Computexes of past introduced us to ultrabooks and low-cost tablets. This year’s Computex, however, will prove that the desktop is alive and well.

Intel CEO at IM 2013 1024x681 Computex will show the desktop is alive and well


It’s over a month since Intel’s Spring IDF in Shenzhen was held, and it will be another three weeks until Computex in Taipei kicks off. As Intel’s desktop group, helmed now by Kirk Skaugen, went ahead with more aggressive plans than before,  what’s in store for the high end desktop crowd?

Come Computex, you’ll hear more about the things that Intel hinted at last month in Shenzhen, but that’s not all for this year. After all, Intel should not be sacrificing itself in the endless — and fruitless — low end tablet and phone processor price bloodbaths, compared to which the Taiwan motherboard maker battles look like child’s play. The company’s core was — and still is — the high end desktop, mobile and server arena.

Yes, many claimed that the PC is dead.  Long live the “notebooks”, “tablets”, “phones” and such consumer gadgets, they say, but the high-end PC is still the best content creation platform there is. Of course, one could also say that monitor vendors were the ones who actually torpedoed the high end PC market over the past half decade, since their utterly crappy 16:9 monitors with below full-HD resolutions were less than what we had on a proper high end PC a decade ago. Of course, when a 10-inch tablet has better resolution than a high end PC, something is wrong. Lesson for Intel: get yourself the proper aspect ratio (read: never 16:9) 6K and 8K class monitors in time for Broadwell and Skylake generations.

The CPUs to watch for

Intel has historically used Computex as the venue-of-choice for big CPU launches.  Here’s what we expect, right after the imminent Haswell refresh: Firstly, the Haswell-E with its eight cores, and new LGA2011 socket flavour, which is not compatible with the current one, will bring in higher FP throughput and DDR4 memory, together with the X99 chipset. Do expect these units to be demoed, behind closed doors at least, at Computex.

This platform is interesting for another reason. As the Haswell-EP Xeon range (from which Haswell-E desktop variant is derived) has three main die flavours — 10-core, 14-core and 18-core, the latter one way too similar to the Haswell-EX of course — you may have some Haswell-E desktop boards able to accept some of these humongous Haswell-EP chips. Imagine the 18-core monster with 45 MB L3 cache, many game codes would (almost) never have to leave the cache itself.

Add to this the rumoured confirmation that, unlike their predecessors, Haswell-EP Xeons, including likely thae 14-core and 18-core flavours, will have several top bin un-locked and even liquid-cooling optimised variants meant for HPC, workstations and high frequency trading, and you can guess the implications: the Haswell-E and Haswell-EP platforms will again be the overclocker’s heaven.

So, at the high end, if you want to open the kitty wide, you could have dual Haswell EP Xeon with up to 36-cores total and god knows what speed, depending on the rest of your gear (Asus Rampage, come back please?). At the low end, if you still want 8 cores and DDR4 but only need one good GPU, there will be less expensive versions of Haswell-E that enable only 24 instead of full 40 PCIe v3 lanes – just nice for one GPU and one PCIe SSD, for instance.

Why is the focus on these CPUs important if you want the discrete GPU? Because, yes, it is also very likely that, after the Haswell refresh runs its course, the Broadwell round of 4-core mainstream desktop CPUs early next year may only have PCIe v.2, not v.3 enabled. Yes, you may call Intel “real bad”, but basically they want to entice you to use the “Iris Pro” GT3e graphics that Broadwell mainstream desktops will have on top four-core SKUs, and pay a bit more for Haswell-E and Broadwell-E higher-end platforms if you want to use – non-Intel, of course – discrete GPUs. Such is life.

In general, these are very good news as, with Haswell and Broadwell next-gen high end platforms, we will get the unlocking and speeding-up capabilities we saw in the high end desktops of the past, this time spread across both single socket and dual socket desktops and workstations, not to mention HPC supercomputing platforms. If the DDR4 manages to get rid of the initial latency problems and shoot up in bandwidth past the, already common, DDR3-3000+ offerings, we could see some really lovely platforms for the high end enthusiast and professional users over the next two years.