Last year, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) launched a pair of products aimed at desktop PC enthusiasts known as the Core i5-5675c and the Core i7-5775c. These chips are built on the company's 14-nanometer process and are based on Intel's Broadwell CPU architecture.
Although the chip was praised for the performance benefits in gaming that the large, on-board eDRAM cache brought, one of its key weaknesses was that it could not reach particularly high clock frequencies. Out of the box, the highest-end 5775c ran at 3.3GHz base and could achieve turbo frequencies of 3.7GHz.
When overclocked, most reviewers seemed to have trouble pushing the chip beyond around 4.2GHz. Considering that Intel's prior-generation Haswell processor came at 4GHz base/4.4GHz turbo out of the box, the relatively poor showing for Broadwell cast some doubt within the enthusiast community about Intel's upcoming Broadwell-E (high-end desktop) offerings.
However, according to a recent leak, Broadwell-E should have quite a lot of overclocking headroom.
Intel planning a 5.1GHz quad-core Broadwell-E for the server market
According to a report from MyDrivers.com, Intel is planning to launch a Broadwell-EP processor for the server/workstation market with just four cores, but at a whopping 5.1GHz out-of-the-box.
Such a chip would, of course, be a pretty niche product aimed at data center/workstation customers who must have as much single-core performance as possible, even at the expense of the much higher multi-core performance that typical higher-end Xeon processors bring.
However, it's not this particular chip that's going to be interesting to enthusiasts; it's the fact that Intel will be able to sell chips that are out-of-the-box validated to run at 5.1GHz.
Although I don't expect Intel's upcoming Broadwell-E chips (which are based on the same silicon as Broadwell-EP) to have a particularly easy time of overclocking 5.1GHz, especially since they will feature more cores than this specialized server chip, I do think Broadwell-E should have a solid amount of frequency headroom for those who like to over-clock (that is, run chips at faster-than-rated speeds) their chips.
Why should investors care?
Although this might seem almost irrelevant to investors, it's worth noting that Intel highlighted the strength of its enthusiast/gaming-oriented processor sales on its most recent earnings call, claiming "all-time record [shipment] volume."
I believe Intel will be able to grow sales of such chips here over the long-term, as this is one segment of the PC market where users want/need as much performance as possible, leading to shorter upgrade cycles relative to those seen in the broader PC market.
Although Intel's products in this market continue to be excellent and unequivocally first-rate, the company needs to continue to release new and compelling products in order to compel owners of older-generation products to upgrade.
I think that, as long as Broadwell-E can over-clock well (and it's looking as though it should), it will serve as a compelling improvement from the prior-generation Haswell-E. Supported memory speeds go up, performance-per-clock should improve, and power efficiency should be much better as well (thanks to the move to Intel's newer 14-nanometer process).
What's even more interesting is that Intel is reportedly planning to boost the price of its top-end Broadwell-E part -- which is expected to pack 10 CPU cores (up from a maximum of eight with the Haswell-E generation) -- to $1,500.
If such a part can overclock to very high frequencies (4.4GHz+) across all 10 cores, then I could see it doing fairly well in the marketplace, despite the extremely high price, helping to boost the company's average selling prices.