Intel: Postpone Launch Of Core i7

Imagine that you've just started a ride on a roller coaster and you're having a great time when you round a bend and realize that the very last piece of track has collapsed. You can't stop the roller coaster although you know that in a couple of minutes your ride will come to a bone crunching splat. However, the roller coaster keeps on going and all the people on your ride who haven't peeked over at the missing last piece of track are all enjoying themselves immensely.

That is pretty well what is happening with the world economy. The last piece of track has collapsed and although the ride is still going, most people have not yet realized that this is one ride that will quickly come to a tragic end.

The global economic crisis goes far beyond a Wall Street bloodbath. With the freeze in worldwide credit granting, businesses of all sizes, from the giant multinational corporations to the tiny Ma and Pa shops on the corner will soon realize that their operations are no longer viable. There are precious few businesses who do not rely on some form of credit, thus the crunch will be felt everywhere and by everyone. One thing is for sure: The world we will live in one year from today will be quite different from the one we inhabit now. We very well may have reached a turning point in human affairs, the end of a cycle which began with the Great Depression in the '30s.

When we apply the effects of this financial meltdown to computer CPU manufacturers, the situation becomes extremely worrying. AMD is far too busy performing an extremely ill-advised mitosis while shoveling millions of dollars to Hector Ruiz to reward him for his immolation of what was once a proud and feisty processor competitor, thus can be counted out of any rational discussion of CPU production. That leaves Intel, and although it has been battered and bruised by its stock following the Dow Jones Industrial Average spiraling down down down into the depths of hell, the company is still worth over 90 billion dollars, and that allows it to continue operations more or less as planned.

That's where Intel should reconsider. The Core i7 launch should be indefinitely postponed.

Don't get me wrong, I have long stated that I would camp out at the first retailer who announces that they have Core i7 CPUs for sale the next day, therefore I am most certainly not a technology hater, Intel detractor, or any other convenient label that could be applied. I am a rationalist, and thus when I look at the market trends and the realistic expectations of what is going to happen next on this global financial roller coaster, I see that the computer market is most definitely nowhere near in the condition required to absorb the launch of a "next paradigm" processor at this time.

The Core i7 CPUs require a complete upgrade of darn near everything but your case and hard drive. Even if you, like me, have a current state of the art Yorkfield 45 nm quad core, there is no legitimate upgrade path. The motherboard: you need a new one. The RAM: you need new ones. The HSF: you need a new one. Although there have been rumors of revised mounting brackets that should allow at least some current aftermarket HSFs to straddle the much larger structure of the LGA 1366 socket, the Core i7s will simply not work with anything but DDR3 RAM and that is considerably pricier than the DDR2 equivalents which are currently inside the quad core systems. As for motherboards for the new CPU, they were supposed to launch around the $180 and up price range, but now it seems that the cheapest motherboard that will accommodate an LGA 1366 will cost upwards of $250, with some higher end boards blasting through the $500 barrier. So when we add up a typical enthusiast or serious business Core i7 system we see that the cheapest upgrade path at expected street pricing would be approximately:

  • Motherboard: $275
  • Core i7 920: $375
  • 6 GB DDR3 RAM: $300
  • HSF: $50

There you go… one thousand dollars. Keep in mind that is for the lowest priced Core i7 as the next step up costs double, and the next step up from there is double that again! The rumored pricing of the Core i7s has been creeping up lately and that is the wrong direction for the pricing to go at a time like this. And this entire estimate is only for an upgrade and valid if you can shoehorn the upgraded system into your existing case with your current peripherals. A couple of the X58 motherboards I've seen are using very unusual layouts even on the backplate, so it might be a good idea to be handy with a Dremel tool and start whittling away at your case now.

Core i7 is an astounding technological leap forwards, but its launch in the current financial climate could legitimately blow up in Intel's face and saddle the extraordinary CPU with a completely undeserved bad rap. Businesses around the world are not in any condition whatsoever at the current time to embrace a hardware update which is going to cost $1,000 per workstation or much more, and even many of the rabid gamers, enthusiasts and prosumers who can usually be counted upon to rush to be the first adopters of "the latest cool gear" are most certainly feeling the squeeze on their Visa Card bills, thus will likely largely stay away from blowing that much money right now.

In a recent TV interview with a leading retail analyst, the reporter asked what his estimate of the level of this Christmas buying season would be on retailers. The analyst replied in a deadpan: "There's not going to be a Christmas this year." With Intel expecting to launch Core i7 in time for the usual Christmas holiday season buying frenzy, it may be a very good idea to just shelve the CPU for now and wait to see what shakes out in the global economic meltdown. Intel is in a position where it would be far preferable to be accused of playing Scrooge than to play Santa Claus riding a sleigh and end up getting shot out of the sky.

When should Core i7 be introduced? There is some slight reason to believe that the markets will find their bottom sometime in the spring or summer of 2009 and return to some semblance of economic health, but most analysts place that forecast as far in the future as 2013. Whenever the launch date should be set for, it has to be a time when the majority of the potential customers for Core i7 can legitimately expect to pay for the upgrade. Very unfortunately, there's no point ruining the launch for a wonderful, trend-setting, paradigm-shredding new CPU at a desperate time like this.

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