Eager to put the “Skylake” disaster behind it, Intel quietly revealed this week that it is now shipping that chipset’s successor, called “Kaby Lake.” This is the Intel Core chipset that will power the next-generation Surface devices that many expect to ship in early 2017.
Note: I was tipped off to this development by Anandtech’s Brett Howse.
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Despite being a minor update to the Core “Skylake” generation of chipsets, Kaby Lake is a big deal, and for several reasons.
First, and most important, Kaby Lake wasn’t even listed in Intel’s product roadmap until a year ago, when the microprocessor giant was forced to face reality and delay its next-generation 10nm chip designs and wedge in a second “tock” release in the wake of the last “tick” release, called Broadwell. Since that setback, Intel has had a second comeuppance: In March, it revealed that the “tick-tock” era was over and that it would “lengthen the amount of time” it utilizes each major generation of processor technology. The firm didn’t actually use the term “tick-tock-tock,” but it’s fair to say that each “tick” release will now be followed by multiple “tocks.”
And while Intel has never formally confirmed this, my sources at Microsoft and elsewhere have told me that Skylake, the original “tock” release following Broadwell, was among the buggiest of chipsets that Intel has ever released. Problems with Skylake are at the heart of most of the issues that Microsoft has seen with its Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book devices, and it’s fair to say that the software giant now regrets delivering the very first Skylake-based devices into the market in late 2015.
So Kaby Lake is essentially a fixed version of Skylake, one that uses the same 14nm process of its two predecessors and offers some modest “architectural improvements,” though details are light on what those might be. Frankly, if these chips just work correctly, that would be enough. But it appears that the Kaby Lake versions of the Core m chipsets could be reasonable upgrades, while the Core i versions will offer only subtle improvements.
This time around, Microsoft is going to take a wait and see approach with Kaby Lake. It will almost certainly not be among the first PC makers to ship Kaby Lake-based devices, and the planned early 2017 launch of next-generation Surface hardware makes even more sense given recent history. So Microsoft will forego the dubious benefit of being first and will make sure the chips are battle tested in the real world before releasing its own devices.
As you might expect, the first Kaby Lake-based PCs will hit the market in the next few months, and Intel has already updated its NUC roadmap to include coming Kaby Lake and “Apollo Lake” models (the latter being the Celeron and Pentium renditions of Kaby Lake).
Let’s hope they don’t screw this one up.