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.
Justin JaffeManaging editor
Justin Jaffe is the Managing Editor for CNET Money. He has more than 20 years of experience publishing books, articles and research on finance and technology for Wired, IDC and others. He is the coauthor of Uninvested (Random House, 2015), which reveals how financial services companies take advantage of customers -- and how to protect yourself. He graduated from Skidmore College with a B.A. in English Literature, spent 10 years in San Francisco and now lives in Portland, Maine.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.