One of the most fascinating rumours to emerge in recent times has come from a supposed Intel roadmap posted on the long running Japanese website PC Watch. The roadmap in question shows a shift away from the current LGA (Land Grid Array) sockets used for processors, to BGA (Ball Grid Array).
For those with an understanding of semiconductor packaging this is worrying. BGA is a commonly used technology where chips are mounted onto circuit boards using small balls of solder. It is a tried and true technology with noticeable benefits behind it, but if the rumours are true, then it means an end to socketed CPUs and strikes at the very heart of the system building mindset.
Given that this is all still pure speculation, based upon a machine translated analysis of roadmaps that don’t have the usual Intel confidential furniture, what this would mean is completely up in the air. However the assumption would be that the current model of buying a CPU from intel and a motherboard from a third party manufacturer would end. We’d suspect that the result would be that motherboard manufacturers will buy the CPUs from Intel and then hard-mount them onto motherboards.
This would mean an end to easy consumer upgradability of processors in desktop systems, while barely effecting the rest of the computing market. Mobile devices like laptops and tablets already feature hard-mounted processors, thanks largely to electrical, thermal and space considerations. As the rise of mobile computing continues, we have already seen Intel shift its development focus from scaling down desktop CPUs to scaling up mobile ones. This would just be a logical extension of this laptop-focused processor development process.
According to the roadmap this shift to BGA is set to happen after next year’s Haswell processor launches. Haswell is Intel’s next architectural shift, and brings even more of the traditional motherboard chipset onto the CPU itself. We’ll likely need to wait until after Haswell’s launch to get any inkling of a true shift away from socketed CPU designs, but this roadmap does give us plenty of food for thought about the real future of the PC, especially the desktop systems that we know and love.