Intel is shipping to system vendors its first 14nm processors in the shape of the Core M family. Due to appear in new systems before the end of the year, the chips enable ultra-thin laptop and tablet designs with double the battery life, but without compromising on performance, according to the firm.
Now in volume production, Intel’s first 14nm processors are the Core M family, first disclosed at the Computex show in Taiwan in June. Codenamed Broadwell-Y, the chips allow for fanless mobile designs less than 9mm thick, Intel claims, yet still offer the level of performance that users have come to expect from a standard-sized system.
In a briefing ahead of the announcement, Intel’s vice president for the Platform Engineering Group Rani Borkar said the firm had made considerable thermal design power (TDP) reductions in order to enable these capabilities.
“What we’ve been trying to do is deliver the performance you expect from a laptop in a fanless form factor,” she said, indicating that users should expect to see systems with half the battery size, but double the battery life compared with the current Haswell generation of Core chips.
To illustrate this, Borkar showed off an Intel reference design for a convertible tablet PC codenamed Llama Mountain, the tablet portion of which is just 7.2mm thick. This was also first shown at Computex. Llama Mountain will not be a commercial product, but serves to show the kind of system made possible by the new platform.
Broadwell is essentially a die-shrink of Haswell, making it a “tick” in Intel’s “tick-tock” development model, but the design has also been tweaked to offer improvements such as better graphics. The chip package itself is physically about 25 percent smaller than Haswell to help keep system size down.
Stephan Jourdan, an Intel Fellow and director for System on Chip (SoC) Architecture, explained that Intel has optimised the Broadwell architecture to deliver optimum performance within a tight 3-5W envelope required for fanless operation.
“You can’t fit in the same size battery as a regular clamshell, so we had to make changes to enable the same experience and offer performance without hitting battery life,” he said.
For example, the chips are optimised to operate at a lower operating voltage, and feature an enhanced version of Intel’s Turbo Boost technology. Power management is also extended to enable duty cycling of logic blocks other than the core logic to reduce power.
The 14nm process itself introduces the second generation of Intel’s Tri-Gate (FinFET) transistor design, which has fewer “fins” spaced more closely together to improved component density, while the fins themselves are taller and thinner for increased drive current and performance, Intel said.
The integrated graphics in Broadwell have also been improved to deliver faster 3D and compute performance. This is partly achieved by adding a third “slice” to the architecture compared with Haswell, in addition to gains through moving to the 14nm process.
Core M chips have native support for 4K and ultra-high definition (UHD) screen resolutions, but Jourdan warned that actually fitting a 4K screen to a tablet would be detrimental to battery life.
The Core M family will be dual-core chips, like the current Core processors for ultrabooks and tablets, but Intel has yet to disclose specific details of the model numbers, clock speeds, or pricing for the chips. These will be announced closer to their release, Intel said.