Skip to main content

Intel Kaby Lake: 14nm+, Higher Clocks, New Media Engine

PAO Steps In

Sometimes the race to satisfy Moore's Law leaves promising technologies and optimizations on the table. Faster developmental cycles require more trade-offs in terms of capabilities (there isn't enough time to implement all of them) and it also doesn't allow the manufacturers to fully exploit the lessons learned during the first step on the microarchitecture ladder.

Intel's additional 14nm cycle, the "Optimize" portion of its new PAO scheme, allows the company to make promising claims by tweaking its existing Skylake architecture. Intel tunes the transistors to provide more performance on the same node, but is applying much of the increased headroom to Turbo Boost, rather than upping its base clock rates.

The tactic works well for a mobile-first approach. But it's hard to determine how Intel will apply the faster transistors to desktop-oriented SKUs. Higher-TDP models typically aren't as useful in battery-powered applications, so we may see more substantial base frequency increases there. We also expect a broader implementation of other technologies, like the software-based Turbo Boost 3.0 first seen in Broadwell-E. Of course, Intel won't comment on any of that until later this year.

Intel also made, at least on the surface, relatively minor changes to the encode and decode engines in its graphics engine, which we're calling Gen9+. These targeted adjustments should yield impressive gains in specific tasks. Decoupling the encode/decode process from the CPU during the majority of HEVC and VP9 workloads should have a tangible impact on performance during content creation and consumption, not to mention battery life.

Intel provided several compelling demonstrations during its briefing sessions, and playing Overwatch on a 15W platform at 32 FPS with maximum FOV and HD resolution is impressive. It certainly bodes well for the more powerful mobile-oriented SKUs that will come next year. 

Of course, some will be dismayed that the slow cadence of incremental upgrades only appears to be getting slower. But the economics of the semiconductor design and manufacturing process dictate that there will be trade-offs at some point. Intel delayed its 10nm Cannonlake release when it switched to the PAO flow, while some foundries skip 10nm FinFET entirely. GlobalFoundries recently indicated that it is transitioning directly from 14nm to 7nm. That company suggests its drastic change of course is due to the limited performance improvements available from 10nm products.

The resurgent AMD claims its Zen architecture is competitive with current-generation Skylake processors, and Intel's relatively small performance jumps (at least with the mobile Kaby Lake products) might allow AMD to assume a more competitive stance. However, the semiconductor clock keeps ticking, and a jump to 10nm could provide Intel with additional breathing room. Of course, that hinges on how fast both companies can bring their designs to market.

Intel's incremental performance increases may not appear to be cataclysmic, but the first products with the 14nm+ process target a majority of workloads that are relevant to mobile users. In all, the refinements will give many users a reason to upgrade from older systems, but they surely will not spur tech enthusiasts to discard their Skylake mobile devices in favor of Kaby Lake designs. Of course, that isn't Intel's intention. The key is to give the technology "laggards" that are still on older platforms a reason to upgrade, and the improvements might provide enough incentive.


MORE: Best CPUs
MORE: Intel & AMD Processor Hierarchy
MORE: All CPU Content

Follow us on Facebook, Google+, RSS, Twitter and YouTube.

  • What a boring release. LGA 2011-v3 is my platform of interest.
    Reply
  • dgingeri
    In other words, total yawnfest.
    Reply
  • ComputerSecurityGuy
    Yup, Skylake Refresh. Higher clocks. Slightly lower power consumption. Probably saw a demo of Overwatch on Iris Pro 680 (580 with 200mHz or so higher clocks. Overall, probably not a very interesting release. The only hopeful thing is they might bring Iris/Iris Pro to lower end or lower power SKUs.
    Reply
  • 80-watt Hamster
    Sheesh, why all the negativity? As someone who put together a Skylake platform with an i3, I'm looking forward to more capable -K processors being released for the same socket.
    Reply
  • txhorn
    Kaby Lake's hardware encode and decode of 4k codecs is significantly better than Skylake. VP9 4k decode is down to 10-20% cpu usage from 70-80% usage. That's pretty awesome for HTPC's and high-res portable battery life.
    Reply
  • AndrewJacksonZA
    Typo on page two: "Intel is optimizing its transistors by improving their fin profile with taller fins and a wider gate pitch" That should be a NARROWER gate pitch.
    Reply
  • digitalgriffin
    $389 for a 2 core 4 thread processor....thanks but no thanks.
    Reply
  • goblinissimus
    Nothing about USB 3.1 Gen 2, TB3, DP1.3, HDMI 2.0b/HDCP 2.2?
    Also, 12 bit (aka Dolby Vision or DV) HEVC decode would have been nice.
    Reply
  • digitalgriffin
    You know intel keeps bragging about how you get more battery life. Yet manufacturers keep shrinking the Wh on the batteries and intel keeps raising their prices. You really gain nothing in terms of battery life or cost.
    Reply
  • 80-watt Hamster
    18520394 said:
    $389 for a 2 core 4 thread processor....thanks but no thanks.

    4C8T perhaps you mean? I can't see Intel trying to charge nearly $400 for an i3.
    Reply