Intel Stops The Tick-Tock Clock

Intel has apparently killed off its well known “tick-tock” design cadence known in favor of a new extended development scheme.

Although Intel has been producing chips based on the tick-tock pace for roughly a decade now, the last several ticks and tocks have not gone quite according to plan. The system began to break down after the Ivy Bridge tick. Ivy Bridge went off the beaten path a bit by bringing out a significantly improved iGPU architecture and a moderate improvement to CPU performance over the Sandy Bridge tock, which Intel referred to as a “tick+.”

Ivy Bridge was followed by the Haswell tock. Haswell featured a new architecture, but the performance enhancements were rather mediocre. Intel ran into difficulties with its Broadwell tick as well, which lead to Intel releasing an updated Haswell chip, breaking from the traditional tick-tock cadence.

The new three-stage design scheme closely resembles the transition from Ivy Bridge through the Haswell refresh. It begins with a new transistor process node (22 nm Ivy Bridge or 14 nm Broadwell), followed by a new architecture similar to tick-tock (Haswell or Skylake), and ends with an optimized refresh of that architecture on the same process.

This change in design scheme is likely due to the increased difficulty of developing smaller transistor technology. The move to 14 nm transistors delayed the Broadwell desktop release, and Broadwell never really showed up in force outside of the mobile world. The next major advancement in transistor technology will likely be even more difficult, so we are unlikely to see sub-14 nm chips in the near future.

What we can expect to see next, then, is an optimized Skylake architecture. Of course, this is speculation, and it isn’t clear if Intel will even call it "Skylake," but for now we could call it "Skylake+" for simplicity’s sake until Intel says otherwise. We also don’t know when these Skylake+ chips will come to the market, but they will apparently use 14 nm transistors and will almost certainly use the same chipsets and socket.

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