After the launch of dual-core Kaby Lake Y-series processors for ultra-thin laptops in August 2016, things seemed a little slow on that front. But that was only the calm before the storm, because at CES 2017, company executives declared nearly 40 different processor configs for the 7th generation processor family that would enter the market to serve a wide range of products.
As with any successive generation, the central point of evaluation is performance. And not surprisingly, Kaby Lake chips are expected to show a 20% increase in performance with respect to Broadwell quad core chips.
There is also tremendous improvement expected on the graphical and video processing front. Compared to last gen Skylake, these 7th gen chips are expected to have better 4K video creation and playback abilities.
According to Intel’s director of mobile platform marketing, Karen Regis, however, Kaby Lake’s strong suit lay in their ability to support ‘Optane’, Intel’s super SSD tech, a topic that we shall discuss at length. But first, lets look at the speeds and feeds of their chips.
The Kaby Lake Overview
The initial Kaby Lake launch in August 2016 saw the launch of low-power, dual-core, Y-series (4.5W) and U-series (15W) processors meant for 2-in-1 detachables and clamshell ultrabooks respectively. The recent rollout is wide ranging (more than 40 models) and covers a whole host of dual and quad core processor families.
Let’s start with the H-series – base clock ranging from 2.5GHz to 3.1GHz, turbo boost readings go all the way up to 4.1GHz. The series features both dual-core and quad-core type chips with TDP of 45-watts, and are designed for performance laptops and VR-ready notebooks. Both unlocked as well as the business-centric Intel vPro models can be found in the family.
For the mainstream desktop configurations, AIO and mini PCs, there is the S-series of dual-core and quad-core processors, available in TDP slabs of 35W, 65W and 95W with base clock speeds starting from 2.4GHz going all the way up to 4.2GHz with turbo boost frequency readings of 4.5GHz.
The 65W and 95W chips being high wattage are ideal for gaming and enthusiast PC builds, whereas the 35-watt chips shall be better suited to mini PCs and AOIs. Available in overclocked and vPro versions, price for the S-series is expected in the region of $117-$339.
A total of eight new chipsets have also been announced. Of these, five (B250, H270, Z270, Q250 and Q270) are designated for desktops whereas three (HM175, QM175 and CM238) shall cater to mobile computers.
Integrated Graphics And Overclocking
One notable omission is Iris and Iris Pro integrated graphics, which had relegated Intel HD graphics to denote the lower rung of graphics integration into Intel processors. The new entrant this time is Iris Plus, which in comparison to integrated HD Graphics shows a 65% uptick in 3D Graphics rendering and close to 40% improvement when converting video files from one format to the other.
According to Intel, Iris Plus along with the increased clock speeds across single, dual and quad core performance in Kaby Lake chips could finally run games at 1080p albeit at lower settings.
The other notable change is with regards to overclocking. The 7th gen chips from S-series will have an overclockable model for the i5(7600K), i7(7700K) and also their i3 chips (7560K). Furthermore, there are two different ways in which these chips could be overclocked.
The first is via an automated tool through which both base clock as well as clock multiplier can be manipulated. The other, which Intel calls AVX offset ratio, is an automatic reduction in clock speed when the processor experiences high degree of computationally complex instructions. This shall prevent the overclocked chip from overheating and thus increase its average lifespan.
Additional Technologies And Optane
There are two big takeaways in terms of other technologies incorporated, either directly or indirectly with Intel’s Kaby Bridge. First in line has to be the integrated video engine which was discussed at length during Intel’s August presentation. The engine supports popular 4K codecs and has its dedicated video block which in turn shall reduce the overall load on the processor.
Intel’s hope is that as more and more 4K videos are made, it shall be lapped by the likes of 4K content creators and resellers such as Amazon Prime and Netflix. Not to forget that 4K service providers like FandangoNow, ULTRA from Sony Pictures or iQIYI could stand to make great gains from Intel’s video engine.
The second is Intel’s Authenticate, an in-house authentication technology that combines different factors like PINs, biometrics and even phone based authentication over BlueTooth. An idea that chip making giant shared at the beginning of 2016 is ready to become a reality, and Intel looks all set to incorporate it into business PCs.
Finally, we come to the hot topic of Optane, Intel’s 3D Xpoint technology that blows conventional NAND based SSDs out of the water, both in terms of read and write speeds. Developed in collaboration with Micron, the Optane module is basically a unique SSD replacement that slots into the DRAM slot.
Kaby Bridge processors weren’t built keeping Optane in mind, they are nevertheless the first generation of Intel chips to support this 3D XPoint technology. While there is no clarity on release dates and price point, this much is clear that all 200-series chipsets from Intel shall be optimized for Optane.
The Competition Landscape
For the time-being, Kaby Lake processors can enjoy a lot of breathing space but that is until AMD’s Ryzen gets introduced to customers and finally hits the market. And from the looks of it Intel is either readying itself to battle AMD’s onslaught with its Kaby Lake and Optane combination.
Nevertheless, Intel’s mid-level processor pricing will stay high until AMD bring out their trump cards. Also, there has been no talk of extreme level processors from Intel for Kaby Lake, so we’ll need to wait and see if and when they decide to bring that out.
So, all eyes will be on both processing giants on how they go about marketing their respective products when the two finally square off against each other with their own version of processors.