Just yesterday, we reported rumors about the pricing of the upcoming 9th Gen Intel desktop processors. Today comes an official announcement from Intel, not regarding the 9th Gen chips, but about the mature 14nm based 8th generation notebook processors.
Whatever Intel might tell you about their new Whisky Lake and Amber Lake CPUs, they are more or less the same as the older Kaby Lake lineup. These new parts will offer native USB 3.1 support without the need for an extra controller, along with an integrated 802.11ac 160 MHz WiFi MAC. Sound too familiar? That’s cos it is. The upgrades line up with the new bits the Kaby Lake refresh got. Except for Thunderbolt, which is the only unique feature.
Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake Launched: Specs
Both the Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake families consist of three chips each. They look rather identical to the already announced Kaby Lake refresh, the Core i5-8265U draws directly from the Core i5-8269U with eDRAM and better graphics. According to Intel, 9th Gen graphics is being used for these chips.
As per tradition, each family consists of the i3, i5 and i7 parts with the m3 for the Y series. However, the distribution of juice among the three core chips is confusing to say the least. The i3-8145U gets just 2 cores but the highest base clock. The i5-8265U gets 4 cores and 8 threads but for some bizarre reason lesser cache than the i3. Lastly the i7 has the highest boost clock and the same core/thread count as the i5. Support for RAM is limited to DD4-2400, instead of the LPDDR4. To know the difference between the various kinds of DRAM modules, you may read our piece here.
The low power Y series chips get reduced operating clocks, 1.1 GHz base on the m3-8100Y. These are all dual core parts with a TDP of 5 W and DRAM limited to LPDDR3-1886.
If all of this wasn’t confusing enough, OEMs can run the chips in cTDP Up and cTDP down modes. Will you be able to tell if your chip is in one of these modes? Not from looking at the box. At the end of the day, each one of the Whiskey Lake parts could be in cTDP down mode, or the Amber Lake parts be in cTDP Up mode. The only way is through testing the products on hand with performance measuring tool.AnandTech
To save board space, Intel integrates the chipset onto the same package as the CPU in their 15W and lower TDP processors. While this makes keeping the chips cooler an easier task, it comes at a price premium. With these new parts, Intel is connecting the CPU die to the chipset via an OPI link. This is basically a DMI link in a desktop running at the equivalent of PCIe 3.0 x4 speeds.
The Chipset And Not The Chip
The chipset sees some modest upgrades as earlier mentioned- two USB 3.1 ports, a Wi-Fi MAC, Thunderbolt 3 port and an an embedded gigabit Ethernet PHY, although once again Intel is stingy with the details.
Usually processor charts and graph are full of performance boosts compared to the previous gen or the competition. However, Intel’s briefing was different. Instead of the traditional comparisons, most of the info-graphics were focused on the integrated WiFi and web performance along with vague charts of battery life and transcoding speeds.
- Up to 1.8x Better Web Performance (WebXPRT 3, i5 vs i5)
- Up to 12x Faster with gigabit WiFi (Peak 2×2 160 MHz 802.11ac vs 1×1 802.11n)
- Wifi or LTE
- Up to 2x Better overall Performance (SYSmark 2014 SE, i5 vs i5)
- Up to 16+ Hours Battery Life (1080p local video playback, screen 1W, Core i7)
- Up to 10.5x Faster Video Transcoding (Handbrake, i5 vs i5)
As AnandTech points out, these seem like impressive numbers, until you realise that Intel is comparing the new parts to five year old machines (e.g. Haswell-U), and none of these performance figures factor in the Spectre and Meltdown updates (the new chips are not protected in hardware, for those wondering). Does anyone remember two years ago when Intel was comparing its latest platform against three year old machines?
Since this is the first launch in the low power notebook space after the original Kaby Lake launch in 2016, expect major updates from all key players in the ultrabook/ low power notebook market.
There is something a lot of media outlets have been discussing as of late which we would like to talk about as well. Intel has been getting more and more restrictive with the the information it shares about it’s newer processors. For example, in case of today’s launch, basic info such as the integrated graphics, number of execution units, base frequencies, turbo frequencies which used to be common info has been relegated to ‘ask if you care about it’.
Intel didn’t even detail the underlying microarchitecture or the manufacturing process in today’s briefing. Instead all we got were marketing shenanigans and info that can be deeply misleading unless you read the text in fine print.
Traditionally Intel and other chipmakers used to throw light even on the finer details regarding their SKUs. That tradition seems to be changing now, at least in Intel’s case, only to be replaced by ambiguous info-graphs.