Intel's Skylake CPUs have now been released, ushering in a new generation of computer hardware. We have seen dozens of new motherboards, the latest 100 series chipsets, the growth of DDR4, but the one thing we haven't seen much of is Skylake's desktop predecessor, Broadwell. Given the turn of events, many have speculated that Broadwell may never actually come to the desktop market, but Intel has informed us otherwise.
The Long Wait For Broadwell
The release of Intel's Broadwell CPUs have been anticipated for a long time now. Broadwell's predecessor, Haswell, originally shipped back in 2013, right on schedule to take over the market from Intel's Ivy Bridge chips. Everyone expected to see Haswell meet its end in a timely fashion as well, replaced by Broadwell some time in 2014, but instead we received a refreshed Haswell lineup headed by the Devil's Canyon series of CPUs.
In August 2014, we got our first glimpse at what Broadwell might be with the introduction of Intel's Core M on the latest 14nm fab. New mobile processors would begin to show up over the months, but nothing for the LGA 1150 platform.
Not long ago, it looked like the wait might be over when Intel sent samples of the desktop Broadwell i7-5775C and i5-5675C to us. We finally got a look at what Broadwell is capable of -- but the market release never came.
Then, suddenly, Intel released Skylake. Intel's roadmaps pointed to the release of Skylake in 2015, but because Broadwell was still missing in action from all major retailers, we didn't expect Skylake to come out on time. Needless to say, this raised a lot of questions.
Broadwell: Lost On Monkey Island
Intel didn't tell us why Broadwell is so late, but we can speculate about the problem. One theory blames the move to a 14nm fab.
The fabs used by Intel are among the fastest in the world. Intel was the first company to make the move to the 22nm process, while everyone else was stuck at 28nm or larger processes.
Intel was, again, the first to move to 14nm, but it seems this transition has been anything but smooth. The first 14nm chips produced by Intel were the Core M products, followed by other small mobile CPUs. All of these processors were relatively small in size, and Intel didn't release larger quad-core SKUs on the 14nm process for desktop or mobile products until much later. These factors point to problems with the early 14nm process, preventing Intel from releasing Broadwell in force.
Now that Intel is mass producing larger quad-core 14nm SKUs and releasing them on the market, it would appear Intel has overcome the early difficulties it faced with its 14nm process, but Broadwell faces another challenge: Skylake.
Although Skylake has been released onto the market, Intel is facing extreme difficulties filling the orders. Retailers frequently sell out, and few users have been able to get ahold of the new processors. As both Skylake and Broadwell use the same 14nm fab, and Intel can't produce Skylake fast enough to meet the demand, it is likely that Intel will hold off releasing Broadwell desktop SKUs until it has an adequate supply of Skylake parts already made up.
Too Little Too Late?
Broadwell will escape and find its way to market, but how long will it take? And who will care?
Although Broadwell still isn't readily available yet, Intel did tell us that Broadwell CPUs are coming to market, but we may be waiting a while before they do.
At this point, it is surprising that Intel will be releasing Skylake's predecessor -- after Skylake chips enter the market -- but at least it will give users on the LGA 1150 platform a few new upgrade options.
Don't expect a lot from Broadwell though. Intel told us that, currently, it only has plans for two Broadwell SKUs, the i7-5775C and i5-5675C. This is more than a little surprising, but in a way it makes sense. Skylake is already here, and anyone building a new system will most likely want to use the latest platform and the most advanced hardware. Broadwell will probably only be appealing to users who already own an LGA 1150 system and want to upgrade without needing to buy a full system. From this perspective, releasing just two relatively high-end SKUs makes some sense.
Now that Intel appears to have resolved its manufacturing problems, the only thing holding back Broadwell is the high demand for Skylake, and the speed with which Intel can produce 14nm parts. Broadwell will still succeed Haswell on the LGA 1150 platform, but the CPU is essentially lost in time. Most enthusiasts have moved to greener pastures, leaving Broadwell behind, and only those few users upgrading lower-end Haswell parts will ever make use of it. The i7-5775c was designed to be, at least for a time, Intel's flagship consumer product, but instead it will be but a small footnote in Intel's CPU history.