Despite the fact that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) generates the vast majority of its revenue from just a handful of business units, it releases a lot of products each and every year. Although there are some Intel product segments that still need a lot of work, the majority of the products that the company releases in its core segments, such as PCs and servers, are easily best-in-class.
This year, we saw several product launches, spanning tablet processors all the way up through super-high core count enterprise-server chips. Here were the big ones, by segment:
- Tablets: Intel launched its next-generation tablet processors, code-named Cherry Trail, early in the year. These chips brought performance improvements over the company's Bay Trail processors launched in late 2013. Cherry Trail was also sold into the low-end of the PC market as a product code-named Braswell.
- PCs: Intel launched several PC processor generations in 2015. During the first half of the year, the company launched chips built on its new 14-nanometer manufacturing technology, and based on its Broadwell architecture. Then, during the second half of the year, Intel rolled out a second generation of chips built on its 14-nanometer technology based on its Skylake architecture.
- Servers: Although we didn't see a refresh of the company's workhorse Xeon E5 processors, Intel did refresh its very high-end enterprise Xeon E7 processor family. It also introduced its very first low-power system-on-chip designs based on its high performance Core architecture, known as Xeon D, aimed at cloud servers, networking, and more.
There were a lot of interesting products from Intel this year, but in my mind, there was one product family that truly stood above the rest.
Intel's Best Product of 2015: Skylake
By far, Intel's most interesting products this year were its PC processors based on its new Skylake architecture. Although the PC market itself did quite badly this year, Intel delivered a product family that was, in my book, substantially better in every way than the preceding chips.
With Skylake, Intel righted a significant misstep that it made with the Broadwell family of chips: not building chips aimed specifically at desktop buyers. Intel launched a top-to-bottom stack of desktop-oriented processors based on Skylake, from low-cost dual cores all the way to unlocked quad core parts aimed at enthusiasts. These processors offered a solid improvement over the prior generation Haswell chips in this segment, and the Z170 series chipsets that accompany the processors brought a lot of very interesting platform-level features.
Amazingly enough, while Skylake represented an excellent improvement in the company's desktop PC processor offerings, it's in mobile form factors -- notebooks and two-in-one devices -- where the Skylake architecture really shines.
For these devices, Skylake brought significant improvements in performance and power consumption, as well as the introduction of new features that make the chips even more suitable for "tablet-like" devices. All of these improvements came purely through design innovations, as the Skylake chips are built on the same 14-nanometer manufacturing technology that the prior-generation (and short-lived) Broadwell chips were.
Great job, Intel!
Looking ahead to 2016
Next year, Intel is expected to launch a bevy of new products in all of the categories above. In tablets and low-cost PCs, the company is expected to launch a new generation of products known as Broxton and Apollo Lake, respectively. Although Cherry Trail and Braswell were relatively disappointing in my view -- they were better but not better enough -- the next generation of products here could be more exciting.
For mainstream-to-high-end PCs, we'll actually be seeing a number of product launches. For notebooks and the majority of desktops, Intel is expected to roll out Kaby Lake -- its third-generation architecture built on its 14-nanometer process. For very high-end desktops, the company is expected to debut Broadwell-E, which should bring more performance by virtue of an updated architecture, and more cores than the current generation Haswell-E products.
Early next year, Intel is also expected to release its next generation Xeon E5 processor family, known as Broadwell-EP, bringing more performance and better efficiency to its workhorse server-chip lineup. Towards the middle of the year, Intel is also expected to refresh its higher-end Xeon E7 family with Broadwell-EX.
That's not it for the story in servers, though! For low-power, low-cost dense servers, Intel should launch a chip known as Denverton based on its Goldmont Atom architecture. In high-performance computing, the company is planning to launch its next-generation Xeon Phi accelerators.
There's more coming, too, but you get the picture: 2016 should be a very interesting year as far as Intel product launches go.