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Intel Corp. Is Doing Something Interesting With This Upcoming Desktop Chip

By Ashraf Eassa - Jan 5, 2016 at 11:30AM

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Chipzilla may be trying to entice enthusiasts to buy new motherboards with its upcoming Skylake 4+4e processor.

In an earlier article, I provided my view of the chances that Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC) upcoming Skylake desktop chip with Iris Pro graphics had in the marketplace. Although I wasn't super giddy about the chip's chances in the market, I argued that, unlike the chip's predecessor known as Broadwell-C, the upcoming chip actually stood a chance of being commercially viable.

As I scoured the Web for additional details of this chip (as well as Intel's other future desktop chips), I stumbled across a very interesting article over on website Per a slide published by the site, Intel's upcoming Skylake desktop chip with Iris Pro (henceforth referred to as "Skylake 4+4e") will not work on the motherboards that support the Skylake processors currently in the market.

Indeed, these chips will require next generation boards designed specifically for the company's upcoming Kaby Lake family of processors. Interestingly enough, those Kaby Lake chips will apparently work just fine on current generation Skylake boards.

I don't think there is a good technical reason for Intel to do this, but there is a good business reason. Here's what I think it could be.

An attempt to maximize platform/motherboard sales
According to another leak from, Intel will release desktop processors based on the Kaby Lake architecture (both dual and quad core with vanilla Intel HD graphics) as well as the quad core Skylake 4+4e chip in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Along with these new processors, Intel is also expected to release a new support chipset, known as the 200-series chipsets. This chipset is expected to bring some additional features and PCIe connectivity over the current 100-series chipsets currently powering motherboards today.

I don't think that there will be all that much reason for people who currently own Skylake processors as well as motherboards packing 100-series chipsets to upgrade to Kaby Lake, so it's very unlikely that buyers of 100-series boards will upgrade to 200-series boards (earning Intel an additional chipset sale) just for Kaby Lake.

However, Intel is certainly more than glad to take their money if those users do choose to upgrade, which is why I suspect that the Kaby Lake chips will work in today's Skylake motherboards.

The situation is a bit different with this upcoming Skylake chip. If the chip winds up being a good over-clocker (that is, it can be pushed to speeds significantly beyond what Intel rates it at (a common practice among PC enthusiast buyers), then the on-package eDRAM cache that it packs could make it -- once overclocked -- the fastest gaming-oriented desktop processor on the market.

Intel perhaps figures that if this is the case, this could be a good way to force those owners of current Skylake chips with 100-series boards who want to upgrade anyway to shell out for new boards. It would also help to ensure that buyers who aren't upgrading from Skylake and will have to buy new boards anyway will choose boards with newer chipsets.

Does that strategy make sense?
If Skylake 4+4e doesn't overclock well, then this discussion is probably moot as I'd bet on the chip failing in the marketplace outright.

However, if the chip turns out to be a capable overclocker, then it will grab the attention of enthusiasts.

Intel seems to be betting on the notion that if this chip is really great, Skylake owners will be willing to buy new motherboards to get their hands on the chip, delivering revenue for both Intel and its board partners. 

The risk that Intel runs here is that ripping and replacing motherboards is both costly and frankly a pain, so enthusiasts who may have been willing to buy a new Skylake 4+4e chip as a drop-in replacement for a current Skylake chip might be put off, ultimately costing Intel a chip sale.

Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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