On Monday, Intel pulled the curtains back on its Broadwell Y processor, which boasts improved performance and lower power, on a smaller 14-nanometer process. Intel partners are cheering the advances and said the chip maker needed to step up its low-power game against ARM, but are wary systems based on the new chip could leave them shut out when it comes to system customization and repairs.
Monday's preview by Intel wasn't an official release, but rather a sneak peek at the chip ahead of an expected formal unveiling next month at the Intel Developer Forum. That said, Intel is already in volume production of the Core M processors, its formal brand name, with units shipping to OEMs in time for a holiday launch.
"The Core M opens up a lot of new doors on the mobile front, from driving tablet, and new thin and light notebook sales, and bringing faster speeds to Intel's mini PC, the NUC," said Todd Swank, senior director of product marketing at Equus, a system builder based in Minnetonka, Minn. "We are not only looking forward to Core M processors driving new sales; we are counting on it."
But system builders are worried the Core M processor will be soldered to the system's motherboard. They said that gives them less customization options when building systems, limits who they buy Core Ms from, makes repairs and upgrades more difficult, and makes it harder for them to differentiate their systems from those of others.
"We don't know exactly what Intel's plans are, but we suspect Core M will accelerate Haswell's trend of the smaller the system, the more likely that processor is going to be soldered onto the motherboard," Swank said.
Intel declined to comment when asked, only stating more architecture details would be released leading up to the official launch of the chip.
The Broadwell Y chip will allow OEM and systems builders to bring down the thickness of a laptop and use the chips in tablets that don't require either a fan or heat sink. Intel said the chips also promise battery life of the laptops and tablets that use these new 14-nanometer Broadwell Y processors will double.
"The smaller the form factor, the harder it is to repair, upgrade or customize," said Joe Lore, sales director at Sunnytech, a white box system builder and Intel partner based in Woburn, Mass.
But Intel partners said they are happy to take the good with the bad -- the good being driving new sales with smaller, more mobile, systems that are faster with longer battery life. "Thinner, lighter, longer battery life, and still enough power to handle any task we throw at them? That's a no-brainer for us and any new customer looking for a reason to either upgrade or add to their compute needs," Swank said.
Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst at Tirias Research, said the new Core M processors keep Intel competitive in a mobile chip landscape where ARM-based chips are challenging Intel in 2-and-1, and traditional, laptop form factors.
"Intel is scaling down as ARM chip makers are scaling up into Intel's traditional territory of laptops," McGregor said. "The gap between a high-end ARM chip and low-power Intel chips is gone. The market is getting much more competitive," he said.
"I doubt Intel would be foolish enough to let its ODMs solder the Core M to all their motherboards. I doubt that will happen," McGregor said. "Intel partners that want to stay Intel partners should be happy that the chip maker is finally bringing a chip that focuses on power, price and performance to market."
PUBLISHED AUG. 12, 2014