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Aug 31 2016

Processors for the “Immersive Internet”: Intel Introduces Kaby Lake


Since the release of its Westmere architecture and first-generation Core™ processors in 2010, the world's largest chipmaker has reliably produced a fresh line of CPUs every year. 2016 is no exception to the rule: yesterday saw the release of the first 7th Generation Intel® Core™ processors, semi-officially dubbed Kaby Lake, in six mobile editions designed for notebooks and 2 in 1s.

The new product line is the legitimate heir to Intel's Skylake family of processors that started shipping exactly 12 months ago. More to the point, the latest-gen Core i3/5/7 and m3 models are an extension of the previous generation rather than a successor, as manufacturing follows an optimized "14nm+" process instead of taking the next step in miniaturization. Users awaiting another die shrink will have to hold out until H2/2017; Intel had already warned they won't be able to ship 10nm models at an earlier date in July last year.

This slight drawback notwithstanding, Intel seems to be pretty optimistic regarding the acceptance and commercial prospects of Kaby Lake. At least that's the attitude of Navin Shenoy, the company's Corporate VP in charge of client computing products, who introduced the new processor family on his blog. According to Shenoy, Kaby Lake CPUs deliver 12% faster productivity performance and 19% faster web performance than their immediate predecessors, support streaming and creating 4K video content, and offer "a threefold improvement in graphics compared to a 5-year-old PC," so that gamers may play the latest titles on upcoming ultra-thin laptops and 2 in 1s. As such, the new processors are supposed to help users make the best of what Intel calls the "immersive internet," a virtual communication and interaction platform that somehow resembles a digital Disneyland. Shenoy also says OEMs will ship the first Kaby-Lake-based mobile devices in September, and that more than a 100 will appear in the next four months until Christmas. Matching desktop and enterprise PCs are due out in January.

As noted above, Kaby Lake is basically an optimization of the Skylake family. Technically, this means the fresh processors are equipped with a new media engine and allow for longer runtimes during video playback. More specifically, the media engine builds upon Intel's own Gen9 graphics architecture and can handle 4K UHD 10-bit HEVC and VP9 video formats as well as regular 1080p input. Likewise, hobbyist directors and cameramen should be able to "create, edit and share" similar material up to 8 times faster than on PCs bought in 2011. However, there seems to be a little confusion over how long 4K playback will actually last: the official Kaby Lake fact sheet says something about 9.5 hours max, but elsewhere it is indicated that the Core i7-7500U – so far the most powerful among the new CPUs – will achieve 7 hours at best. To further complicate matters, some analysts say that 4K playback on 6th-gen Core i7 processors would last 4 hours, which puts the runtime gain at somewhere between 75 and 137.5% – that's very impressive, but nowhere near the "3x times longer" Intel mentions in its product brief. Other improvements include enhanced I/O capabilities; namely, 7th Gen Intel® Core™ processors offer Gen 3 PCIe support with transfer rates of 8 GT/s (as opposed to 5 GT/s in the previous generation). As a result, they will interact faster with built-in SSDs.

Judging from the initial specifications, the Kaby Lake family of processors looks like an attractive platform for gamers and content creators, especially in the UHD video department. Performance gains in other areas are substantial, but not quite as impressive – productivity-oriented users in particular will likely be satisfied with their Skylake- or Broadwell-based equipment for another 12 to 18 months.

For more details and background info, please check out the reports at Computerworld and The Register.


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