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Intel's 10th-gen laptop chip names make my brain hurt

The first 10nm Ice Lake CPUs should deliver better performance, but say hello to a helping of alphanumeric soup.

Intel's 10nm Ice Lake architecture details

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Intel's finally unveiled the mobile Core CPU product lineup based on its 10th-gen Ice Lake architecture, and suffice it to say that buying a laptop in the coming months probably just got a little more complicated. Expect to hear about the first models around the IFA show the first week of September and to be able to start shelling out your hard-earned cash around October.

We've already heard tons about Intel's Ice Lake generation of mobile processors that make them worth getting amped about. Upgraded integrated graphics with support for VESA adaptive sync tops the list of new capabilities. The incorporation of Wi-Fi 6 and Thunderbolt 3 into the CPU die (instead of as part of a supporting chipset), made possible by moving to a 10nm fabrication process from 14nm, lets us do away with the extra driver required for Thunderbolt. It also allows for new and smaller laptop designs such as the novel multiscreen prototypes we've seen from Project Athena

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But now Intel has made the tiers for different levels of integrated graphics explicit rather than folding them into the model numbers. In exchange it's dropped the "Y" and "U" nomenclature indicating whether the chip is for a tiny laptop (Y) or a slightly bigger laptop (U). Now, if the last digit before the "G" is "0", it's a Y series, and if it's a "5" it's a U series. 

For context, a 28-watt i7 powers laptops such as the Razer Blade Stealth and Dell XPS 13. The lower-power U series drives models such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga and Microsoft Surface Book 2. And the Y series go into 13-inch or smaller ultrathins including the MacBook Air and HP Spectre Folio.  

Instead, we've got G7, G4 and G1, which tell you which tier of integrated graphics you're getting: "G1" for the old HD/UHD graphics, "G4" for a tweaked version of the current Iris Plus graphics (used by the 8th-generation i7-8559U, i5-8269U, i5-8259U and i3-8109U) with the same number of execution units as before and "G7" for the upgraded Iris Plus with the increased number of execution units, which is where we may see Intel's claimed 2x performance increases.

The rest remains true to form, with the first digits representing the generation -- in this case, "10" -- and everything sandwiched between them the specific line and product. For example, for the i7-1065G7, the i7's line starts with "6" and the specific product is "5."

The first wave of 10th-generation mobile CPUs

CPU Graphics Cores / threads Graphics EUs TDP (watts, series) Base freq (GHz) Max all core turbo (GHz) Max graphics freq (MHz)
i7-1068G7 Iris Plus 4/8 64 28 (U) 2.3 3.6 1.1
i7-1065G7 Iris Plus 4/8 64 15/25 (U) 1.3 3.5 1.1
i5-1035G7 Iris Plus 4/8 64 15/25 (U) 1.2 3.3 1.05
i5-1035G4 Iris Plus 4/8 48 15/25 (U) 1.1 3.3 1.05
i5-1035G1 UHD Graphics 4/8 32 15/25 (U) 1.0 3.3 1.05
i3-1005G1 UHD Graphics 2/4 32 15/25 (U) 1.2 3.4 0.9
i7-1060G7 Iris Plus 4/8 64 9/12 (Y) 1.0 3.4 1.1
i5-1030G7 Iris Plus 4/8 64 9/12 (Y) 0.8 3.2 1.05
i5-1030G4 Iris Plus 4/8 48 9/12 (Y) 0.7 3.2 1.05
i3-1000G4 Iris Plus 2/4 48 9/12 (Y) 1.1 3.2 0.9
i3-1000G1 UHD Graphics 2/4 32 9/12 (Y) 1.1 3.2 0.9

Leaving aside the fact that the top i7 U-series processor name ends in an "8," already breaking the naming pattern, it just makes it a lot harder to parse whether a laptop has a slow U chip or a slower Y chip. For the GPU, I wish Intel had followed AMD's lead and gone with "Iris Plus 64," or something similarly dead obvious. Then again, all the nuance will just get washed away in system manufacturer specs that will boast the vague "10th-gen i7!"

We'll get used to it, but I shudder to think what the rest of the 10th-gen cohort will bring with respect to naming.

Also, take Intel's claims of the ability to "watch 4K HDR video in a billion colors" with a grain of salt. All it really means is that the GPU now understands what to do with HDR; there are a lot of other elements of a system that need to be in place to make it look like HDR. Hopefully, though, it will give Microsoft an incentive to make HDR less dysfunctional in Windows 10.  

While the graphics improvements vary across the CPUs, from nothing to a lot, they all incorporate the other technologies that are the hallmarks of Ice Lake and its Sunny Cove microarchitecture. These include the AI-based DL Boost for accelerating AI inferencing ("DL" stands for "deep learning"), Gaussian & Neural Accelerator (GNA) for low-power-draw background processing (like parsing spoken commands) and support for the newest version of its Dynamic Tuning, which optimizes the allocation of system resources (like CPU cores and power draw) based on workload. 

They'll also support Intel's flavor of Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6 Gig Plus, which is essentially Wi-Fi 6 with the optional 160MHz channel-bandwidth implementation rather than just the base 80MHz, up to four Thunderbolt 3 devices and faster memory. Actually having both of those in a given laptop, though, is of course subject to the design decisions of the system manufacturers.