Intel guarantees its next-gen Broadwell chips will be in PCs this holiday season


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Delays may have pushed back the launch of Broadwell, Intel's energy-efficient follow-up to today's Haswell processors, but CEO Brian Krzanich has no plans to play the Grinch this Christmas. Broadwell-powered computers are guaranteed to be on store shelves in time for the holiday season—but don't hold your breath for Broadwell to be shipping in time for the other PC-buying bonanza of the year.

"Back to school—that's a tight one," Krzanich told Reuters. "Back to school you have to really have it on-shelf in July, August. That's going to be tough."

Fortunately (ish) for Intel, back-to-school sales have softened considerably in recent years, so missing the season shouldn't hurt too much. Unfortunately for Intel, Broadwell's holiday launch is significantly behind its projected schedule. Krzanich originally expected Broadwell chips to begin shipping to manufacturers in late 2013, presumably for a widespread release in the first half of 2014—Intel's Ivy Bridge and Haswell chips launched in the first half of 2012 and 2013, respectively. A mere month after that prediction, however, Krzanich said that manufacturing delays would delay Broadwell's production.

Getting smaller is getting harder

Broadwell, which Intel says will be faster and a whopping 30 percent more power-efficient than its Haswell-based counterparts, is a "tick" in Intel's "tick-tock" strategy. Intel introduces a new processor microarchitecture in tock years, then shrinks the architecture's transistor size in tick years, keeping pace with Moore's Law. At its heart, Broadwell will be a shrunk-down cousin to Haswell.

But technology has advanced to the point that today's PC processors already pack more than a billion—yes, billion—transistors, and it's becoming insanely difficult to continue shrinking transistor sizes. Intel ran into problems with the new 14-nanometer process used to manufacture Broadwell chips, after building Haswell using a 22nm process. That's not to say Intel is struggling. AMD and other chip makers have largely been stuck on the 28nm process node.

"There's no doubt it's getting hard," Intel technical manufacturing manager Chuck Mulloy said in a phone interview for an article about the different ways chip makers are trying to break Moore's Law and keep chips growing ever more powerful. "Really, really hard. I mean, we're at the atomic level."

But enough negativity! Broadwell is definitely coming this year, and Krzanich has said that the slight delay in launch won't affect the release of the processors built using the new Skylake architecture in 2015. As far as future generations of computer chips go, Intel is spending billions and billions of dollars on R&D each and every year in hopes of guaranteeing that PC processors will continue to get smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient.

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