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Is Intel Killing Their Own CPU Lineup?

Intel had a really good couple of years due to lack of competition as they were able to stick with the same quad-core CPUs for consumers for almost 10 years going with the argument that mainstream workloads don't need more cores and anyone who needs more power they should use more powerful hardware anyway so they might as well go to the high-end product market.

That went really well for Intel until AMD managed to get real 8 cores for the mainstream market with their Ryzen series at the beginning of 2017. Intel responded very well though and they met AMD's high-end TreadRipper lineup by increasing the core counts of their high-end desktop lineup from both brevious generation up to the new generation reaching to 18 cores for their 7000 series with the launch of the core I9.

But this was not enough even if the mainstream core I7 was still the clear winner in single threaded workloads as anyone who did anything other than just gaming on their PC. The mainstream Ryzen CPUs had a huge price advantage thanks to its affordable motherboards, forcing Intel to bump up their consumer chips as well. The first release from Intel was the 6 core Core I7-8700k a the end of 2017. This release did not quite bridge the gap between budget workstation performance with Ryzen but it did reduce AMD's lead in some way and thanks to its superior single thread performance it managed to keep Intel on top for gaming and some key workloads.

Moving forward with this year's launch, the Core i9 9900K was the first 8 core Intel branded CPU designed for the mainstream market followed by the I7-9700K, also an 8 core part but without hyper-threading  technology. Seeing this we have reason to believe that Intel has been keeping the consumer core counts CPUs on low for so much time just because the HEDT lineup has been traditionally based on Intel's workstation/server platform where by the nature of these markets tech development tends to move a little slower than for mainstream.

The high-end desktop CPU's tend to be sometimes as much as two generations behind the mainstream. Compounding this performance disadvantage is the fact that HEDT CPUs don't hit such high-clock speeds, due to power or thermal constraints and that they don't have an onboard graphic co-processor for certain workloads.

Right now Intel is at a very interesting crossroads as many real world workstation like-tasks need actually 8 cores to run fast and can dramatically be improved with GPU acceleration in some cases. This is the ace up the sleeve of consumer chips. With consumer chips you now have up to 16 threads which is enough to handle encoding with h.264 and the same goes for light rendering of 3D models with CAD along with other traditionally CPU intensive tasks and this holds even better if you have a GPU that can accelerate them.

In the case of Adobe Premiere though, more cores do matter but only to a point and this limit can be reached where the thread count for the superior per core performance and the integrated GPU of the I9 9900K put in a league of its own way going ahead of Intel's own high-end CPU even though some of them have more cores. This is amazing when you recall again that not as far as 2 years ago we were stuck with only 4 cores on Intel's mainstream platform and had to pay huge amount of cash for just 2 more extra cores, not taking into account the cost for a 10 core part like the 6950X.

All it takes now is for AMD to continue pushing the advantage of their modular CPU design and add more cores with ZEN, then assuming that Intel will follow the same trend as we know by now that they will have to, the result may as well be the disappearance of the traditional HEDT lineup from Intel.

If you think about it for light workstation use Apple hit it with the iMac. Photographers haven't really needed a more powerful workstation for a very long time now. In video production high-end desktop platforms offered clear performance improvements even as recently as two to three years ago and has also leveraged the increased pci-express bandwidth with expansion cards like the Red Rocket accelerators but  GPU compute has eroded the market for devices like that.

Ask yourself how many expansion cards do you need in your system? We are not saying that chips like AMD's ThreadRipper won't continue to have a place in desktop workstations as there are workloads for them as well, we are saying that the use cases for these kind of chips are not very mainstream anymore and that high-end parts are the wrong products for those kind of customers. The reason is ECC memory support.

Ryzen supports ECC memory from the 3 series up to ThreadRipper which makes it perfect for an entry-level workstation that needs ECC. By contrast Intel still clings to the paradigm of removing ECC support from its consumer and high-end workstation processors to force anyone doing more mission-critical work to spend even more money on an Xeon part. At this point HEDT has no reason to even exist because it does not support ECC and it's getting eatin away from both the bottom and the top by Intel's own 9000 series mainstream processors and by AMD's ThreadRipper.

So has Intel done a mistake here? Did they release parts that will actually hurt their business model? Time will tell, but at this point it surely looks like it.
Is Intel Killing Their Own CPU Lineup? Reviewed by Mike Beasley on 12/03/2018 07:06:00 AM Rating: 5

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