It looks like Intel is going to try and divide the CPU market up once more. SemiAccurate believes that this will be the 43rd product segment by our count. This time, it is the under-served ULV market that gets a new sub-sub-niche.
Most people think that consumer CPUs don’t really need 79 SKUs across 43 segments to properly serve four types of end user product, but what do they know? It’s not like people go in to Costco and buy on price, right? Still, with only two types of silicon, Intel seems hell-bent on this combinatorial explosion made possible by the advent of silicon fuses. The ULV market is the latest to undergo mitosis.
If you recall, when Intel made their first ULV CPUs, they charged a premium for their 17W parts, and they got it. There were good technical reasons for this, and it made Intel lots of money too. Then came netbooks, and the ULV parts needed for them were priced more then an entire netbook, mainly because they were a scarce bin. This didn’t work out so well, and the Atoms Intel tried to substitute were underwhelming.
What to do? A new product category called CULV or Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage, lesser specs at a lesser price. Unfortunately, Intel marketing strategy dictated that parts in this price range fall in to a performance category we call ‘sucks’. Intel planners nailed that category, and these CPUs were awful to the point that the line died a horrible but richly deserved death. Quickly. The CULV name was forever tainted.
While this was happening, power savings went from a niche feature to a major religion at Intel, and the rest of the industry soon followed. Every fraction of a Watt was squeezed from mainstream parts, and active power management took over from older mechanisms. Binning for voltage returned progressively smaller differences to mainstream CPUs each generation, and then quietly vanished after Westmere.
The 17W power bin was not a thing of the past though, it is just not presented as a different line to the buyer. Instead of mainstream CPUs ranging from 35W to 125W, the span moved down to 17W to 95W, and the trend is to move lower more and more. At IDF, Intel showed off a 10W Haswell CPU, and that is the point of this story.
Intel literature now has two product categories that bear the UL prefix, 10W and 17W. The 17W parts are still called out as ULV, but the 10W parts are now, internally anyway, marked out as ULX. The difference? 7W, a lot of money, and quite possibly Crystalwell. Some sources tell SemiAccurate that Haswell GT3 will need Crystalwell to hit the 10W band, others say that it will be optional.
So there you have it, the seemingly endless Intel sub-sub-sub-divided niches now have another razor thin slice to market in. The consumer CPU market is now looking like one of Benoit Mandelbrot’s creations. Just like those algorithms, the CPUs will likely be zoomed in another level shortly, we’re left to wonder if it is really worth the effort.S|A