Within the next few months, chip giant Intel (INTC -2.65%) is expected to unveil a new processor for the gaming/enthusiast market -- an eight-core chip based on the company's Coffee Lake architecture that debuted in late 2017.
For years, Intel's top gaming processors came with four processor cores, with the company relying on per-core performance enhancements each year to convince people to upgrade. However, as the company began facing fiercer competition and stagnation in per-core performance, the company has worked to build more compelling products by boosting the number of processor cores in its chips.
Next year, Intel is expected to introduce a new processor architecture, known as Ice Lake. Thanks to long-overdue design improvements, Intel should finally begin to deliver significant per-core performance improvements in its gaming chips.
With that being said, while I think Intel will try its best to keep pushing per-core performance up in its gaming chips (especially since games tend to benefit greatly from faster cores), it also seems reasonable to expect Intel to keep pushing core counts up. I wouldn't be surprised, for example, to see Intel's follow-on to the eight-core Coffee Lake chip, which will be based on its Ice Lake architecture, to come in configurations with up to 10 cores.
Here are two reasons why.
Easy and marketable
The reality is that it's relatively simple to market additional processor cores to consumers. If a gamer bought a four core processor for $300 in 2014 and can get twice that many cores for roughly the same price in 2019, then that could prove to be a compelling value proposition that drives upgrade activity.
Additionally, Intel talks about how it aims to deliver big advances in chip manufacturing technologies that allow it to more than double the number of transistors -- the building blocks of a computer chip -- with each new generation. One way to take advantage of those new manufacturing technologies is to simply add more processor cores to chips while keeping chip manufacturing costs in check.
Finally, while much consumer software doesn't make good use of many processor cores, some critical types of software -- like video games -- seem to be making better use of additional processor cores. The more the software ecosystem takes advantage of additional processor cores, the more marketable processors with higher core counts become.
While I expect Intel to continue to increase the number of cores that it offers at a given price point, I also expect the company to introduce higher core count gaming parts as a way to drive up its average selling prices, which would ultimately boost revenue and profit for the chip maker.
For example, I could see the Ice Lake desktop processor family coming in configurations with four, six, eight, and 10 cores. The four-, six-, and eight-core parts could all come in at roughly the same prices that their corresponding Coffee Lake predecessors did. The key selling points there would be the per-core improvements, enhancements elsewhere in the chip, as well as overall platform features. Additionally, a 10-core part could come in at a reasonable premium to the eight-core part.
As long as Intel applies its usual segmentation tricks to such products (e.g. making sure the higher core count parts are superior in ways beyond just core count), this strategy could have a positive impact on the company's business and deliver real value for stockholders over the long term.