Intel Promises Faster Laptops With New 'Coffee Lake' Core Chips

The chip maker is promising up to 40 percent better performance with its 8th-Generation PC processors.

Intel Coffee Lake

Intel is rolling out its latest generation of PC processors that officials boast will deliver a 40 percent performance increase over the current “Kaby Lake” chips.

The new 8th-Generation 14-nanometer Core processors—code-named “Coffee Lake” and introduced Aug. 21—are aimed at midrange laptops and two-in-one systems, and come at a time when the dominant chip maker is facing increasing competition from longtime rival Advanced Micro Devices and the worldwide PC market continues to contract. But Intel is still seeing strength in its PC chip business, with company officials last month reporting that its Client Computing Group saw revenues grow 12 percent in the second quarter, reaching $8.2 billion, the most by any business unit in the company.

In addition, Intel executives are calling the 40 percent speed boost in Coffee Lake a significant increase in performance, one that is rarely seen with new generations of processors.

That will be important as the company continues to push its advantage in a rapidly changing global market. Intel chips power more than 90 percent of the world’s PCs, but the company has worked to reduce its dependence on PCs over the past several years as the market has continued to shrink. PC shipments have fallen steadily since 2012 as competition from other devices—in particular smartphones and tablets—has eaten into demand. In addition, consumers and business users are holding onto their PCs for longer periods of time. Gartner analysts in July announced that worldwide shipments of PCs in the second quarter fell another 4.3 percent, to 61.1 million units.

Intel also is being pressed by a reinvigorated AMD that is rolling out both PC and server chips based on its new Zen microarchitecture, which company officials have said not only challenge Intel chips on performance, but offer better power efficiency and lower costs. AMD earlier this year rolled out new “Ryzen” chips aimed at desktop PCs and “Epyc” processors for servers, and have said that chips for laptops will come later this year.

Intel’s Coffee Lake processors also illustrate the chip maker’s new production cycle for processors. For years the company used what it called a “tick-tock” cadence, where one year it would roll out chips based on new processor microarchitecture that included a smaller process, and the next year new chips would come with enhancements for improved performance and energy efficiency. However, Intel officials a year ago announced that the company was moving away from the tick-tock cadence, instead introducing additional chips at the same process size. They noted the difficulty in keeping the cadence as they continued shrinking the chips.

In this case, Intel in 2014 introduced 14nm chips in its “Broadwell” family of processors, then followed up in 2015 with 14nm “Skylake” chips. The chip maker then rolled out 14nm “Kaby Lake” chips and now, with Coffee Lake, is coming out with its fourth round of 14nm processors. The company is expected to follow Coffee Lake with 10nm processors.

The new Coffee Lake family will include quad-core i5 and i7 chips, with two new U-series chips (for thin and light laptops and two-in-ones) in each lineup. The company is promoting the processors not only to business users but also to consumers and content creators, noting that users can play 4K UHD videos on their laptops for up to 10 hours and can edit action footage 14.7 times faster than on Kaby Lake chips. They’re also pointing to such emerging technologies as virtual and mixed reality. Systems powered by the new chips will hit the market in time for the holiday buying season, officials said.

Intel officials also are continuing their push to persuade people who have PCs that are more than 5 years old to buy new ones. The company—as has AMD—for several years has noted that users can see significant improvements in performance, power efficiency and battery life by upgrading to systems powered by newer processors and that can better run tasks from video editing to data analytics. Intel estimates that more than 450 million PCs that are 5 years or older are still in use. PCs powered by the new chips will bring at least twice the performance of those older ones.

Intel officials said that in the fall, more chips based on Coffee Lake and targeting workstations, desktops and other notebooks will roll out.