One of the amazing things about the DIY PC market is the level of control and customizability you have to create whatever your heart desires. You can build something very inexpensively, or build something with the same top notch components that the best system builders use. Everyone has access to the same parts, but the combinations are endless. This of course includes the CPU, allowing you to select the base level of performance for your system, while providing an upgrade path down the road for future technologies. That's why rumors of INTEL removing the socket and soldering the CPUs directly to the motherboard in the next chipset revision created such a stir recently in DIY circles.
The rumor mill spat out information that the next generation processors from INTEL, codenamed "Haswell", would be the last chip that supported a socket. This chip would launch in the first or second quarter of 2013 and provide both improvements to power consumption, performance, and a meaningful performance boost to integrated graphics. This is why the mobile computing crowd is so anxious to get their hands on it. However, coming afterwards is "Broadwell", which the rumors say, will do away with the socket altogether, via a switch to BGA packaging which does not support socketing.
Although this is all purely rumor and speculation, the official statements from the two biggest chipmakers, AMD and INTEL, may point to the real possibility of this happening down the road.
According to a statement made to MaximumPC magazine by INTEL's PR Manager, Dan Snyder...
“Intel remains committed to the growing desktop enthusiast and channel markets, and will continue to offer socketed parts in the LGA package for the foreseeable future for our customers and the Enthusiast DIY market. However, Intel cannot comment on specific long-term product roadmap plans at this time, but will disclose more details later per our normal communication process”
It's worth noting that INTEL doesn't normally comment on their future products and really likes to control the flow of information. But with such persistent rumors, the outrage of the enthusiast community, and potential impact to business from competitors, they had no choice but to respond.
So what does the competition have to say about this? Here's what AMD's Gary Silcott, Senior Manager of Client Products, had to say about the socket or un-socket question...
“That will continue through 2013 and 2014 with the 'Kaveri' APU and FX CPU lines. We have no plans at this time to move to BGA-only packaging and look forward to continuing to support this critical segment of the market. As the company that introduced new types of BGA packages in ultrathin platforms several years ago, and today offers BGA-packaged processors for everything from ultrathin notebooks to all-in-one desktops, to embedded applications and tablets, we certainly understand Intel's enthusiasm for the approach. But for the desktop market, and the enthusiasts with whom AMD has built its brand, we understand what matters to them and how we can continue to bring better value and a better experience.”
AMD has been very friendly in the past to the upgrade and DIY markets. The proof was in the AM3 socket where some select boards were even supported up to today's Vishera FX CPUs via a BIOS upgrade. But with the company's recent issues, will AMD be able to back up their promise till at least 2014? And since AMD is already making products for soldering directly to the boards (like their E series APUs), maybe it's really AMD we have to worry about.
For the short term at the least, most CPUs we know and love will come socketed just as they always did. What is driving the need for non-socketed CPUs is the mobile market, not the desktop market. With its amazing growth over the last couple years, especially in the ultrabook and tablet product categories, it only makes sense that we might start to see new or different technology reach it sooner. Perhaps we'll just see the latest and greatest in non-Socketed BGA format first before it gets socketed and tweaked for more powerful desktop use.
But let's assume for one second that the rumors aren't rumors and that maybe after 2014, you will be buying your Core i7 or Core i5 pre-soldered to your motherboard. Will it really change the way you build your systems all that much? Or will it simply mean that you'll save up a little longer to buy the top end CPU vs upgrading to it later? We'd love to hear your thoughts on this.