Weird MCM Based Intel Xeon SoMa Processors Spotted Online, House 4 Dies Per CPU
Okay, time for something spicey that has just come down the grapevine. One of our favorite twitter accounts, Momomo_US, initially posted a weird-looking processor that was hosting 4 MCM-dies. The IHS of the processor looks distinctly like that of Intel and I decided to do a bit of digging around and boy did I find a lot of trails. Before I get on with all the gory details, I just wanted to remind you to mind that rumor tag and keep a jar of salt handy. Intel has never admitted to pursuing an MCM-based strategy but if this CPU turns out to be anything other than a very large scale hoax (unlikely), it would indicate that they have at the very least, tested MCM designs in their labs.
Intel Xeon SoMA processors with 4 dies spotted on Chinese forums and on eBay
Okay before you get all excited, I will preface this story by saying that this is almost certainly a very old part - and not a leak of a new and upcoming SKU - so even in the very best case scenario it simply prooves that Intel dabbled in MCM designs. In fact, the packaging puts it at an LGA 1156-ish design and the batch number puts this CPU as having been made almost 4 years ago. The package was made in Malaysia.
Based on all this info, you are looking at either of three things:
- A very old and abandoned project for MCM designs (likely),
- A project that Intel has not revealed yet (anyone's guess) or
- An elaborate hoax where someone faked over 100,000 chips (unlikely).
The IHS design also puts it in the bracket of the Skylake family which makes me believe this is something they started testing shortly after that. You can watch a full video of the CPU being delidded over here.
The lack of transistors/SMDs on the package mean this is not a working processor and simply an early demo chip - this is further corroborated by that very weird part number and the lack of an Intel Confidential logo (a standard Intel logo without the words Intel in the center). The fact that "MALAY" is mentioned on the packaging also further corroborates this theory since Intel has three testing/packaging sites based there: PG8, KM5 and KMO (in Penang and Kulim).
Here is where things get exciting though. The dies shown here are close in size to dual-core Skylake dies and 4 dies would make this an 8 core chip.
Queue memes about Intel had octacore chips before it was cool, no? too early? okay 🙁 The fact that this chip was made roughly four years ago means that if this was something Intel was actively pursuing they would have had ample time to perfect the technique and implement it.
The next thing I did was give the part numbers a quick google and lo and behold these processors are available on eBay as well. The fact there are so many of these CPUs (according to a Reddit thread, almost 100,000 of these quirky little processors are out there) makes it very unlikely that this is all an elaborate hoax.
I would assume that these were part of Intel's internal testing for viable alternatives for scaling performance all those years back. It is anyone's guess whether those tests turned out to be positive and whether Intel is working on an MCM strategy or this is a project that was ultimately abandoned.
Intel has been competing with AMD using its traditional monolithic approach to processors and unfortunately, that can't really scale to compete with MCM based designs like the one AMD employs. Limited by the reticle size, you can only expand a monolithic die so much - not to mention yield has an inverse relationship with die size. MCM based designs on the other hand not only benefit from increased yield but are also able to scale almost infinitely. If Intel decides to shift to MCM based designs, it can quickly ramp up its performance numbers - something it direly needs to do in order to stay competitive with AMD. For their sake, I hope this project was one that ended successfully and had just been keeping a close lid on and not something that was eventually abandoned.