Your folding PC future is almost here: Intel launches Lakefield CPUs

The ultra low-power chips have been hyped for dual-screen laptops, but they're probably suited to thin-and-light traveling models and Chromebooks, too.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
2 min read

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is one of the upcoming models slated to use a Lakefield processor.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Intel's Lakefield processor architecture arrives Wednesday in new Core i5-L16G7 and i3-L13G4 chips that look to challenge Qualcomm's processor platform in the pursuit of full-day battery life for Windows laptops . The new Cores come at a time when Apple is reportedly breaking away from Intel to produce computer CPUs based around its own ARM-hybrid architecture, kin of the A13 and family used in its iPhones and iPads

Like phone processors, these chips mix high- and low-power cores, routing tasks as necessary to provide more efficient use of the battery. Intel's hyped them for novel dual-screen and folding devices such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold (slated to ship in the second half of 2020) and Samsung Galaxy Book S -- the latter uses a Qualcomm chip but an Intel model will be available this month -- predominantly because of their dual graphics pipelines, designed to drive multiple displays. 

Intel's Lakefield processor hybrid performance

Intel's Lakefield processor uses a more powerful processor core for performance-intensive tasks -- shown here in purple as a web page loads -- then shuffles the work to lower-power cores, shown here in yellow and orange. Once the work is done, the processor activity tapers down, with just little spurts of background activities using the low-power cores. (Slide from August 2019.)


The Lakefield platform also has a tiny package size, thanks to Intel's Foveros 3D stacking technology and new package-on-package memory.  

But the 10nm L series seems like the spiritual successor to the 14nm Y chips, the current Intel choice for current small and light laptops such as the MacBook Air and HP Spectre Folio. The new i5 and i3 have five cores, with no logical processor support (so also five threads) and a power envelope of 7 watts. They differ by clock speed -- 1.4GHz base/3.0GHz single core turbo for the i5 and 800MHz base/2.8 single core turbo for the i3 -- and number of execution units in the graphics core (64 vs. 48). The Y series also has a 7-watt configuration, but the L processors have a much lower standby power draw, as little as 2.5mW. They're updated to the Ice Lake G graphics cores as well, so expect to see improvement there. 

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We have no reason to believe at the moment that Lenovo or Samsung has put its dual-screen dreams on hold for 2020 like Microsoft has for the Surface Neo. But it will be far more useful if the new Intel chips make their way into more meat-and-potatoes laptops and Chromebooks.  

Previous efforts using Qualcomm's platform, including newsworthy models such as the Microsoft Surface X, don't seem to have much traction because the performance and compatibility tradeoffs haven't been worth it. And while Intel continues to tout single-core performance, it remains to be seen how the L series stacks up for mundane multicore-intensive work such as loading applications.