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Intel adds 6-core CPU for ultraportables with more oomph

The Core i7-10710U is the one bright spot in an otherwise uninspiring line of Comet Lake 10th-gen mobile processors.

dell-xps-13

Dell's XPS 13 is one of the many laptops incorporating the Comet Lake versions of Intel's 10th-generation processors.

Dell

Oh, i7-8656U we hardly knew ye. So much water under the bridge -- all those lakes -- since we first tested you a mere eight months ago in the Razer Blade Stealth and already you've been replaced by a younger model who looks very, very much like you. The new Comet Lake-architecture CPUs don't promise any of the advances of its newly minted 10th-generation Ice Lake siblings, such as on-chip Thunderbolt 3 support, acceleration for voice-control processing, improved integrated graphics and more. The only truly substantive performance advances you'll probably see is with the new top-end i7-10710U, which brings six cores to ultraslim laptops like the Dell XPS 13 for the first time. Adding cores boosts speed more than almost any other upgrade.

In other words, unlike the ones announced at the beginning of August, these are not the 10th-generation processors you've been waiting for. Nor do you need to wait: You'll be able to get laptops with them starting this week.

The reason is they're just an iterative step up from the 14nm eighth-generation predecessors for ultraportable and ultra-low-power laptops -- Amber Lake (Y series) and Whiskey Lake (U series) -- offering slightly faster clock speeds, compatibility with faster memory for the U series (LPDDR4x 2,933MHz, LPDDR3 2,133MHz and DDR4 2,666MHz) and an upgraded supporting chipset that adds Intel's variation on Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Wi-Fi 6 Gig Plus. The latter will deliver better Wi-Fi speeds, but only if you upgrade your router or connect to a newer one.

On the other hand, Intel's sticking with it's old naming conventions for these -- the "Y" and "U" nomenclature indicating whether the chip is for a tiny laptop (Y) or a slightly bigger laptop (U) -- so you'll be able to tell immediately if your configuration has a real 10th-generation processor or eighth-skipped-a-generation-and-rebranded 10th-generation. And there will probably be some great prices as manufacturers try to get rid of stock with the short-lived "old" Core i7-8565U and its peers.

10th-generation Comet Lake mobile CPUs

Series CPU Cores / threads TDP (watts) Base freq (GHz) Max all core turbo (GHz)
U i7-10710U 6/12 15W/25W 1.1 3.9
U i7-10510U 4/8 15W/25W 1.8 4.3
U i5-10210U 4/8 15W/25W 1.6 3.9
U i3-10110U 2/8 15W/25W 2.1 3.7
Y i7-10510Y 4/8 4.5W/7W/9W 1.2 3.2
Y i5-10310Y 4/8 5.5W/7W/9W 1.1 2.8
Y i5-10210Y 4/8 4.5W/7W/9W 1.0 2.7
Y i3-10110Y 2/4 5.5W/7W/9W 1.0 3.7

The Comet Lake CPUs are part of the "optimize" phase of Intel's "Process, Architecture, Optimization" product lifecycle. Comet Lake is the latest set of iterative refinements to the 14nm Skylake architecture from 2015, part of the company's method for eking out a little more speed or battery life from existing designs, or letting manufacturers shave a fraction of a millimeter where they can.

All the chips stick with the lame Intel UHD 630 integrated graphics, for example, and have just slightly tweaked CPU frequencies. Whether or not to use the faster memory is at the discretion of the manufacturer, so it's possible we'll see no speed improvement at all in some laptops. Intel's marketing materials claim big percentage gains, but that's comparing the six core to the old four core rather than the four core to a direct predecessor.

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