnered with the International Olympic Committee to bring IoT to one of the world’s biggest sporting events.

Running until the 2024 games in either LA or Paris, Intel’s deal will see a raft of new quirks brought to the Olympics, largely from a visual standpoint.

This will involve a VR presentation of the games, a drone light show and 360-degree replay technology.

Intel is trading down 0.82% at $34.04 a share after settling counter lawsuits with John McAfee over the use of the security pioneer’s name.

McAfee agreed not to use his name in connection to cybersecurity products or services as a part of the settlement. He retained the rights to use his name in other contexts, according to Reuters.

The settlement was called ‘amicable’ by court documents.

McAfee, the founder of McAfee Security, sold the company to Intel in 2010 for $7.7 billion. He sued Intel after hearing that renaming his new business, MGT Capital Investments, to “John McAfee Global Technologies” would infringe on Intel’s trademarks.

Intel is down 7% this year, including Thursday’s move. The company is trading at $34.01 currently.