Intel CEO Brian Krzanich at the company’s annual developer show earlier this month showed off systems running on the vendor’s upcoming “Kaby Lake” processors and said products powered by the chips would hit the market later this year.
On Aug. 30 Intel officials took another step in that direction, officially rolling out the 7th Generation Core processors, the third iteration of silicon built on the chip maker’s 14nm process. The processors, which earlier last year weren’t even on the product road map, are now part of what the company calls its “tick-tock-optimize” chip cadence.
The company for years had driven development of its processors on a tick-tock schedule, with new microarchitectures being introduced in the “tick” year—such as the move to 14nm with the “Broadwell” processors—and enhancements for improved performance and power efficiency coming in the “tock” years, as with the introduction of the current 14nm “Skylake” last year. “Cannonlake,” the first of Intel’s 10nm processors, initially was due out this year.
However, manufacturing challenges associated with the 10nm processors convinced Intel officials to delay the release of Cannonlake until next year and to introduce a third 14nm processor—Kaby Lake—this year.
While Kaby Lake essentially shares the same microarchitecture as the 6th Generation Skylake, it comes with enhancements that will help drive performance and energy efficiency gains and make it a key technology for what company officials are calling the “immersive internet.” That includes everything from powering virtual reality applications with headsets such as Oculus Rift and HTC Hive to running 4K ultra high-definition video.
“These trends in how we consume and create content, in how we communicate and interact, reflect what we at Intel call the immersive internet,” Navin Shenoy, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel’s Client Computing Group, wrote in a post on the company blog. “And the best way to take advantage of the immersive internet is on a computer with the performance to deliver a lifelike experience. People need the power to view, the power to create and the power to play—something that the PC is uniquely designed to do.”
The focus on PCs comes even as the company is reducing its dependence on the contracting global client space in favor of such emerging markets as the internet of things (IoT), virtual reality (VR), drones and the data center. However, Intel officials see PCs as a key connected device in the IoT, and an important vehicle for VR, gaming and other immersive computing uses.
In addition, while the overall PC market continues to struggle, some segments are seeing strength, including convertibles and 2-in-1s. During a briefing with journalists and analysts earlier this month during the Intel Developer Forum, Shenoy noted that 2-in-1 shipments grew 40 percent last year, and that enthusiasts and gamers continue to embrace high-end PCs.
Intel officials also contend that there are hundreds of millions of PCs five years or older still being used that will need to be upgraded soon, and that the newest systems are significantly better in performance and power efficiency—1.7 times faster at traditional processing jobs and three times faster running high-end 3D games, said Chris Walker, general manager for mobile client platforms at Intel, during the briefing. They’re also 8.6 times faster at creating and sharing 4K 360-degree video and 15 times faster at creating video in almost real time.
Intel Officially Rolls Out Kaby Lake Chips for Laptops, 2-in-1s
Bob O’Donnell, principal analyst with TECHnalysis Research, told eWEEK that while some of the improvements—up to 12 percent faster productivity performance and up to 19 percent faster web performance—over the Skylake chips may seem incremental, given how long many users hold onto their PCs, the comparisons to those older PCs are what most consumers and business users will be interested in.
“That’s what really makes a difference,” O’Donnell said.
Kaby Lake, based on what Intel officials call the company’s 14nm+ process technology, comes with its share of enhancements to help drive the emerging applications. The new Y-series Kaby Lake chips, running at 1.0GHz to 1.3GHz, will consume 4.5 watts of power, while the more powerful U-series—at 2.4GHz to 2.7GHz—will run at 15 watts. Both lineups comprise dual-core, four-thread chips, and users will be able to crank up the speeds of both through Intel’s Turbo Boost technology.
Intel also made improvements to the manufacturing process, using taller fins in its FinFET technology and an enhanced channel for improved performance, efficiency and battery life. Intel officials also noted its Speed Shift technology: In the company’s processors, users can turn to the Turbo Boost technology to overclock single cores, but the Speed Shift accelerates that transition, they said.
There also is a new video system in Kaby Lake that marks an improvement over Skylake’s Gen9 architecture. The 7th Generation Core chips offer dedicated support for 4K HEVC encoding and decoding and VP9 decoding, which Walker said brings better quality to video but also reduces the bandwidth needed.
The chips also will mean thinner and lighter notebooks that are significantly faster and more efficient than ones in use today, officials said. Shenoy said some of the upcoming PCs powered by the new chip will offer a full PC experience in form factors that are thinner than phones.
He said the company has begun shipping Kaby Lake, and more than 100 systems—including ultrathin laptops and 2-in-1s, which can be used as a traditional notebook or as a tablet—are scheduled to start hitting the market this fall, followed in January by PCs for enthusiasts that will include Intel’s vPro technologies. Workstations and servers based on Kaby Lake also will begin appearing next year.