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Coffee Lake, Cannon Lake and beyond: Intel's next chips

Intel has delivered a "once-in-a-decade" performance upgrade to its line of mobile processors. Here's what it means for your next laptop -- and what's on deck for the future.

This summer, Intel delivered what it says is a "once-in-a-decade" performance upgrade to its line of mobile processors that power Apple's MacBook Air and iMac, Microsoft's Surface Pro, and hundreds of other popular devices. The new chips, the first wave of eighth-gen Core CPUs, and collectively known as the Kaby Lake R series, are just the latest in a series of updates Intel has planned for the next 18 months.

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Apple delivered a Kaby Lake update for its Macbook Pro line in June.

CNET

The new chips also marks a new approach for Intel, at least from a branding perspective. This gets a little dense, so adjust your tolerance for codenames and component generations accordingly. 

Instead of sticking with one architecture per generation, the company says its eighth generation will feature multiple architectures, which will eventually include Coffee Lake and Cannon Lake designs (code names Intel uses to differentiate its CPU generations) in addition to the new 15-watt Kaby Lake R release (the "R" indicates this is a refresh of the Kaby Lake line, which was part of the previous seventh-gen Intel chips). 

Here's what you need to know now about the just-released eighth-generation series -- and what's coming up next. (Warning: Things get even more nerdy from this point forward.)

Processor name: Kaby Lake R

Process size: 14nm+

Launched: August 21, 2017

CPUs:

  • 1.9GHz Core i7-8650U
  • 1.8GHz Core i7-8550U
  • 1.7GHz Core i5-8350U
  • 1.6GHz Core i5-8250U
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Intel's Kaby Lake powers some of the most popular laptops and tablets on the market, including Microsoft's Surface Pro.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Intel is sticking with the previous generation's Kaby Lake name for its latest series of processors. Kaby Lake R is designed for "thin and light" notebooks and hybrid tablets like the Surface Pro. The four new 15-watt CPUs are all quad-core, and Intel says they're capable of delivering  a 40 percent performance boost over current dual-core seventh-generation Kaby Lake chips. The name of the integrated graphics is changing from HD 620 to UHD 620, but the actual hardware is the same. UHD (ultra-high definition) is another name for 4K, so that bit of rebranding serves to emphasize that these chips will easily stream and play 4K video. 

Though we don't know when the new chips will make it into Apple's lineup, it probably won't be very soon, given that Cupertino has already delivered two updates in the past year or so. And, for context, after Intel launched its original Kaby Lake processors in January 2017, the first Macs equipped with the chips were released just in June.

Here's an overview of what Intel says Kaby Lake R CPUs bring to the table:

  • Up to 10 hours of 4K UHD local video playback
  • Editing photos or creating a slideshow up to 48 percent faster compared to seventh-generation chips
  • Editing video footage up to 14.7x faster
  • New Windows Mixed Reality headsets will support some content -- even with standard integrated GPU
  • "Intel Precise Touch Technology" improves Windows Ink app stylus response
  • Integrated graphics supports up to three 4K external displays at once
  • Intel Online Connect, also coming to older-gen chips, will enable two-factor security, using your laptop as one of the factors
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Intel

Processor name: Coffee Lake

Process size: 14nm++

Launched: September 24, 2017

CPUs:

  • 3.7GHz Core i7-8700K
  • 3.2GHz Core i7-8700
  • 3.6GHz Core i5-8600K
  • 2.8GHz Core i5-8400
  • 4.0GHz Core i3-8350K
  • 3.6GHz Core i3-8100

Intel continued its build out of the eighth generation with the Coffee Lake series for desktops. Released this fall, the new CPUs use a slight variation of the same 14nm process as the Kaby Lake family (which is a measure of the transistors used in fabricating semiconductors). Designed for gamers and designers, the highest-end variant, the six core i7-8700K, delivers 3.7GHz as a baseline (but can be overclocked to 4.7GHz); the i5 version also uses six cores and the i3 four. 

Read: Intel brings the cores with eighth-gen Coffee Lake processors

Processor name: Cannon Lake

Process size: 10nm

Anticipated launch date: 2018

Here's where Intel's new generational boundaries get more confusing. Cannon Lake, which we expect to see sometime in 2018, will also be part of the eighth generation -- though it will use a 10nm lithography process. In previous years, a new architecture would coincide with a new generation, but not anymore. This may include lower-power CPUs, such as Intel's Core i3 and Core M line. 

Processor name: Ice Lake

Process size: 10nm+

Anticipated launch date: 2018

At this point we enter the outer fringe of Intel's known development roadmap. The Ice Lake architecture has been listed on the company's catalog of processors and chipsets, so we know it exists and that it will be built on the 10nm+ process. We do not yet know whether it will represent Intel's leap to the ninth generation or will extend the eighth generation.