Updated August 28, 6:30 p.m. ET with clarification from Intel. The badges will not feature the "Optimized for Connectivity" phrasing. That will only be used in marketing materials and point of sale.
Intel just announced its 8th Gen Core mobile processors… again. There are two sets: the Amber Lake Y-series for fanless devices and the Whiskey Lake U-series. That marks four “8th Gen” lines of mobile processors, two of which have the U-series appendage.
If you’re a regular visitor to Tom’s Hardware, you’re probably no stranger to reading processor names. An enthusiast will know that an Intel Core i7-8650U is a Kaby Lake-R processor and that a Core i7-8565U is a Whiskey Lake chip. But the fact I can bring this up at all as a nitpicky complaint shows that this is just getting to be a bit much.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve helped a friend or family member get a laptop or other tech. Now imagine having to explain why one 8th Gen Core i7 is different from another 8th Gen Core i7. On the shelf in Best Buy, two laptops with Intel’s “8th Gen Core i7” tags will have the exact same stickers.
There's just one thing you may see in marketing materials and in stores:
See that? “Optimized for Connectivity.” That yellow text, on marketing materials for the new U-series notebooks, refers to the CPUs’ integrated Gigabit WiFi. It’s the only obvious difference, unless you’re good at reading spec sheets, that you’re looking at something with the the latest and greatest. I can tell you that my less-techy friends and family wouldn’t know the difference. That's even though the Kaby Lake-R chips end in the number 0 and the Whiskey Lake chips end in the number 5.
I suppose that the confusion could be washed away by making sure they see those words in the store, (though that will depend on how stores lay out signage). After all, it’s slightly faster, and that’s all they really need to know. If you like using Alexa or Cortana, it’s better for that, too. And maybe they’ll sleep better at night knowing about the Spectre and Meltdown mitigations. Perhaps they should be waiting for 9th Gen Core, but if you need a laptop now, you get one now.
“[W]e are working with the PC manufacturers to explain this to consumers in various materials,” an Intel representative told Tom’s Hardware when asked for comment.
This points to stagnating progress on Intel’s part (we’re still waiting on the company to release a 10nm CPU) that doesn’t just affect its stock price. It can affect consumer buying habits, even if you just use a laptop to browse the web, stream TV shows and post pictures of your kids on Facebook. If the average person can reasonably suggest they don’t know how to get your latest product because it’s confusing, you have a different problem altogether.
Should Intel have renamed this 9th Gen? I don’t think so. It’s not much of a leap in terms of technological progress. But at least as of this initial announcement, Intel isn’t doing an amazing job of explaining why Whiskey Lake, the company’s best-performing mainstream chips (it suggests. We haven’t tested any laptops with them yet) is impressive. And the chip-maker sure isn’t making it easy to walk into a Walmart and get one off the shelf and walk out knowing you have the fastest chip you can afford.
It’s back to school time and holiday shopping will start soon, too. If those in need of laptops may possibly make poor decisions based on a naming convention, Intel needs to get to 9th Gen fast or find a better way of educating customers who don’t read spec sheets on the regular. To those people, I hope you have an enthusiast in your life. You’re going to need one until 9th Gen Core comes around.