In the world of server and workstation systems, Intel deploys a two-fold strategy with "EP" and "EX" -platforms. For example, Boxboro-EX platform powers the Xeon 6500/7500 and E7-2800/4800/8800 processors, while Romley-EP platform powers Xeon E3 and E5 Series.
With Boxboro-EX being couple of years old and Romley suffering through several embarrassing delays, Intel is now fully focused on creating a rock-solid Brickland and Grantley platforms. Both Brickland and Grantley-EP platform are of extreme importance for the company, as they are supposed to support workstation and server processors from 2013 until late 2016.
In couple of weeks, Intel will host its traditional "World is Intel" conference in Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. We expect to see first real news there, but instead of waiting you can continue to read this article and learn what Intel plans to do in the future.
Unlike the previous high-end platforms, Brickland will spend its time on top for multiple generations, bringing stability in terms of sockets supported – unlike the desktop market. Brickland is expected to debut with Ivy Bridge-EX (22nm) in the second half of 2013, continuing with Haswell-EX (22nm) in the second half of 2014 and wrapping up in 2015 with Broadwell-EX (Haswell, 14nm die-shrink). Brickland's follow up will only debut four years from now, powering the 14nm Skylake-EX (2016) and 10nm Skymont-EX processors (2017).
The platform is expected to enable seamless (glueless) scaling beyond 8S (8-socket systems) thanks to recently signed agreement with Cray, Inc. In order to enable this capability, Intel's own QPI (Quick Path Interconnect or "Intel's Hypertransport", as our sources like to put it) will evolve from current 1.0 to 1.1. Furthermore, processors bring scalable memory buffer "Jordan Creek. Processors will support Registered ECC DDR3-1600 and DDR4-2133/2400/3200 standards, and then expanding with future JEDEC-approved clocks. Given the mission-critical nature of Brickland-powered systems, don't expect much toying about.
Besides the Ivy Bridge-EX (Xeon E7-2800/4800/8800 v2), Brickland is expected to debut coupled with the Xeon Phi boards based on Knights Landing (commercial version of Knights Ferry/Knights Corner processors), and we were not surprised to see the record number of PCI Express v3.0 lanes available. While it is still too early to talk about PCIe Gen4 and SATA Express, we have no doubt the said technologies will first appear in the consumer platforms and then make way into server/workstation.
Moving down to EP platform (up to 4S, four socket configurations), we won't see a successor to Romley-EP for some time. Romley-EP powers both the current Sandy Bridge-EP processors and will power the future Ivy Bridge-EP, which should debut in the next six months. There were rumors that Ivy Bridge-EP might be introduced for Holiday Season 2012, but with AMD giving up the performance market there is no need to spend money on certifying the high-end parts. Intel recently reassembled its Extreme Edition team and will continue to squeeze as much money from the current Sandy Bridge cores as possible. The first successor to V8 and Skulltrail is expected to debut in second half of 2013, and we're talking about combining the Haswell-EP processor and Grantley-EP platform.
The innovations Grantley-EP brings are nothing to sneeze about. The platform is centered around the 'Wellsburg' PCH chip, supporting PCIe Gen3, DDR4-2400 and DDR4-3200 from one side, integrating the next generation Thunderbolt in its native design and bringing multiple connectors (so far, only Gigabyte circumvent the limitation and put two Thunderbolt parts on its ZX77X-UP5 TH motherboard)
One of things our sources also talked about was the new storage controller. The new controller is expected to bring significant performance and feature improvements over the current SAS/SATA controller, which brought quite a few embarrassing moments (SAS was disabled in initial versions of the X79/C600 chipset due to instabilities).
With Intel's plans in the open, we will now pay special attention to find what AMD, NVIDIA, Samsung and Qualcomm plan to bring to the server/workstation market as well.