Rumours point to an end for user-replaceable CPUs

November 27, 2012 // 11:01 a.m.

Tags: #ball-grid-array #bga #broadwell #cpu #intel #land-grid-array #lga #processor #semiconductor #socket

Intel is rumoured to be considering releasing its Broadwell processors in a single package type using a ball-grid array (BGA) layout - potentially putting an end to the days of user-replaceable processors on motherboards.

The claims were first raised by Japanese news site PC Watch, which pointed to leaked roadmaps for Intel's next-generation processors families that miss one particular aspect: land-grid array (LGA) packaging. Instead, the only packaging type listed in ball-grid array (BGA), a dramatically different system which requires that processors are soldered directly to the system board.

BGA, which gets its name from the grid of solder balls which sit on the underside of the semiconductor package, is in common use for memory chips and is often used in embedded systems. Smartphones and tablets, for example, typically have their processors soldered directly to the board. As a result, they're impossible for a user to replace - or, if not impossible, certainly extremely difficult and a process which involves attempting to heat the system to a level at which the solder melts without destroying the components themselves.

According to PC Watch, Intel is looking to ditch its current dual-package approach - in which it produces embedded processors using the BGA package and desktop processors using the LGA package - in favour of a BGA-only manufacturing system. The result: Broadwell-era motherboards will come with their CPUs permanently attached.

It's a move with precedent: ignoring the embedded market, both Intel and AMD sell motherboards with low-power BGA processors soldered directly onto them. In the high-end market, however, it's unheard of. Such a move would do away with easy upgradability - one of the key features of the PC ever since IBM created the AT bus that would later become the Industry Standard Architecture (ISA.) Should PC Watch's claims prove accurate, a future system upgrade would involve replacing the entire motherboard - not just the processor.

SemiAccurate's Charlie Demerjian claims that not only is PC Watch right about the lack of LGA Broadwell chips, but it's something that has been a long time coming. 'Two OEMs have confirmed to SemiAccurate that they have now been briefed that Broadwell is BGA only,' he states. 'This was done weeks after we first told them about the problem.'

Intel, naturally, has no comment to make on Broadwell, following its traditional refusal to talk about unannounced products. Should the rumours prove true, however, it would be a serious blow to the enthusiast market.
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