The first products based on Intel’s Broadwell chips were introduced last fall, but it was not a smooth launch. Yield problems with the company’s new 14nm manufacturing process forced Intel to stagger Broadwell’s rollout. The low-power, low-performance Core M chips came first, followed by faster U-series dual-core parts a few months later. And today, the rollout ends with the release of a dozen higher-performance quad-core chips destined for enthusiast- and workstation-class desktops and laptops.
Though these chips will probably bring improvements in power consumption and CPU performance, the real star is Intel’s new top-end integrated GPU, the Iris Pro 6200. For the first time, Intel is offering Iris Pro as a socketed desktop part rather than a BGA version soldered to motherboards.
We’ll get performance numbers when we actually have finished systems to test, but for now let’s run down what Intel is promising, what chips it’s releasing, and what kinds of systems they’re going to end up in.
Intel is releasing a limited number of these quad-core Broadwell processors, focused mostly on chips that will go into systems that walk the line between size and performance (think Apple’s 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro on the laptop side or Gigabyte’s Brix Pro desktop). There are five desktop chips and five laptop chips, for a total of 10.
Other systems, particularly midrange and low-end desktops currently served by Haswell chips, are going to have to keep waiting. As we reported last year, Broadwell is skipping these kinds of systems entirely—the next versions of those chips will be based on the next-generation Skylake architecture, which will bring with it new chipsets and a new CPU socket.
As a “tock” on Intel’s roadmap, Skylake will be built on the same 14nm process as Broadwell but will feature a revamped CPU architecture. It will also introduce support for DDR4 RAM, which will go a long way toward making the new memory more mainstream (and thus, more affordable).
Intel tells us that first Skylake chips will launch in Q3 of 2015. The 14nm node’s early production issues made a mess of the Broadwell launch, but the company seems committed to getting back on schedule with Skylake even if it squeezes some of these later Broadwell processors out.
We don’t know which products Intel will refresh first, but we’re hoping for a top-to-bottom launch across both desktop and mobile that looks more like the Haswell launch than the Broadwell launch.
Iris Pro 6200
These are quad-core CPUs, sure, but the increased power and thermal limits mean that Intel can also fit its new high-end integrated GPU onto these parts. The Iris Pro 6200 replaces the Iris Pro 5200, and like its predecessor it gets a big performance boost thanks to 128MB of eDRAM cache integrated onto the processor package. In one of our NUC reviews we looked at how sensitive these GPUs are to memory bandwidth, and the eDRAM really helps out a lot here (it can also serve as L4 cache for the CPU when necessary).
The GPU itself is the same one used in the HD 6000 and Iris 6100 products. It's got 48 of Intel’s graphics execution units (EUs) and it’s integrated into the same die as the CPU itself. Freed from the constraints of plain-old DDR3 RAM, though, the GPU gets much closer to dedicated midrange GPUs from the likes of AMD and Nvidia. Intel says Iris Pro 6200 should be about twice as fast as the Intel HD 5500 GPU shipping in most mainstream Ultrabooks.
Benchmarks we've done in the past suggest that the older Iris Pro 5200 was already around twice the speed of the HD 5500, though, so we don't really know how much faster Iris Pro 6200 will be relative to its predecessor. AnandTech has some fairly comprehensive benchmarks, but they focus on comparisons with other socketed desktop CPUs. It's faster than the best of AMD's integrated desktop GPUs, but we'll need to get systems in for testing before we can compare with the previous generation.
Which brings us to the most interesting thing about these new Broadwell parts, at least on the desktop side: the performance upgrades are one selling point for Iris Pro 6200, but the other is that it will be available as part of some socketed desktop CPUs for the first time. Both the desktop and mobile chips that used Iris Pro 5200 were ball-grid array (BGA) chips soldered to the motherboard. The two Broadwell-C processors are compatible with Intel's current chipsets and ought to be decent options for people building compact but fairly powerful PCs.
Five for desktops, five for laptops
There are a total of 10 chips here, spread out across the Core i5 and Core i7 families on desktops and laptops. Nine of the chips include quad-core CPUs, though one (the i5-5350H, a laptop chip) is a dual-core part. This is also a first—only quad-core Haswell chips came with the high-end Iris Pro GPU—but since the CPU doesn't have a lower TDP, unfortunately, it's not going to fit into smaller laptops like the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Of the other four mobile chips (all of which include the "HQ" label), three are quad-core, eight-thread CPUs with the Iris Pro 6200 GPU we talked about above. One uses the Intel HD 5600 GPU, a replacement for the lower-end HD 4600 GPU that has half the execution units and no eDRAM. It's essentially the same as the HD 5500 we've already seen, just in a chip with more CPU cores and a higher TDP.
The five desktop chips are split up into two families. The R-series, a letter already used in some Haswell chips, are BGA CPUs that will be soldered to the motherboard. They're aimed at thin and small desktops where upgradeability isn't really a concern—your iMacs or your Brixes. The C-series is new. These are the socketed chips we talked about above, and they're unlocked for overclocking. Normally unlocked chips would use the letter K, but not in this case.
You might notice that the base CPU clock speeds for these chips are relatively low. That's partly because they use a lower 65W TDP than typical Haswell quad-core desktop chips, which typically range from 84 to 88W—these really are intended for systems that are trying to squeeze the most performance they can into the smallest package that they can.
All of these chips, like certain Broadwell-U parts, support up to 1866MHz DDR3 RAM, up just a bit from the 1600MHz maximum for Haswell.