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Kaby Lake is the next generation of CPUs from Intel. Right now we’re in the Skylake generation. You’ll still see quite a few laptops from the previous Broadwell and Haswell series on sale, but they are officially past-it.
Here are all the details you need to know on the upcoming Intel Kaby Lake CPU revolution.
Cut to the chase
What is it? Intel’s 7th-generation Core processorWhen is it out? Before the end of 2016What will it cost? Likely similar to Intel’s current Skylake processors
Intel Kaby Lake release date
Kaby Lake is on our doorstep. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich confirmed on July 22 that Kaby Lake chipsets have made their way to PC builders.
This means we can expect to see a few Kaby Lake PCs arrive before the end of 2016. However, right now we don’t know the exact chipsets that will arrive in the first wave.
Kaby Lake includes desktop CPUs, Intel Core i3/i5/i7 laptop CPUs and new Core M chipsets, as well as server-class models.
Even after Intel’s keynote at its very own 2016 Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Calif., we do not yet know the release date of the 7th generation of Intel Core series processors. However, at the show, Intel showed off a Dell XPS machine running a 7th generation Core i5 chip running recent shooter darling Overwatch using its own onboard GPU. We expect to learn more details shortly.
Kaby Lake revealed CPUs
Three Kaby Lake CPU models have already been leaked, though a handful of laptop-grade parts were officially revealed at the IFA trade show in Berlin, Germany.
The Core i7-7700K is the leaked desktop CPU, unlocked for overclocking as indicated by the discrete "K" moniker. This tells us the Kaby Lake naming convention will remain similar: they are "7" series CPUs, to Skylake’s gen 6, Broadwell’s gen 5 and so on.
The i7-7700K is a quad-core hyper-threaded CPU, and benchmarks leaked all the way back in March suggest it’s clocked at 3.6GHz with a 4.2GHz turbo boost. Of course, that may change by the time the chipset is actually used.
The CPU was leaked in the SiSoft benchmark result database, but unfortunately the results published are actually significantly worse than those of the i7-6700K, so don’t tell us anything about Kaby Lake’s performance. A downgrade upgrade? Let’s hope not.
Next up is the Core i7-7500U, leaked alongside the i7-7700K. This is the sort of CPU we might end up seeing in a high-end ultrabook. It’s a relatively high performance chipset, but still belongs to the "U" ultra-low voltage family.
It has two cores, four threads, and is clocked at 2.7GHz with a 2.9GHz turbo. Some of you might turn your noses up at dual-core laptop chipsets, but they’re pretty important.
On the mobile front, the higher end Core m5 and m7 mobile chips of yesteryear will be integrated into the Y-series Core i family. These include the Core m3-7Y30, the Core i5-7Y54 and the Core i7-7Y75, which will be used in top-end laptops with fanless and convertible designs to complement the more power-hungry U-series processors.
Intel Kaby Lake first laptops
Where will these chipsets end up? None of the key laptops makers have officially announced any Kaby Lake laptops yet. They couldn’t without having access to the hardware, not to mention letting Intel announce the chipsets first.
Apple Insider suggests that Apple is not among the first manufacturers to get hold of the new chipsets. Of course, Apple is more at risk of alienating buyers by offering early-as-possible upgrades, when its MacBook lines were only refreshed in April 2016.
It doesn’t need to be in as much of a rush as, say, Asus or Lenovo.
Some suggest Apple may skip over Kaby Lake altogether, but this seems unlikely when its successor Intel Cannonlake is not due to arrive until the second half of 2017.
Intel Kaby Lake architecture
Cannonlake is likely to prove a much more exciting update than Kaby Lake too. You see, Kaby Lake is very similar to the Skylake family we’re already using. This is not what we originally expected of the Skylake successor, but Intel has changed how its processor development works.
Since 2007, Intel has worked in a ‘tick, tock’ rhythm of upgrades, where one generation shrinks the die, followed by a generation that alters the architecture. That changed this year. As of 2016, Intel now uses a "Process, Architecture, Optimisation" approach, and Kaby Lake represents that last, frankly least interesting stage.
It’s still a 14nm processor, it’s fairly similar to Skylake throughout and the desktop variants will use the same LGA 1151 socket. Unless something terrible goes wrong, Cannonlake will shrink Intel CPUs down to the long-promised 10nm die in 2017.
While there are likely to be some performance and efficiency improvements, it seems unlikely those with a Skylake CPU will need/want to upgrade to a Kaby Lake processor of the same level.
Intel Kaby Lake upgrades
There are some distinct improvements involved in Kaby Lake, though. The first is fully integrated support for USB-C Gen 2. Skylake machines can offer this already, but need an extra third-party piece of hardware. It’ll soon be ‘native’. Again, it’s not exciting but is necessary.
Gen 2 USB 3.1 enables bandwidth of 10Gbps, rather than 5Gbps. Thunderbolt 3 support is in too.
In a similar vein, HDCP 2.2 support is native in Kaby Lake. This digital copy protection, a newer version designed for certain 4K video standards. Ultra HD Blu-ray is the key one.
Kaby Lake is also expected to offer integrated GPUs better-suited to 4K video. Thanks to a new media engine built on a Gen9 graphics architecture, users will be able to edit real-time 4K video using nothing more than integrated graphics. For video consumption, the new VP9 and HVEC 10-bit decode will enable all-day 4K video streaming on a single charge.
Kaby Lake will only officially support Windows 10 too, among Windows operating systems. This is yet another attempt by Microsoft to push those lingering on Windows 7, or anything a little newer, into the present.
Apollo Lake: Kaby Lake’s poor cousin
It’s also worth considering the low-end Atom chipsets you’ll see used in very cheap laptops and Windows 10 tablets in (potentially) late 2016 and 2017. These are not part of Kaby Lake, but a separate family called Apollo Lake.
No Apollo Lake-powered laptops have appeared yet, but early reports suggest a performance increase of as much as 30%. This is good news given how poorly some Windows 10 devices currently run using low-end hardware.
Kaby Lake-X: a higher-end future
If you’re only interested in mainstream Kaby Lake models, the future isn’t looking too complicated. They’ll trickle out, before being replaced by Cannonlake CPUs in late 2017. However, the outlook for seriously high-end hardware is more convoluted.
Right now Intel’s newest high-end CPUs are part of the Broadwell-E series, even though among mainstream processors Broadwell is already old news. Quite simply, the real high-end hardware comes later. We’re talking about CPUs like the £1,000 i7-6900k.
The Kaby Lake alternative will not be called Kaby Lake-E but Kaby Lake-X, and is expected to launch in the second half of 2017 alongside Skylake-X. That’s right: two generations at the same time.
Kaby Lake-X will reportedly offer a four-core processor, while Skylake-X will man the ascent to the almost-baffling 10-core version.
What mere mortal laptop and desktop buyers need to take from Kaby Lake, though, is that a) we’ll see machines using the new chipsets very soon and b) unless you already need an upgrade you might want to see whether 2017’s Cannonlake brings more exciting improvements.
Now, what of that Surface PC we’ve been hearing about?
Joe Osborne and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this article
Introduction and 3D XPoint
A few months ago, we took an aging laptop and brought it kicking and screaming into 2016. We quadrupled the RAM, swapped the hard disk for an SSD and transformed it from a bit of a laggard into the electronic equivalent of Usain Bolt. Usain Volt, anyone?
Bad puns aside, you’ve probably experienced similar performance boosts as PCs and Macs boast ever more RAM and ever faster SSDs. But what’s on the horizon is even more exciting…
The tech trinity
The performance of any device is largely due to three things: the CPU/GPU, the memory and the storage. While most of the attention is often focused on the processor and graphics solution, key developments are happening in memory and storage as well which will affect CPU and GPU tech, too.
One of the most promising new technologies is High Bandwidth Memory or HBM for short. Although it’s a very new technology Samsung and Hynix are already developing the third generation, which they expect to commercialise in 2019 or 2020.
Unlike traditional memory, where chips are laid flat on the memory module, HBM chips are stacked. That shortens the distance between the chips and the CPU or GPU, achieving the same speeds as on-chip integrated RAM, and it enables manufacturers to cram more RAM into smaller spaces. And we don’t just mean slightly smaller.
AMD, which originally created HBM and the firm’s Fiji processors are the first CPUs to use HBM, reckons HBM takes up 94% less space than the equivalent GDDR5. Where 1GB of GDDR5 takes up 28 x 24mm of surface space, 1GB of HBM needs just 7 x 5mm. That’s particularly exciting for virtual reality, as it means powerful GPUs could live inside the headsets without them being so heavy you can barely move your head.
As AMD explains: "GDDR5 has served the industry very well these past seven years, but as graphics chips grow faster, their appetite for fast delivery of information continues to increase." GDDR5 is good, but its ability to meet those requirements "is beginning to wane as the technology reaches the limits of its specification." HBM resets the clock, offering more than three times the bandwidth per watt of GDDR5.
Current HBM supports up to 8 dies per stack, 8GB per package and achieves speeds of 256GB/s. Third generation HBM will boost those numbers even further, doubling the density to 16GB per die and enabling stacks more than 8 times higher. The only negative is that you can’t get it yet.
Heart of glass
According to Intel, 3D XPoint technology is "the first new memory category in more than 25 years." Up to 1,000 times faster than NAND flash storage, up to 1,000 times more reliable and capable of storing up to 128GB per die, it’s the technology behind Intel’s exciting Optane SSDs.
The details of 3D XPoint – also known as QuantX, which is the name preferred by Intel’s partner, Micron – haven’t been fully disclosed, although Intel does say that it is "not based on electrons"; it’s believed to be based on ‘phase change’ technology that writes data by heating a glass-like material.
Phase change chips can write or rewrite individual bits, something flash storage can’t do, and just adding a buffer of phase change material to existing flash storage technologies can deliver significant performance improvements. Intel promises to launch its Optane SSDs by the end of 2016, and to have 3D XPoint RAM for PCs next year.
Top Image Credit: Wikipedia (AMD’s Fiji)
Spintronics and HAMR, SMR
Spin on this
Spintronics is a new, ahem, spin on data transfer. As electrons spin they generate tiny magnetic fields, and those fields can be used to transfer data. That data transfer requires much less energy than traditional electronic circuitry, it can be used in cheap materials such as copper and aluminium, and it’s non-volatile, so it retains data when there’s no energy source.
Spintronic magnetic RAM – MRAM – already exists. One manufacturer, Everspin, markets MRAM chips for automotive and aeronautical applications, which benefit from MRAM’s exceptional resistance to heat and other stresses. It’s ideal for flash storage such as SD cards and SSDs, and while it’s a little slower than conventional DRAM it’s much smaller and more energy efficient. Those benefits mean it can also be used as processor cache memory, which is something Intel, Qualcomm, Samsung and Toshiba are all experimenting with.
Life’s a gas
Don’t write off the humble hard disk just yet, though. Earlier this year Seagate unveiled a 10TB helium-filled hard drive, following in the footsteps of Western Digital subsidiary HGST. Helium is considerably less dense than normal air, so using it inside drives reduces drag and other forces. That means manufacturers can use thinner platters and pack more platters into the same space. According to Seagate, the mean time between failures (MTBF) of helium drives is 2.5 million hours, compared to 2 million for non-helium enterprise drives.
For all its joys, helium doesn’t make hard disk platters store any more information. For that, we need to consider technologies such as heat-assisted magnetic recording, or HAMR for short. HAMR adds a laser to the familiar hard disk design, heating up the platter to cram much more data into the same space. TDK promised to ship HAMR drives in 2016, but the timescale appears to have slipped and HAMR drives aren’t expected to turn up much before 2018.
HAMR has a rival: SMR, or shingled magnetic recording. Once again SMR promises more dense data storage on hard disk platters, but it accomplishes this in a different way. Think of the shingles you see on a roof. SMR does much the same with data, creating tracks that overlap part of the previously written track, and Seagate has been shipping drives that use the technology for the last three years.
It works by exploiting the difference between a hard disk’s read and write heads: read heads are narrower than write heads, so the overlapping doesn’t prevent the reader from getting the full information. Because it’s very similar to existing hard disk technology the costs of making it are relatively low, and it enables firms such as Seagate to increase storage densities by around 25%. That makes it a useful step forward while we wait for technologies such as HAMR.
Also check out: 10 CPUs that changed computing