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Your Location :Information>Interview 2018-10-16 11:50:27

Intel 9th Gen Processor Exclusive Interview: Company Talks AMD, Cores And Soldered Heatspreaders

Resource:  Forbes Keywords:  Intel, interview

There are plenty of questions I've been wanting to ask Intel the last few years and during its 9th Generation processor launch event in New York city recently, I got the chance to speak exclusively to Mark Seconi, Intel's marketing manager for its desktop product group. The last two years have seen a huge amount going on in the desktop processor market, with AMD returning to competition in the mainstream and high-end, so I wanted to get Intel's take on its key decisions made during this time.

Why did it ramp up core counts - for example why it moved to six cores after a decade sat at four cores on its mainstream processors, why has it reintroduced solder in place of thermal paste with its 9th generation CPUs, have AMD's Ryzen products influenced its decisions? Let's find out.

Forbes: The 9th gen processors see Intel finally matching AMD in terms of cores and threads in the mainstream. You obviously develop your products well in advance but is it reasonable to assume the move to six cores last year and eight cores this year is at least in part due to AMD’s return to competition?

Mark Seconi: No I wouldn't say that's true. As you just mentioned, we actually take quite some time to develop our products so I would say that we developed these products independently of what the competition was doing, That's for the new 9th gen eight-core products as well as last year's six core mainstream desktop products - we developed them well in advance.

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Forbes: Who do you think eight-core mainstream desktop CPUs are aimed at? Is there a worry that games are still focussing on four and six-core processors?

Mark Seconi: Gaming has traditionally been the more lightly-threaded of applications your PC will face, but over the last couple of years we've seen games and gaming engines become more threaded. Nonetheless, they do still remain lightly-threaded, but we also recognize that a lot of the gaming community also do content creation to some extent. That's both casual creation or something more demanding and a lot of those applications are beginning to use more and more threads.

Current content is often very high detail and high resolution and it requires a lot of processing power. So recognizing that gamers do venture into content creation, having a little more power available than the four-core processors of a few years ago was something we wanted to prepare for.

Forbes: Delidding has obviously been a hot topic in recent years and I think there’s little doubt that the move to thermal paste has impacted on overclocking considering the thermal benefits of delidding and using high-performance thermal paste. Why did Intel decide to use solder with the new 9000-series processors?

Mark Seconi: For every generation, we look at a number of factors in terms of what we want to deliver with the product and where it's targeting and not just the product but the family in general too. With the new CPUs we thought moving to solder thermal interface material (STIM) was a good move because you do get the increased thermal conductivity between the CPU and heat spreader and it does provide thermal headroom with overclocking and other high-frequency activities. All the new K-series CPUs will use STIM.

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Forbes: Yes there were rumors that only the Core i9-9900K would use STIM, but it's great to hear that the Core i7-9700K and Core i5-9600K will also use solder. Are there plans to use STIM right the way down the range, perhaps to a Core i3-9350K? Will Intel continue to use STIM with future products?

Mark Seconi: In short, we thought this would be popular with the overclocking community based on the feedback we've had over the years - that's the main reason we're using it on the new K-series CPUs. We're not in a position right now to communicate future products. This is something we'll continue to evaluate down the line. Today it's STIM and tomorrow it might be something new depending on where material science is. For now, we'll wait and see how STIM is perceived by the overclocking community. I will say one thing - don't delid your 9th Gen CPU!

Forbes: That's very sound advice! The Core i7-9700K has been considered something of an oddball in that unlike other Core i7’s it lacks hyperthreading. Can you explain why Intel decided to offer it and not maybe leave the rest of the eight core fight up to the non K-editions? Is this simply an upshift from the non hyper-threaded Core i5-8600K and hyper-threaded Core i7-8700?

Mark Seconi: Are you saying that my processor is ugly? Ha ha! The way I look at it, we're moving Core i7 desktop to eight cores, up from six. So we're basically bringing a whole new capability to Core i7. Last year we did it with six cores and this year we're doing it with eight cores. Now, hyper-threading is simply a feature we use to differentiate products up and down our stacks. It's not exclusive to Core i7, so now the Core i-9700K is defined as being with eight cores, while the Core i9 has the addition of hyper-threading.

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Forbes: Given core counts seem to be increasing across the board, how do you see your product stack shaping up above six cores over the next year? Are you worried that the likes of the Core i9-9900K will start eating in to your high-end desktop product range given it has a similar or higher core count than some of those CPUs and will probably overclock further too?

Mark Seconi: The significant difference between the two is that once you move into the X-series processors, you have a considerable amount of core scaling on offer as well as I/O and memory channels. With gaming-focussed 9th gen CPUs, the frequencies we're able to achieve mean that you get the best gaming performance. In the X-series, content creation is more at the forefront of our minds, so it's really that situation in the reverse. With the new 9th gen CPUs, it's gaming that's the focus with content creation being second. With the X-series it's all about content creation.

Applications here are becoming increasingly multi-threaded so more cores matter. Also, I/O, PCI-E lanes and more memory channel all matter. Yes you can still game on it, but you would be buying this platform for very different reasons. Sure, there's a little bit of an overlap between the two, but for example, you have 16 PCI-E lanes off the CPU with the Core i9-9900K whereas our high-end desktop platform offers up to 44 so it's important for anyone going high-end with discrete graphics or storage.

Forbes: I think there will certainly be more of a distinction here now given the cheapest CPU in the new X-series range will now offer the full PCI-E lane count - obviously that isn't the case with the current range, specifically the Core i7-7800X.

Mark Seconi: Yes, so one of the things you'll see with the new X-series SKUs that we announced in New York is that consistency of scalability of PCI-E lanes for all seven SKUs up and down the range.

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Forbes: We saw some great CPUs from Intel with the 8th generation Coffee Lake range and one of my favorites was the Core i3-8350K, which was equivalent to the likes of the Core i5-7600K, but at a much lower price. Getting an eight-core Intel CPU is about get much more affordable in terms of total Intel platform cost, but can we look forward to similar offerings lower down the stack with the 9th gen range in terms of more cores for the same cash or similar performance for less cash - a hyper-threaded Core i3 quad-core perhaps?

Mark Seconi: The only thing I can say at this point is that we aim to have an entire range of 9th gen CPUs, but at this time we're not ready to release details. We have to keep you anticipating!

Forbes: Intel enjoys higher frequencies and IPC than AMD at the moment, but the latter has big plans with its 7nm Zen 2 CPUs due out next year, which look set to further close the gap already narrowed by 2nd generation Ryzen CPUs this year. What steps is Intel taking to maintain the advantage apart from adding more cores?

Mark Seconi: So we don't really have any comments on future products or plans specific to that question, but as you pointed out, though, it's not just about more and more cores. We delivered across the segments we announced in New York, with mainstream, high-end desktop and of course Xeon, with a big emphasis on higher frequencies, low latencies and our Mesh architecture. Performance is about architecture, the design - how do you realize that architecture? The end result is the frequency that you're able to deliver and we'll continue to do this in each of the three platforms we spoke about in New York. What we did there was to show the breadth of our products ranging from mainstream, to high-end and also to products bordering on workstation.

Forbes: Looking ahead at the rest of 2018 and also moving into 2019, what areas do you think Intel will be particularly strong and are there any areas you’re looking to improve?

Mark Seconi: What I'll emphasize is really what we focussed on in 9th gen launch in New York, which is gaming, content creation and we will always have a very strong focus on overclocking as well. Yes, each of the platforms we spoke about at the event may have a different focus, but all of those three elements exist in each platform. The mainstream CPUs are gaming and overclocking-focussed but will also have an element of content creation in there too, especially with the new eight-core CPUs.

Likewise, you can game and overclock on the other high-end platforms we mentioned at the launch event, but their focusses are content creation and professional workloads. All these aspects are important for what we believe is coming down the road. Five years ago, who would have thought that the desktop would be alive and well? It's more than alive and well - it's growing. But it's growing with three specific use cases in mind, which I've just mentioned and that's where we'll continue to focus because that's where we see the growth.

Forbes: One last question I like to ask at this point is are you a PC enthusiast yourself and what PCs do you have at home?

Mark Seconi: I used to be on Intel's CPU design team and one of the perks of the job is that I get play with the latest and greatest. So I haven't got my hands on them yet, but I'll definitely be using the 9th gen and latest X-series CPUs. At home I also drive my TV off a mini PC and my wife has an all-in-one PC as she likes photography so photo editing is important for her, plus we have various mobile devices!

I'd like to thank Mark and Intel for taking the time to put this interview together. I should also add that this interview's main focus was on the 9th Gen processors - it was conducted before the furor over the Principled Technologies benchmarks so that's where there are no questions on that subject in the interview.


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