Intel has shown off their next-gen Modular PC platform known as Element which would include the CPU, memory, storage and other features on a single dual-slot add-in card. Talk about CPUs taking the GPU approach with a socket-less design and rather a fully encased module which you can plug right inside a PCI-express slot near you.
Intel's Element Modular PC Platform Takes The Graphics Card Approach For CPUs - Fully Encased PC Form Factor Aimed at Gamers & Workstation Enthusiasts
Talking to Anandtech, Intel's Ed Barkhuysen shed some light over the Element Modular PC. The PC platform includes mostly everything you'd need to when building a PC with the most significant of it all being the processor. This won't obviously be the first time we have seen a CPU embedded on an add-in-card but the last ones were put together more than a decade ago. With Element, Intel is aiming for a modular PC design and they are currently targetting its use on next-generation NUCs.
The Intel Element Modular PC platform aims to revolutionize the PC as a whole, offering a modular approach to how we build PCs. (Image Credits: Anandtech)
Coming to the specifications, the Element module comes in a dual-slot form factor and has a nice black colored shroud with an Intel logo and a single fan that pushes air through the internals. The components sit on the PCB underneath the shroud which is typically what we saw on modern-day graphics cards. But rather than the GPU, VRAM and its power delivery, we are talking about more components.
In this case, we are looking at a BGA CPU (Intel Xeon or Intel Core), two SO-DIMM LPDDR4 memory DIMM slots, two M.2 ports for storage and a range of I/O ports which include Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, Ethernet LAN, USB, and WiFi. The whole module is powered by an 8-pin connector which suggests a 150-200W TDP for this card. Since the Element is not a final design at the moment, we may get a lot more variations in the future, some of which may not even require extra power ports & will be able to sip power directly from the PCI-express slot.
Intel is currently planning to use the module in its next-generation Quartz Canyon and Phantom Canyon NUCs. The Quartz Canyon NUCs are designed to server Xeon workstation users while the Phantom Canyon Gaming NUCs are designed with gamers in mind. We got a better look at Intel's Element previously in leaked shots which showed the entire NUC assembly that featured a stand-alone PSU (500W), feeding 75W to the large plane of PCI-Express slots (Gen 3.0 currently).
The PCI-e slots connect the Element, discrete graphics cards, FPGAs and RAID controllers together or could also (theoretically) feature multiple Element's. The Element will feature up to an 8-core Intel Xeon E or a 9th Gen Core i7 (vPro) processor. Of course with new generations coming out, we can see the platform adding PCIe Gen 4.0 / 5.0 support and CPUs with higher core counts on sub-14nm nodes. What's definitely going to be interesting is that rather than updating your entire PC once a new generation of hardware comes out, you can simply swap in the older modules rather than updating your motherboard, rounding the power cables again, swapping the cooler, making for a more streamlined PC building approach.
As for cooling, once again Intel stated that the current design is very early at this stage but they can be modified by OEMs who offer them so if they want to use air or liquid cooling, it's up to them. No AIB plans were mentioned and from what I can see, Intel isn't going the way of graphics cards with their Element. The current plans of Element are that it would be sent out to OEMs in Q1 2020 so a market launch around mid-2020 seems possible. There are no words on the pricing but they would definitely be based on the specifications the module hosts & since there would be several configs, its hard to tell where the module would land.