Intel's Broadwell Goes BGA Only: Implications for Future Desktops

Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: Intel

Moving Towards BGA Only?

The sky is falling.  Does this mean that Chicken Little is panicking for no reason or is Chicken Little the Cassandra of our time?  It has been widely reported that Intel will not be offering the next generation Broadwell architecture as a LGA based product.  Broadwell is a 14 nm product that will integrate southbridge functions into the chip, making it essentially a SOC.  It will be offered only as a BGA only product, which means that it will be soldered onto a motherboard with no chance of being able to be swapped out.  Broadwell is the successor to the upcoming Haswell, itself a 22 nm product that features many architectural changes to both the CPU and graphics portion as compared to the current 22 nm Ivy Bridge.

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Will Broadwell be the death of the desktop industry and enthusiasts?  Will LGA become as scarce as chicken teeth?  Will we ever see a product with a swappable CPU after 2014?

Broadwell is aimed at TDPs ranging from 10 watts to 57 watts.  Current high end Ivy Bridge parts max out at 77 watts and do not feature any southbridge type functionality.  So that means that another 5 to 7 watts are added in for the chipset when discussing basic system TDPs.  So we are looking at around 87 watts for a top end product when including SATA and USB functionality.  30 watts is a pretty big deal in OEM circles.  We see right off the bat that Intel is aiming this architecture at a slightly different market, or at least a changing marketplace.

The unease that we are seeing is essentially this; Intel appears to be trying to take more profits from this setup and pass more costs onto the motherboard industry.  This is not necessarily new for Intel, as they did this when transitioning to the LGA socket.  LGA sockets are more expensive and more troublesome for the motherboard manufacturers as compared to a more traditional pin based interface.  AMD continues to use pin based chips as this lowers the cost that is incurred by the motherboard manufacturers, and it also lowers overall support issues.  LGAs are pretty solid, but it is very easy to bend one or more of those contacts so that they in fact do not create a solid connection with the CPU.  This is something that is uncommon with pin based CPUS, but the downside of pin based is that it is more expensive to produce the CPU in the first place as compared to a LGA chip which only features the pads on the substrate of the CPU.

Continue reading our thoughts on Intel's move to BGA processors...

At first glance it appears that Intel is trying to limit selection for motherboard partners and consumers.  There is truth to that.  People will obviously not be able to swap out CPUs and mix and match motherboards.  Motherboard manufacturers will be forced to buy CPUs from Intel to integrate into their motherboard products, and they will be eating support costs as well due to the motherboard/CPU combo being their problem entirely (as compared to just supporting a motherboard while Intel supports the CPU if any issues arise).  We would assume that we would see a smaller selection of CPUs that span a wide range of power and performance options.  This does further stratify pricing options, so the potential for higher overall margins for Intel is great.  Instead of having 10+ products ranging from $120 to $999 we would expect to see fewer overall chips with a more structured pricing system.  This is again a positive for Intel while consumers will have a smaller selection and will likely pay more due to it.

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BGA solutions on the desktop are not new.  We see all-in-one solutions from both Intel and AMD, but these are generally relegated to the Atom and E series products respectively.  These are generally lower priced options and products that most enthusiasts do not buy anyway.  It does appear that Intel is expanding upon this idea, but this does not necessarily mean that Intel is abandoning both enthusiasts and choice.

While Broadwell will be a BGA only solution, Intel is not giving up on LGA products.  When Broadwell is released we will see much the same situation as we do now with Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge products.  While Ivy Bridge is the better overall solution, Sandy Bridge is still a very good product that is currently being sold by Intel in conjunction with Ivy.  Broadwell will be sold alongside faster clocked Haswell products, and Haswell will continue to be LGA.  Haswell will also have the higher overall TDP at 77 watts, and I would honestly expect those parts to be slightly faster than the 57 watt Broadwell.  So enthusiasts will still have fast Intel CPUs to put into whatever board they want.  Motherboard manufacturers will still sell LGA based motherboards and be able to customize their products so as to continue to introduce value added features and differentiate them at a wide range of price points.

The product after Broadwell will also be introduced as a LGA part.  Undoubtedly this part will also be offered as a BGA unit as well, but it will still be offered as a LGA product as well.  Intel is not entirely throwing the motherboard industry to the wolves, but we can bet that Intel is watching how Broadwell works out very closely.  If Intel crunches the numbers and thinks that they can extract a higher margin from their products in the face of declining PC sales due to increased mobile solutions, then we can bet that Intel will be more than willing to throw their motherboard partners under the bus.  We also must consider that a 57 watt Broadwell part with integrated southbridge functionality is a nice fit for next generation all-in-one products like the Dell XPS One.  OEMs may not particularly care about the lack of a LGA socket for many of their designs, as buyers of pre-built machines rarely upgrade their CPUs.

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AMD looks to offer swappable CPUs as long as people buy them.  In this case we have an AM3+ motherboard with Anti-Dust Shielding Technology!

The next question we need to ask is if this opens up a window for AMD?  It does, but that window is very, very small.  AMD could pick up some business as well as good will from motherboard manufacturers, but this is assuming that AMD has a product that is competitive with Haswell when Broadwell is introduced.  There are a lot of ifs in that statement.  AMD needs to have Steamroller up and running by 2014.  They also need to have either a 22 nm or 20 nm FD-SOI (fully depleted SOI) process available to them so they can more adequately compete with Intel with their mature 22 nm FinFET process, as well as offer performance and TDPs comparable to not only Haswell but Broadwell.  There is a small glimmer of hope for AMD to improve their marketshare due to unhappiness with Broadwell and their BGA only implementation, but that depends almost entirely on AMD being able to execute perfectly between now and Broadwell’s introduction.

While I do not welcome a BGA only Broadwell, we do see that Intel is not entirely abandoning the LGA based desktop market and enthusiasts.  Haswell will still be available in LGA and offer performance that matches Broadwell but with slightly higher TDPs.  Consider that we still do not have Ivy Bridge with LGA 2011 based systems, as those still rely upon Sandy Bridge B parts.  The next generation after Broadwell will be offered in LGA.  This does look to be a grand experiment by Intel with very little risk overall to their bottom line.  How the market reacts to this move will of course impact Intel’s future product updates.  If enthusiasts, OEMs, and motherboard manufacturers are united in their overall distaste with this move, then Intel will change their future strategies to reflect this.  If Broadwell is a success then we can look forward to Intel pursuing a more BGA focused future.  We can only hope that AMD will be around as a competitor in the x86 market to offer an alternative at that time.


Update Dec. 4, 2012

AMD contacted us to make sure that we know that they will continue to support the socketed crowd of enthusiasts in the desktop market.  Gary Silcott was kind enough to pass this statement on to me for your reading pleasure:

AMD has a long history of supporting the DIY and enthusiast desktop market with socketed CPUs & APUs that are compatible with a wide range of motherboard products from our partners.  That will continue through 2013 and 2014 with the “Kaveri” APU and FX CPU lines.  We have no plans at this time to move to BGA only packaging and look forward to continuing to support this critical segment of the market.

As the company that introduced new types of BGA packages in ultrathin platforms several years ago, and today offers BGA-packaged processors for everything from ultrathin notebooks to all-in-one desktops, to embedded applications and tablets, we certainly understand Intel’s enthusiasm for the approach.  But for the desktop market, and the enthusiasts with whom AMD has built its brand, we understand what matters to them and how we can continue to bring better value and a better experience.

Of great interest is his comment about the Kaveri APU, but the wording does not shine any light on whether this will be a 2014 or 2013 product.  It is good to know that AMD has our backs, but we do wonder if they will have a product that will be comparable to not just Broadwell, but also Haswell during that timeframe.

Video News

November 27, 2012 | 05:54 PM - Posted by AMD_Supporter (not verified)

Reminds me of 3DFX Interactive which became 3dfx. They had dominated the 3D graphics market, got greedy and decided to do everything themselves. Vendors were not happy nor were consumers and this led to their demise and nVidia taking over.

Of course the fact that 3dfx's latter cards were vacuum cleaners in a bad way (crazy noise and power consumption) didn't help.

Can only hope Vendors embrace AMD more with this news, but we still need to see some special things from AMD's side for them to have any chance of regaining a similar image of their former glory days.

November 27, 2012 | 06:07 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Huh, I guess I really don't remember the Voodoo 5 series being vacuum cleaners.  Yeah, it had the dual Avid fans and heatsinks, and did require the 4 pin molex power connector... but it was still a card that pulled around 50 watts at max.  Not exactly power hungry, especially compared to today's monster cards that hit 250 watts plus!  I honestly don't remember it being loud at all...

November 29, 2012 | 05:32 PM - Posted by techo (not verified)

Yes I also agree the Voodoo cards were not excessivly noisy. They were revolutionary, they had quad chip cards almost a decade ago. 3DFX "greed" didn't lead to their demise, they were knocked out of the Market because of piss poor greedy NVIDIA sueing them for technology NVIDIA think they had patents for.

November 30, 2012 | 12:30 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Heh, 3dfx died because they were way too laid back as compared to their competition.  Friends of mine that worked there talked about how much gaming they did all the time.  Yes, work was done, but not nearly as aggressively as NVIDIA.  Say what you will about NV and Huang, but the corporate culture there was very product driven.  3dfx had delay after delay on all major products.  They started out with a great idea, but it was way too casual of a workplace to compete against NVIDIA.

November 27, 2012 | 09:15 PM - Posted by ThorAxe

Thanks for the additional info Josh.

I was a little concerned though I suspected that Intel may keep the high end LGA. Hopefully this remains the case.

November 27, 2012 | 10:21 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I ALWAYS upgrade CPU and motherboard together and 90% of motherboards perform the same, so embedded CPU's don't bother me at all... if true. Still no comment from Intel...

November 27, 2012 | 11:28 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I dont often change out the cpu either, but sometimes I might want a lower end cpu with a high end motherboard or a low end motherbaord with a high end cpu.

If BGA akes over the already large number of motherboards will blow out, and high end cpus will likley be matched with the high end motherboards.

November 27, 2012 | 11:53 PM - Posted by Thedarklord

Thanks for the good read, a lot of good info.

To be honest im not really worried about BGA solutions, as I rarely end up upgradeing my CPU, and whenever I do, I usally get another motherboard for the "old" cpu anyway to repurpose that setup.

I am not a fan of it, but I dont think its the death of the PC or PC enthuthists by any means.

I actually kind of think of it as being similar to the Video Card arena, AIB's (EVGA,XFX,MSI,Ect) take GPU's sold by nVIDIA/AMD and place them into thier PCB's and sell them.

So this could open up things for some VGA companys to enter into the motherboard market, or expand the motherboard market.


Edit: To add something, since Intel has been socket changing crazy the last few years, remember how long PGA 478/LGA775 lasted :), this could resolve thier issue of that? Food for thought.

November 28, 2012 | 01:39 AM - Posted by Sublym3 (not verified)

So this has been confirmed by Intel?

Or is PCPer just quoting the original Japanese PC Watch/Xbit story as truth?

If it is true I don't think it is much of a loss, if you have been on the Intel side of things (especially lately) very few of you would changed out your CPU without getting a new motherboard simply due to socket changes.

The other potentially good thing is it will stop the motherboard makers from having a stupid amount of motherboards all with tiny little changes. Hopefully it leads to quality/feature rich over quantity.

November 28, 2012 | 03:58 AM - Posted by KngtRider

Intel have not and will not comment on rumours. Neither will any scenario evolve from this scandal that will prompt them to comment on the matter.

Its simply stirring the pot. Just as graphics rumours are a storm in a teacup

There are no facts to the story. Wether it is Charlie D, his sources, PCWatch, Chiphell, you name it.

The closest to fact avalible in this situation are leaked Intel block diagrams for the chipset and even they are suspetible to change.

The 10/11/12 roadmaps were changed several times and X79 was revised before launch.

This things always come up. I remeber the hype over Intel's 'La Grande' DRM technology, many mainstream publications put up features claiming zomg the sky is falling.

Even some Intel representatives stated to the media the chips had DRM technology which is technically correct but mainstream IT often have to spin things themselves to explain concepts to their audiences and word lengths.

Look where that ended up. Did actual, real end users get affected? NO, not a SINGLE user was affected.

And before anyone tries to claim HDCP is DRM thats a seperate industry related initiative.

Some commenters to this day still stand by DRM conspiracies, but as I said no end user was affected.

Intel has changed plans quite freuently at the last minute.

In 1996, USB and MMX were announced to partners too early and promised compatibily was broken.
Intel changed some implementation details.

The Bug with their 820 Carmel Platform for Pentium 3 let them to hasen their roadmap plans.

The P3 1.13ghz in slot 1 was recalled. (Socket 370 1.10GHz as a succesful but rare released product)

They formally canceled Tejas (gee how quickly people forget THAT ONE, now that was a doosy in the media) and re-purposed their roadmap to produce a "Intel 64" chip based on most of AMD's x86-64 isa but not all of it

More recently, promised features of X79/C600 chipset, being the Integrated Storage Controller Unit for 'Free' SAS were broken and barely delivered to market.

They even did the 'unthinkable' and went to a third party vendor (Sandforce) as a stopgap while they worked on their own SSD logic.

Intel are always thinking toward the long term. They also try not to intentionally canbalise any of their core market segments. The exception to this is natural canbialsisation which they predict which as tablets or netbooks.

November 28, 2012 | 03:39 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I think Intel want enthusiasts to move to the -E platform and I bet that will remain LGA for some time.

November 28, 2012 | 08:59 AM - Posted by Lord Binky (not verified)

I'm pretty MEH about this. I'm a fickle customer that does what I want at my own whims so I'm happy with my choice.

If AMD picks up it's IPC and they let me choose the combination of board and CPU I want instead of a all-in-one combination, I'll happily pick up AMD.

As it stands though, I still have no reason to upgrade from a I7 920@4.2 GHz, and they are going to be hard pressed to change that. Which also doesn't make me part of their target audience right now anyways...

November 28, 2012 | 12:03 PM - Posted by Earthrat (not verified)

Those of you that say this will not bother you don't really understand what could happen. Not only will you not be able to get the processor you want but you will also become a slave to the motherboard manufacturer. You will not be able to choose what board goes with what processor.

I abandoned AMD because of their poor choices and if this happens with Intel I will drop them like a hot potato and return to AMD. Hopefully they can see the real need for choice by the consumer.

This is not only a bad move on Intel's part but simply put it is bad business sense to think that they know more about what the high end enthusiast that has supports them.

November 28, 2012 | 12:13 PM - Posted by YTech2 (not verified)

"AMD looks to offer swappable CPUs as long as people buy them. In this case we have an AM3+ motherboard with Anti-Dust Shielding Technology!"

I thought AMD no longer produces CPUs, but only APUs?

As for the Anti-Dust Shielding Technology, not sure how efficient this is. From PCpers Podcast, it's more of a laughing matter. :D

As said, it appears to be a product aimed for a different market. I read somewhere that Atoms and E series will no longer be produced. Perhaps this is the new Atoms-E Series.

I can only see CPU swapping for enthusiasts. For myself, when I want to swap, newer CPU usually no longer is compatible with the current motherboard or that newer motherboards has newer components which I want. So, usually it would be a pick new CPU with new Mobo day. However, I still prefer the "assemble yourself" approach. So a BGA would make it less enjoyable.

Good to know that they're not dropping the current productions of non-BGA CPU.

- YTech

November 28, 2012 | 07:53 PM - Posted by brisa117

APU, CPU, essentially the same thing. AMD's APUs are basically what Intel does with their integrated graphics... just with not as good CPU portions and way better GPU portions.

Anyways, AMD actually does still make straight CPUs. In fact, they just recently (month ago?) released their new AM3+ CPUs, Vishera (piledriver), with the flagship being the FX-8350.

November 28, 2012 | 01:35 PM - Posted by jstnomega (not verified)

hard to be a fan of less choice

November 28, 2012 | 02:40 PM - Posted by Hanns (not verified)

I don't care about LGA or BGA. Intel is DEAD.
Once NVIDIA releases Project Denver, AMD its AMDARMy and Samsung the Exynos 6 with 16 cores running at 3ghz+ Intel will be KO.

November 28, 2012 | 02:43 PM - Posted by lolo (not verified)

>>>The sky is falling

Indeed, SkyFall :p

November 28, 2012 | 03:10 PM - Posted by Jon gibson (not verified)

I see this as great news. We'll find exciting new ways that take advantage of the performance /price of this configuration and the whole market will evolve. The thought of having a new type of system filled with two or three of these SOC boards will be awesome. Think of the ability to have 24 cores in a single box with the power requirement of today's systems. I can't wait...Intel, bring it on. Bold moves such as this are what moves us forward.

November 28, 2012 | 09:11 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i have seen a lot of comments regarding this on several boards- most Intel owners remarking they never upgrade so why worry.

I see this as the end game for Intel - the rational end game = as there is now no competition and they can make the industry do what they want- from making memory makers change from dual to tri to quad channel configs, to telling users that you need a socket change with each chip- just because.
so now you are getting disposable motherboards- i expect the prices to go up then.

yet in the AMD world we always upgraded because AMD had that compatibility. even today i have an AM2+ machine running a 965BE with DDR2- it's on a great enthusiast board - and i felt no need to upgrade. i just got a better chip and OC'd it. shame those days seem over- and my current main AM3+ box with it's zosma is the last one i built it seems for amd

November 29, 2012 | 05:28 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Sounds to me like this is going to create the disposable PC. I repair PCs and I can't remember the last time I had a defective CPU, but I have replaced thousands of system boards! If we have to start replacing both then you might as well replace the entire PC. I suppose there are some high end systems with huge drives and PSUs that would change this, but the majority of my customers would probably opt for a whole new computer.

November 30, 2012 | 08:24 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

You guys have missed the point: they don't really have any option in this due to the physics. Pins and sockets simply don't work at those speeds and densities, they come with too-high and irreducible parasitic capacitances and inductances which slow and distort the high-speed low-voltage electrical signals. Want to go 4GHz for realz? Then no pins no sockets.

December 3, 2012 | 12:01 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

That's a bit of an unqualified blanket statement.  AMD has several chips @ 4GHz and above.  IBM has the POWER7 chips running above 4GHz as well without soldering onto a board.  Also, if this were true, why does the gen after Broadwell go back to LGA offerings?

December 1, 2012 | 10:19 AM - Posted by DeadOfKnight (not verified)

If this is true, and if AMD has a chip to match Haswell when Broadwell comes out, it will be a no-brainer to switch to AMD.

December 2, 2012 | 12:34 AM - Posted by S. H. (not verified)

Frankly, I like to assemble computers but I can't help but wonder if integrating the chip to the board gives better performance or even functional performance, as stated above.

I've been an AMD fan for some time and this is really heavenly news, Intel is shooting itself in the foot, unless of course the new designs at these frequencies truly require being soldered... which I am doubting.

On a potentially unrelated note, one thing that really is bothering me about my PC experience is that I have entered a Tablet-centric mode, I rarely hop on to this desktop anymore and the laptop is gathering dust except when I travel. I hope AMD will try to get into the Tablet market since this is where I am headed and would like to continue patronage.

Perhaps Intel is looking to increase margins because it is losing hand over foot to the tablet market, and this isn't a red herring but a real problem in the PC space... thoughts abound, substantial conclusion denied.

May 4, 2013 | 08:35 AM - Posted by Harald (not verified)

Well, if Intel won't let me swap my CPU (I'm already annoyed at their constant change of socket every 2nd gen) I'll run into the arms of AMD. I don't -have- to have Intel, although because of habit I've used them over a number of years. Glad to hear AMD is still catering to everybody.

May 21, 2013 | 11:45 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What you people that rarely upgrade anything need to keep in mind, this about ultimate control and forcing all to frequently upgrade their entire system also no replacing bad cpu's with out replacing everything. Don't so easily give up on your rights to choose just because you often do not. Apple is doing this in their product line with soldered in ram and glued in batteries. Intel should be giving their customers more choice not less. AMD needs to step up competition so that Intel will not feel that it can do what ever it wants. I know that you may not use it, but some day you may miss it, if you give it up so easily.

May 21, 2013 | 11:48 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Next, I believe that Pile-driver currently matches at 3570k level, which is all that anyone needs for games, AMD may not match on the top end, but even top of line Pile-driver and 3570k are better than most people have. I for one will give up top of line performance for choice. And kudos to the bringing up of sockets, could Intel not have done Haswell on 1155 and just left 5 inactive pin??????

July 3, 2013 | 10:34 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If BGA is true, forget about overclocking CPUs

July 20, 2013 | 07:50 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The whole article is speculation. It was never confirmed. Only some unconfirmed leaks that Intel never confirmed.

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