Intel this week announced that it has effectively completed the rollout of its 7th generation Core processors, codenamed “Kaby Lake,” with the release of chip designs aimed at desktop PCs, workstations, and high-end laptops.
This release comes five months after the rushed delivery of dual-core Kaby Lake parts aimed at the portable market. As you may recall, Intel’s previous-generation Core processor family, “Skylake,” was it’s buggiest ever. So buggy, in fact, that it doomed Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book to a year of unrelenting reliability problems caused by those chips. And so buggy that Intel changed its processor development schedule, forever dropping the old “tick-tock” release cadence in favor of a new “tick-tock-tock” scheme. So Kaby Lake is just a “tock” to Skylake’s “tock,” a first ever for Intel.
Skylake’s issues were many, but the two that really hurt Surface were related to power management and the difficulties in getting acceptable production yields for such small components. So getting the mobile-oriented Kaby Lake chips out the door quickly made sense, as these chips addressed the power management problems and other bugs while buying Intel time to get its manufacturing problems under control. And so far, it appears that the portable Kaby Lake parts have not suffered from the endemic issues that plagued Skylake.
But the desktop has proven less problematic, in part because power management isn’t as core to the experience as it is on mobile. So this week’s release of Kaby Lake desktop parts is perhaps less essential, but still a step forward to what will ultimately be another major revamp—a “tick”—in the year ahead. That release, called “Cannonlake,” will be based on a 10nm process, compared to the 14nm process used by Broadwell (tick), Skylake (tock), and Kaby Lake (tock).
In any event, Intel now has a (nearly) full family of 7th generation Core processors in both dual- and quad-core configurations, and spanning a variety of power draws. Missing in action, however, are low-end Pentium and Celeron chips, though these could still appear later. Another curious omission: A replacement for the high-end Core i7 5775C with Iris Pro graphics and 128MB of eDRAM-based L4 cache, as Ars Technica’s Peter Bright points out. Maybe the family isn’t so complete after all.
Honestly, this isn’t all that exciting beyond the fact that Intel has finally recovered from its Skylake debacle and can put that ugly past behind it. Well, that and the fact that the rise of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 threatens to eat away at Intel’s PC processor base in 2017. I’ll look at that next.