Intel Takes Its 8th Generation Processors to the Desktop

Posted on October 6, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware with 25 Comments

Intel Takes Its 8th Generation Processors to the Desktop

Following up on its earlier release of 8th generation Core processors for mobile PCs, Intel this week extended the product line to the desktop.

But as I noted in my previous write-up about the new mobile processors, Intel is confusing the marketing on this new generation of chips. So I’ve done something I rarely do, and consulted with an expert so that I could better understand—and communicate—what’s really happening.

“With the 8th generation Core processors, Intel decided to break it up within each product segment,” explained Ryan Shrout, an analyst at Shrout Research. “On the mobile side, the 8th generation processors were codenamed Kaby Lake Refresh … On the desktop, the chips were codenamed Coffee Lake, but they are built on the same architecture. They could have—maybe should have—called these chips Kaby Lake Refresh too.”

Put another way, the 8th generation Core processors on mobile and desktop respectively provide similar benefits over their predecessors.

On mobile, Intel went from a dual-core design, with Hyper-Threading to a quad-core design with Hyper-Threading, but using the same 15-watt power envelope. “That’s actually a pretty interesting shift,” he told me. “It’s not quite double the performance, but it is in the 70-to-80 percent range, and it happens with no decrease in single-threaded performance.”

That last bit is important, both technically and for your understanding of these chips as a potential purchaser of a new PC: The 8th generation Intel Core processors offer little in the way of performance improvements over their predecessors when it comes to typical productivity tasks. The real improvements are in multi-threaded activities. Things like 3D work, video editing, Lightroom, Photoshop, and so on.

On the desktop, the newly-released Coffee Lake chips—also part of Intel’s 8th generation family of products—offers similar improvements. In this case, Intel has taken the chips from four cores to six, necessitating a bigger die size. “Note that this is the same micro-architecture as Kaby Lake,” Shrout told me. “Nothing has changed.”

So why did Intel use a new name, Coffee Lake, for these desktop chips? Why not just use Kaby Lake Refresh here as well?

“Intel went with the Coffee Lake branding because the processor requires a new chipset,” he told me. “You can’t put an older Kaby Lake chip in the new motherboards. And you can’t likewise put a new Coffee Lake chip in your existing motherboard.” Apparently, a pin change related to power delivery is to blame.

There are some interesting additional notes about the mobile and desktop 8th generation processors, too.

You may have noticed that Dell, HP, and other PC makers have already announced new portable PCs based on this updated design. And that, less publicly, PC makers are also updating existing products—as HP is doing with its 15-inch Spectre x360—to utilize the new quad-core Kaby Lake Refresh parts. But the availability of these systems is limited, and it seems like only the biggest PC makers are on-board so far.

“It seems like Intel is holding back these parts for a handful of their biggest partners only,” Shrout noted. “They are aimed at flagship PCs only, and we’re not going to see these chips in a wide range of systems anytime soon.”

The reason? Cost. As it turns out, cranking out quad-core Kaby Lake Refresh processors costs Intel significantly more money than making dual-core Kaby Lake processors. But Intel isn’t charging much more for these chips.

This raises another obvious question: Why on earth would Intel not charge more—maybe much more—for these more powerful, arguably mobile workstation-class, chips?

Because of AMD. With this other microprocessor maker on the verge of releasing mobile versions of its well-regarded Ryzen chips this fall, Intel needed to do something to blunt the impact of its suddenly resurgent rival. And Kaby Lake Refresh is how Intel can do that.

“The Coffee Lake parts are also a bit of a reaction to AMD,” Shrout said, “and while some people don’t like that term, that’s how competition works. It’s a back and forth. But Intel has a real engineering advantage too. So it can react very aggressively.”

In any event, I’ve seen a lot of hyperbole around the new 8th generation Intel Core chips aimed at the desktop, for example, Gizmodo declared that they are “as fast as hell.” That’s actually true for certain workloads. But it’s also true that the major advances you get with this generation are only a minor (10 percent-ish) speed bump in typical usage. And that it requires a motherboard change if you’re upgrading. All of which sort of undercuts the click-bait headline, I know.

But Intel does appear to be providing a lot of value at a time in which competitors old (AMD) and new (Qualcomm) are turning up the heat. I may disagree with the marketing, but Intel’s technology is clearly top-notch.

“Numbers and branding don’t matter,” Shrout explained. “The performance of the technology does. How high it clocks, how dense, how much power leakage. Intel is able to hit 4.7 GHz on the desktop with 6 cores and yet remain very power efficient. They just have a huge lead.”

 

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Comments (27)

27 responses to “Intel Takes Its 8th Generation Processors to the Desktop”

  1. zself

    great stuff. thanks.

  2. Falex

    > So I’ve done something I rarely do, and consulted with an expert so that I could better understand

    for a second there I thought your article was going to get substantiative, but it turned plenty cursory only with a segue/promotion of fellow blogger’s business venture. A shoutout to Shrout’s PCPer website would have served your readers better.


    > Because of AMD. 

    obvious guess, substantiated by a suitably qualified expert? Now, that would a scoop.



  3. melinau

    Good analysis of Intel's "strategy". Which has become somewhat reactionary.

    At present it's hard to fault AMD's Ryzen CPUs for the sorts of workload I'm increasingly using: multithreaded and complex. This is where Ryzen's extra cores come into their own.

    If your main interest is gaming, then at present Intel's better single-core performance with faster base clock-rates tends to win-out.


    Intel may have a (quite slim) technological advantage at present, but it comes at a financial cost, and I doubt how useful it actually is for non-specialist use.

  4. Tony Barrett

    Intel are absolutely feeling the pressure from AMD, which is a good thing. Intel had stopped innovating, because there was no competition. Now AMD are back with a bang, Intel have to step up their game.

    What Intel aren't so good at though is providing any type of upgrade path from previous generations, which is a travesty. Despite minimal differences, almost every Intel generational upgrade forces complete motherboard and possibly RAM upgrades. AMD tend to provide clear upgrade paths for the end user, which is far more preferable. With the next Ryzen generation due in Q1 next year, AMD are on a roll.

  5. TEAMSWITCHER

    I'm not sure what the big deal is here. Back in 2014 Intel released a six core processor (Core i7 5820K), that cost less than $400, and when properly overclocked, it's performance is very close to the new 8700K at it's standard clock speeds. Today, a full featured z370 motherboard (like the ROG Maximius X) cost nearly as much as the X99-PRO motherboard I purchased in 2014. DDR4 2666 Memory, PCIExpress 3.0, M.2, SATA 3, 802.11ac ... still all the same. You can pretend they are in two different segments, HEDT and Mainstream, and coffee lake is a mainstream part but... Many of the costs - Graphics, Storage, Case, Power Supply, Monitor, keyboard, mouse, OS ... are the same. Looking back, I maybe spent $70 more than I would building a similar Coffee Lake system today. A small price to pay to get some three years sooner... Don't ya think?

  6. Winner

    Intel's another company that has made similar mistakes as Microsoft, being complacent and not trying early enough and hard enough to deal with the competition. And just like Microsoft, is in danger of being left behind, with new competition from AMD on desktops and servers, and they've already lost mobile which is the biggest revolution in the past decade.

  7. Stooks

    Fear the Ryzen!


    I built my first AMD system since my slot A Athlon last month. Ryzen 1800X. It replaced my i5 6500 Skylake in my gaming PC. Runs fantastic and using CPUZ it actually runs cooler. Seeing 16 cores (8 real) in task manager is very nice.


    I will not be going back to Intel anytime soon.


  8. rameshthanikodi

    Shame that it took AMD to wake Intel up. Mainstream laptops have been on dual-core for far too long.

    Anyway Intel has said that this so-called "8th generation family" is going to include cannon lake as well, which will surely be extra confusing if it ever happens.

    • Waethorn

      In reply to FalseAgent:

      I dunno what you're talking about. There have been lots of AMD quad-core mainstream laptops for quite some time now.

      • rameshthanikodi

        In reply to Waethorn:

        .......are you serious or are you actually just pretending to not know what i'm talking about?

        AMD's quad-core laptop CPUs never achieved the performance of Intel's dual-core counterparts, and neither did they get the battery life.

        • Waethorn

          In reply to FalseAgent:

          They can outpace most of Intel's dual-core machines, that's for sure. The ULV stuff is pretty much crap for performance. I've sold a number of HP business systems with both AMD and Intel (several in similar price points) and I can say that the AMD systems outperform the Intel stuff in the same price points and certainly the A10 and A12 9000 series AMD chips easily outpace more expensive Core i5 Kaby Lake ULV dual-core processors, yet the AMD systems fit into the sub-$800 price range. ULV processors are NOT mainstream though - they're for thin-and-light machines. There are plenty of "mid-range" quad-core Core i5 HQ systems sold too. So again, please explain why you say quad-core mainstream laptops don't exist.

          • rameshthanikodi

            In reply to Waethorn:

            Dude. I don't know which year you are living in but ULV dual-core processors have been mainstream for a while now. HQ processors have been relegated to gaming or "entertainment" notebooks and the like. Few business notebooks have them. Thin-and-light is the mainstream. And AMD doesn't compete well in this at all. They may be cheaper but they are not better. If you add $150 into your price you can easily get an Intel with much more performance. AMD's 15w APU, or hell, any of their mobile CPUs, despite being quad-core, they don't outperform Intel's dual-core ULVs or quad-core HQ processors. At all. The performance isn't just behind, it's almost half. It isn't competitive enough. When I say "quad-core mainstream laptops", i'm talking about the ones that are actually worth a shit. Sure, AMD exists, but that's about it. Few OEMs put AMD in their products.


            AMD is on the cusp of releasing their first Zen-based mobile APUs, and I hope you eat your words.

  9. jwpear

    Appreciate this article, Paul. Great info. I could have easily seen it as a premium article.

  10. Steve Russell

    I really hope Adobe After Effects starts taking advantage of multi-threaded capabilities again, I'd love to take advantage of these new chips.

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