Intel's Next Generation Processor Named Skylake

Let's Hope Skylake's Tock Goes Better Than Broadwell's Tick

Haswell and Broadwell processor
Haswell and Broadwell processor size comparison. Courtesy of Intel

At the Intel Developer Forum 2014, Intel gave a sneak peek at the next phase in its processor roadmap, Skylake. Skylake will be based on the same 14 nm process now used in the Broadwell family of processors.

Intel says that Skylake will be the "tock" to Broadwell's "tick," a reference to its two-step processor development scheme. The tick step occurs when Intel takes existing processor architecture and moves it to a smaller processing technology. Smaller scale technologies can yield faster performance, as well as lower power and heat.

The tock part of the development cycle involves taking an existing processing technology, in this case the 14 nm process, and changing the processor's microarchitecture to bring new features and speed. The successful tock development then becomes the platform for the next tick stage, hence Intel's ongoing tick-tock processor development system.

Currently, Intel's in the tick stage with its Broadwell line of processors, which has been seeing some development problems, leading to missed milestones and slipping schedules on Intel's part.

As an example, Apple has been held back on releasing new desktop Macs, such as the Mac mini or 27-inch iMac, because the Broadwell processors aren't available in production quantities at this time. Intel's original production schedule slipped, and production versions of the Broadwell processors that Apple was probably planning to use won’t be available until 2015.

On the good news side, at the same developer conference Intel announced new Xeon E5-2600/1600 V3 processors that may see their way into a Mac Pro update late in the year or by early next year. The new Xeon processors could result in the Mac Pro being offered with up to 18 processor cores, instead of the current 12 that it tops out at.

Mac laptops, such as the rumored updates to the MacBook Air, should fare much better, because the mobile versions of the Broadwell processors are in much better shape, with production already underway.

If Intel is really following its tick-tock development schedule, it must mean that Broadwell (the tick) has seen its production problems ironed out, and that Intel is pushing forward faster than anticipated with correcting the Broadwell production issues. Or (and this is more likely in my opinion), that Intel just wanted to let its developers know that the next turn in the processor roadmap, Skylake, would move forward as planned, and that its goal is to move to a 10 nm process for the next tick.