Home Enterprise Intel rolls out the rest of the Kaby Lake CPU family

Intel rolls out the rest of the Kaby Lake CPU family

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Intel didn’t just launch the new Core i7-7700K desktop CPU, it made a comprehensive update to its entire product line. The initial Kaby Lake mobile refresh was limited to a handful of SKUs; with this launch Intel is bringing out a larger number of cores intended for every price point. The new chips are, for the most part, drop-in replacements for the Skylake SKUs Intel launched in 2015 and 2016, though most of the models feature at least a small clock jump over and above what Skylake offered.

The slideshow below steps through each of Intel’s SKUs in some detail, but we’ll give you the 10,000-foot overview. Kaby Lake is priced nearly identically to Skylake in virtually every case, but the Core i5-7600K has a 3.8GHz base clock and a 4.2GHz turbo clock, whereas the Core i5-6700K was a 3.5GHz – 3.9GHz chip. These gains are preserved through most of the product stack; the 35W Core i5-7400T has a 2.4GHz base, 3GHz turbo, compared with the Core i5-6400T with its 2.2GHz base and 2.8GHz turbo.

There’s a new nomenclature attached to many of Intel’s 15W and 28W CPUs. These new chips feature what Intel is calling “Iris Plus,” meaning they incorporate a 64MB EDRAM chip alongside the GPU core. The 128MB EDRAM cores that Intel has previously shipped with Skylake and Broadwell aren’t being carried over to the Iris Plus line, at least not for now. OEM uptake on these cores has never been high, even though they can improve integrated graphics performance by almost 100%.

All of the new 7th-Generation chips support VP9 hardware decode, as well as supporting H.265 encode/decode completely in hardware. As a result, all of these cores are comparable with streaming 4K video from Netflix or any other service that agrees to use Windows PlayReady DRM via the Edge browser. Intel has already said it won’t bring its EDRAM to any desktop quad-core SKUs this cycle, so if you were hoping for a non-embedded chip with Iris Plus you’ll have to look for a Skylake-based core or consider the Broadwell-based Core i7-5775C, which does have the 128MB cache.

Apart from improvements to media playback support, clock speed increases, and the Core i3-7350K (the first unlocked Core i3), the Kaby Lake refresh is a fairly standard update to Intel’s roadmap. A little more clock, a little more performance, and not much to specifically get excited about unless you’ve been waiting on an upgrade that was just a little faster than your 5-7 year-old system.

Is it time for a new x86 architecture?

I’m a bit torn over Kaby Lake. On the one hand, it’s a fine update as far as it goes. There’s not much reason for Skylake owners to upgrade, but review results from the 7700K show that it generally outperforms Devil’s Canyon from 2014, to say nothing of Sandy Bridge or even earlier chips. Squeezing an extra 8-10% out of Skylake in equivalent power envelopes is no small accomplishment given how hard it’s been to move the ball on x86 performance.

At the same time, however, Intel has been working with Sandy Bridge-derived architectures since 2011 and doesn’t have much to show for it — at least, not compared with previous rates of performance improvements. A great deal of this is due to simple physics and the intrinsic difficulty of designing a core that is more efficient, draws the same amount of power (or less, ideally) and provides increased performance without resorting to clock speed gains to deliver it. In a talk several years ago, former Intel Chief Architect Bob Colwell estimated that modern chips are 50-60x more efficient than the original 8086 — but they clock 1,000x higher than that core (4GHz compared with 4MHz). For all the gains we’ve gotten from building better cores, the gains from clock speed are more than an order of magnitude higher.

I mentioned this in the Core i7-7700K review, but it bears repeating: I have absolutely no inside knowledge that Intel is contemplating a new uarch and am not claiming it is. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the company does go this route, especially if Zen proves competitive against the 7th Generation core family. With Apple breathing down its neck with the iPad Pro and its old enemy preparing to return to the arena, it’s a good time to revisit old assumptions and see if new tricks can be found to boost perf, cut power, and deliver a superior product.

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