For those of you unfamiliar with how Intel (NASDAQ: INTC ) does business in the desktop market, the company has two main product lines. The first is its set of "mainstream" processors under the Core i3, i5, and i7 brands. These chips usually sport 2-4 processor cores, integrated graphics, and are very similar to the company's notebook/mobile designs. The second is the "enthusiast" line of processors. These, unlike the mainstream products, are based on the company's workstation/server models, sport more cores, and don't bother with integrated graphics. With its upcoming lineup, Intel may be giving hardcore gamers a treat.
Moving to a six core minimum
According to coolaler.com, Intel plans to launch three new "enthusiast" models this year based on the Haswell CPU architecture. The Core i7-5960X, is the highest end of the bunch with eight CPU cores, a base frequency of 3.0 GHz, and support for DDR4-2133. Moving down the stack, Intel is apparently going to offer a Core i7-5930K, which reduces the core count to six, but the base frequency is higher, at 3.5GHz. Finally, the lowest end of the bunch will be the Core i7-5820K, which is also a six core, but reduces the base frequency to 3.3 GHz and cuts the number of PCI Express lanes from 40 to 28.
To put this in perspective, the top-end model (at the $1,000 price point) goes from six Ivy Bridge cores to eight Haswell cores. The middle SKU stays at six cores, but each core is more capable, and the chip has more on-die cache and support for faster memory. Finally, in the Ivy Bridge generation, the 4820K was a four core at 3.7 GHz base, but at this price point, Intel will now apparently be offering a six core at 3.3 GHz base (but remember, the cores themselves are faster per-clock) with a whopping 15MB of L3 cache.
The i7-5820K likely to sell extremely well
Just look at NVIDIA's (NASDAQ: NVDA ) or Advanced Micro Devices' (NYSE: AMD ) financial results -- hardcore gamers are buying high-performance graphics cards in droves. Gamers are not shy about shelling out hundreds of dollars for top-end gear, and when they perceive there to be an extreme "bargain," they are more than willing to upgrade perfectly good hardware just to eke out extra performance from their demanding games.
Same thing goes for CPUs. The Ivy Bridge enthusiast lineup was a real yawner (barely any performance improvement from the Sandy Bridge generation, but Intel got a cost-structure advantage from the shrink), but if Intel ends up offering the i7-5820K at the same (roughly) $330 price point of its predecessor, then this would be a nearly unprecedented value in the desktop chip space. Intel would be selling a six-core Haswell for roughly the same price as the four-core Haswell on the cheaper platform, but the trade-off is a more expensive platform (the X99 chipset will be more expensive than the Z97), more expensive memory (DDR4 will be new and thus pricier), and lack of integrated graphics.
For most users, this trade-off wouldn't make sense, but for the enthusiasts/gamers this is targeted at, this seems almost like a no-brainer if Intel keeps the price points roughly similar from generation to generation.
NVIDIA and AMD should ready-up next generation graphics cards
To coincide with the launch of these new high-end enthusiast processors, NVIDIA and AMD would benefit immensely from pushing out new high-end graphics cards. Neither NVIDIA nor AMD seem to be able/willing to put out 20-nanometer graphics parts during 2014, but NVIDIA could bring out a larger version of the Maxwell GPU found in the recently launched 750 Ti built on the 28-nanometer process. AMD, too, could potentially offer a refreshed GPU on 28-nanometer, as it did last year with its Hawaii product. There is tremendous opportunity at the high end for both graphics card vendors now that Intel seems to be putting more attention toward the enthusiast/gamer space.
Foolish bottom line
At the end of the day, the enthusiast/gamer space isn't by any means Intel's largest end market, but it is certainly one of the most performance-hungry ones. There is no "good enough" in the world of gaming, and as game developers continue to push the limits in next generation games, faster graphics cards and faster processors will be required. And, since many enthusiasts view buying the latest-and-greatest as a hobby, all Intel (and NVIDIA/AMD) needs to do is to put out something compelling enough to get people to upgrade from last year's gear.
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