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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I know, they will be on a mature node, with experience and refinement, and faster even without improvements. But the gap will close faster if Intel can't keep its improvement rate.
Not to be a downer but if Intel is struggling at this point what makes you think AMD will be able to close the gap considering they will run into the same problems. After the Athlon 64 days AMD has always been behind. I want them to succeed and put pressure on Intel, but I don't think they will be able to close a big gap like that.
The result of this lack of real improvement is the fact that there's no real justification for me to upgrade my 3.5yeras old i7-3770K CPU (with its motherboard and RAM) for a Skylake. The 20% (max) gain in gaming performance is not enough to justify an upgrade.
AMD is needed more than ever. this being said, if ZEN performs as good as even Haswell, I will jump ship. Even if it is at a small premium. Last time I built a computer, it was between ivy bridge and bulldozer. wasn't much of a choice.
If going forward was so easy, the other chip designers and makers would have no trouble catching up with Intel. But they are all struggling just as much. Like it or not, that's what happens when you get close to physical limits.
The only practical way to increase performance much beyond the current state of things is to add more CPU cores but there is too little mainstream software capable of leveraging multi-core CPUs in a meaningful and efficient way for heavily multi-core/multi-thread mainstream CPUs to make sense.
As for the tick-tock change, I think this also reflects how powerful CPUs have become lately. Years ago, having 5+ yr-old CPU meant a computer that was completely inadequate. Now we still have people rocking away with Nehalem, Sandy Bridge, and AMD Stars without a worry. If consumers don't have a need to upgrade as often, why not extend the R&D to try and wring as much optimization out of what we have now?