Many of us have become used to building our own PCs, inserting graphics cards and SSDs into a motherboard. Intel chief executive Pat Gelsinger sees a sea change coming to the chip industry where the chips inside your PC are “assembled” in very much the same way.
This matters. For years, a PC’s processor has been a relatively simple affair, made by a single company on a single process technology. But something happened in March of this year that will allow Intel and other companies to mix and match specific pieces of logic inside of a single chip, in almost the exact way PC makers build PCs.
That was the introduction of the Universal Chiplet Interconnect Express (UCIe), and the concept is simple enough. Use different “tiles,” or chiplets, plug them into a base tile, and connect all of them via the UCIe standardized interface to build the chip of the future. It’s pretty easy to see this “base tile” as a motherboard of sorts, with various components attached to it: graphics, I/O, and so on.
What UCIe does is present a truly standardized, open interface to allow this to happen. If you’ve followed the chip industry closely, you may know that “standards” don’t always apply to everyone; that’s why Intel Core-based notebooks have Thunderbolt ports, while those powered by AMD’s Ryzen chips include USB 4 ports — they’re functionally equivalent, yet different. But UCIe is supported by almost all of the key players: AMD, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Arm, Samsung, and TSMC, among others. The only exception, for now, is Nvidia.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Gelsinger has lobbied hard for the Chips for America Act, which was signed into law earlier this month, providing $52 billion for the American chip industry. Last year, Gelsinger pledged a return to greatness by investing in new fabs and launching Intel’s first foundry business. But Gelsinger said at the Hot Chips academic conference this week that he doesn’t want to just build fabs for Intel. He wants to build “systems foundries” for multiple customers, all based on UCIe.
Gelsinger was asked whether Intel’s system foundry, and UCIe, would enable a mix-and-match approach, where customers can buy chiplets from different vendors and assemble them together. He agreed.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Gelsinger replied. “That’s my expectation, that UCIe becomes like PCIe [PCI Express].”
“We expect UCIe to be the equivalent of that,” Gelsinger added. “You may say, hey, I’m getting two of the chiplets from Intel. I’m getting one of the chiplets coming from a TSMC factory, maybe the power-supply components coming from TI. Maybe there’s an I/O component coming from GlobalFoundries and, of course, Intel has the best 3D packaging technology so they’re going to be the on assembling all those chipset chiplets into the marketplace, but maybe it’s another OSAT [Outsourced Semiconductor Assembly and Test] provider as well.”
Meteor Lake: the next step
We’ve been building to this point for some time, though the important work has been done in the last five years. The most high-profile integration of chiplets from multiple sources was Kaby Lake-G, the 2017 combination of an Intel Core CPU and AMD’s Radeon GPU.
Two other technologies have been critical to Intel’s development: what it calls EMIB, which extends chiplets along a 2D plane, and Foveros, which allows chip dies to be vertically stacked, in 3D. In 2019, Intel combined the two into what it calls co-EMIB. There are a number of terms that get bandied about: disaggregation, tiles, and chiplets. They all mean pretty much the same thing: LEGO, but with semiconductors.
We’re going to start to see more of this concept come to fruition next year with Intel’s “Meteor Lake” chip, which Intel detailed at Hot Chips. At the bottom is the package substrate. Above, there’s the “base tile.” And above those are the various tiles, specifically the GPU tile, the CPU tile, the SOC tile (media, imaging, and display, essentially), and the I/O extender tile (the chipset). Intel CPUs have traditionally contained two dies within a single package; now, there are essentially four.
Mark Hachman / IDG
What Intel let slip earlier in the week is that we’re already seeing Gelsinger’s disaggregation vision come to fruition, as most of Meteor Lake’s components are made by TSMC, not Intel, but will be assembled into the Meteor Lake chip. At Hot Chips, Intel executives showed how each tile could be manufactured with variations, such as multiple arrangements of power and efficiency cores, GPUs with more processing units, and so on. It also doesn’t matter if some tiles are made on an Intel 4 process, or a TSMC fab line, or whatever, as they can be dropped in and reused in future processor generations. (Meteor Lake does not use UCIe, however, as the specification was finalized just a few months ago.)
We do know that it works, though. Intel has functioning samples of Meteor Lake, which it has successfully booted inside of a PC, executives said.
Will performance suffer? Will it be more expensive?
That’s a sea change from Intel’s historical stance: build a single, powerful “monolithic” chip and stick it in a PC, a server, and (hopefully) a notebook, too. What was very interesting is that Intel’s Hot Chips presentation for Meteor Lake (and its successor, Arrow Lake) addressed the question directly. Can Intel get monolithic performance with disaggregated architecture benefits?
The answer? Intel believes it can get close. There will always be a performance and power penalty moving data from tile to tile, Wilfred Gomes, an Intel fellow in microprocessor design, said at Hot Chips. But that “disaggregation tax,” in Intel’s view, will only be about 2 to 3 percent and outweighed by the flexibility disaggregation provides. (Intel didn’t clarify whether it was talking about performance, or power, and what it is comparing those numbers to.)
Mark Hachman / IDG
Flexibility affects your wallet, too. Intel’s goal is to achieve chips with a trillion transistors in them by the end of the decade. But not every chip can be manufactured without errors. A lithography error, or just some stray radiation, can essentially kill off the entire chip. (Or part of it — it’s why Intel’s F-series chips lack a functional GPU.) It’s much cheaper to toss a hundred-million transistor tile in the trash than a far more expensive trillion-transistor monster.
It’s important to note that while AMD’s Ryzen is moving ahead on chiplets, too (and offers performance that competes with and even has outshined Intel’s own), Intel is taking the lead in terms of talking openly about mixing and matching chiplets and tiles. AMD, by contrast, is taking more of a monolithic approach, despite Ryzen using multiple chiplets.
The bottom line
So what does all of this mean for you? Two things, basically. For one, the increasing complexity and flexibility that Intel’s disaggregation strategy enables in chips like Meteor Lake means that they’ll be increasingly hard to describe; we already have a mix of performance and efficiency cores, base and turbo clock speeds, integrated graphics cores, and more in 12th-gen CPUs. Soon, spec sheets could be even more dizzying.
The second, though, is more interesting, even if it still feels something in the realm of sci-fi, for now. A world in which someone (a company? you?) will be able to order up a chip in much the same way you order a sandwich or a car, made to order, is a powerful vision. Chip nerds realize that programmable logic or even ASICs have offered similar capabilities for decades. But for the mainstream enthusiast, this semi-custom future enabled by UCIe may mean a dramatic rethinking of how your PC’s processor is made.
FIFA 23 includes a toggle to turn off ‘Critical Commentary’. The setting lets you silence all negative in-match comments made about your technique, so you can protect your precious ego even when you miss an open goal or commit an obvious foul. The more positive commentary won’t be affected.
Spare your feelings
The feature looks tailored toward children and new players, who don’t want to have their confidence wrecked within mere minutes of picking up the controller. But even experienced players who just so happen to be terrible at the game might benefit.
It’s not perfect, though. According to Eurogamer, the feature didn’t seem to work during a FIFA Ultimate Team Division Rivals match, with critical comments slipping through the filter. Still, who hasn’t benefited from a light grilling every now and then?
Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. You’ll find him whipping up stories about all the latest happenings in the gaming world, as well as penning the odd feature and review. Before coming to TechRadar, he wrote freelance for various sites, including Clash, The Telegraph, and Gamesindustry.biz, and worked as a Staff Writer at Wargamer. Strategy games and RPGs are his bread and butter, but he’ll eat anything that spins a captivating narrative. He also loves tabletop games, and will happily chew your ear off about TTRPGs and board games.
We’re starting to hear more and more Google Pixel 7 leaks, with the launch of the phone just a week away, but tech fans might be getting a lot of déjà vu, with the leaks all listing near-identical specs to what we heard about the Pixel 6 a year ago.
It sounds like the new phones – a successor to the Pixel 6 Pro is also expected – could be very similar to their 2021 predecessors. And a new price leak has suggested that the phones’ costs could be the same too, as a Twitter user spotted the Pixel 7 briefly listed on Amazon (before being promptly taken down, of course).
Google pixel 7 on Amazon US. $599.99.It is still showing up in search cache but the listing gives an error if you click on it. We have the B0 number to keep track of though!#teampixel pic.twitter.com/w5Z09D28YESeptember 27, 2022
According to these listings, the Pixel 7 will cost $599 while the Pixel 7 Pro will cost $899, both of which are identical to the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro starting prices. The leak doesn’t include any other region prices, but in the UK the current models cost £599 and £849, while in Australia they went for AU$999 and AU$1,299.
So it sounds like Google is planning on retaining the same prices for its new phones as it sold the old ones for, a move which doesn’t make much sense.
Analysis: same price, new world
Google’s choice to keep the same price points is a little curious when you consider that the specs leaks suggest these phones are virtually unchanged from their predecessors. You’re buying year-old tech for the same price as before.
Do bear in mind that the price of tech generally lowers over time, so you can readily pick up a cheaper Pixel 6 or 6 Pro right now, and after the launch of the new ones, the older models will very likely get even cheaper.
But there’s another key factor to consider in the price: $599 might be the same number in 2022 as it was in 2021, but with the changing global climate, like wars and flailing currencies and cost of living crises, it’s a very different amount of money.
Some people just won’t be willing to shell out the amount this year, that they may have been able to last year. But this speaks to a wider issue in consumer tech.
Google isn’t the only tech company to completely neglect the challenging global climate when pricing its gadgets: Samsung is still releasing super-pricey folding phones, and the iPhone 14 is, for some incomprehensible reason, even pricier than the iPhone 13 in some regions.
Too few brands are actually catering to the tough economic times many are facing right now, with companies increasing the price of their premium offerings to counter rising costs, instead of just designing more affordable alternatives to flagships.
These high and rising prices suggest that companies are totally out of touch with their buyers, and don’t understand the economic hardship troubling many.
We’ll have to reach a breaking point sooner or later, either with brands finally clueing into the fact that they need to release cheaper phones, or with customers voting with their wallets by sticking to second-hand or refurbished devices. But until then, you can buy the best cheap phones to show that cost is important to you.
Tom’s role in the TechRadar team is to specialize in phones and tablets, but he also takes on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK.
He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working in TechRadar freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. Outside of TechRadar he works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.