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article imageMoore's Law ending as Intel abandons 'tick tock' CPU cycle

By James Walker     Mar 23, 2016 in Technology
Intel is changing the way it releases new processors, an alteration that could end Moore's Law. It will extend the lifetime of each process it releases instead of following its traditional "tick tock" cycle. Three phases will now be involved.
The change was explained in Intel's latest annual report filing, as reported by The Motley Fool and AnandTech. Intel's current process technology focuses around two elements, the "tick" and "tock." The "tick" introduces an entirely new process, followed by a new microarchitecture with the "tock," resembling the "tick tock" of a clock. For consumers, this results in a major increase in processor performance every couple of years.
Over the past few years, the system has begun to fall apart though. The difficulties of engineering ever-smaller processes have started to catch up with Intel's capabilities. The introduction of its current 14nm process was delayed as the company worked to stabilize the technology.
The upcoming 10nm Kaby Lake process is also proving hard to finalise, indicating "tick tock" is no longer a sustainable strategy. Intel has begun to take three cycles to produce two new products. The tick of the clock has come out of sync.
Intel s old  tick tock  (left) and new  PAO  (right) CPU release cycles
Intel's old "tick tock" (left) and new "PAO" (right) CPU release cycles
Slides in Intel's annual report filing show it has now officially abandoned the model. It will move to using a "PAO" approach with three phases, none of which are quite as memorable as "tick tock."
The "tick" process and "tock" architecture phases still exist but will be supplemented by an "optimisation" element. In essence, Intel will make fewer new processes but will use them for longer. It will refine the processes throughout their life, increasing efficiency and performance without having to develop new manufacturing fabs for ever-smaller chips.
"We expect to lengthen the amount of time we will utilise our 14nm and our next-generation 10nm process technologies, further optimizing our products and process technologies while meeting the yearly market cadence for product introductions," said Intel in its report.
It is unclear whether the impact will be felt by consumers. It may lead to less frequent major processor upgrades and a longer shelf life for devices, depending on what Intel plans to include in the "optimisation" phase. It could focus on improving efficiency or change other parts of the architecture such as graphics performance and thermal dissipation.
Intel is currently on track to release its Kaby Lake series of processors this year. They are the third set of chips to use its 14nm process. 2014's Broadwell series (the "tick") was hit by heavy delays and launched without a full rollout of processors for every kind of device.
The 14nm "tock," the much more widespread Skylake series, was introduced only a few months later in early 2015. In a final break away from tick tock, delays to the development of Intel's 10nm processors necessitate the launch of Kaby Lake this year, an "optimised" 14nm range. The next tick will now be in 2017 and is unlikely to be followed by a new process until at least 2020.
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