Ten years ago, the bigger-better-faster race for gigahertz ended and Intel brought us "Tick-Tock". Now Tick-Tock is dead. What will be next?

 

The short answer is tick-tock-tock. Tick and tock represented a process shrink and an architecture update. Today's reality is that tick-tock already died with the delay of the Skylake platform. 

The end of Intel's tick-tock product release schedule is a tacit admission of the end of Moore's Law as well.

Intel recognizes that a process shrink every two years is no longer realistic. The company made the point in a recent 10-K filing. The new version of process-shrink & new architecture release cycle will be a process-shrink, new architecture, and architecture optimization product release cycle. It is a Tick-tock-tock cadence.  Intel marketing will have work to do to fix the broken clock. 

The company has been here before. In the middle of the first decade this century, the company plowed ahead year after year with bigger, better, and especially, faster.  Process shrinks enabled faster CPUs and delivered a formidable competitive advantage, but "more gigahertz" was the name of the game. Two events brought that to a fabulous crashing end. The latter of the two was similar to the realization Intel has delivered to us this year. In the same way the company can no longer reliably deliver a process shrink every two years, at that time, Intel was no longer able to keep pushing gigahertz higher and higher. 

The death of tick-tock
Intel decides to break the tick-tock clock

But the company was still trying and the reason for that had been the first event: AMD's new FX architecture. Not only was it 64-bit, but it was also more efficient.  AMD had already realized that an efficient CPU architecture could perform faster than the Intel CPUs at lower speeds.  

At the time, Intel still had 5 GHz and faster CPUs on the roadmap but that was changed as the company was working to bring a more efficient, originally destined for notebooks, architecture to market. In 2006, the company started the tick-tock marketing and product release cadence with the new Intel Core architecture. This branding has stayed with us until today. 

The release of the Skylake architecture late last year was the 6th generation of CPU architecture  during the tick-tock era. PW reviewed a number of Skylake systems including an extremely powerful entry-level workstation from Fujitsu, the CELSIUS W550.

The Skylake release was a "tock". The old cadence would have a die-shrink planned for 2016.   Now it looks like the next platform, code-named Kaby Lake, will arrive in the third quarter of 2016 and use the same process as Skylake. Not until 2017 will the Cannondale platform be launched on Intel's new 10n, process. 

Intel's marketing aligns this reality with the new marketing cadence of new process, new architecture, and optimized architecture. 

 

The PW perspective

Intel learned to become more than a technology leader decades ago. For 20 years, the company has wrapped excellent marketing and development strategies around their products. The reality of delivery schedules using new technologies is not the same as a decade ago. Intel is adapting their strategy and adapting their positioning to reflect reality.

 

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