The upcoming Intel Coffee Lake CPUs are set to transform into the Intel 8th Gen Core architecture later this year, replacing the 7th Gen Kaby Lake processors after less than 12 months. But what can these new chips offer the previous ones couldn’t?
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- Intel Coffee Lake release date
Intel announced at Computex the 8th Gen Core would be available in both laptop and desktop by the holiday season of this year.
- Intel Coffee Lake price
With the Ryzen competition Intel can't price their own six-core parts much more than the i7 and i5 of the 7th Gen, so expect the same sort of ~$350 for the i7.
- Intel Coffee Lake specs
There will be six-core i7 chips, with 12-threads, but there will aslo be a Core i5 version, without HyperThreading, but with the full six 8th Gen cores inside.
- Intel Coffee Lake performance
In terms of gaming, the new six-core CPUs should be excellent, and offer better multi-threaded performance than Ryzen's 1600X thanks to the clockspeeds.
We've finally got our hands on the Skylake-X/Kaby Lake-X chips, jamming more cores into the high-end desktop world, but it's the mainstream arena which Intel really needs to get CPUs with another few cores into.
It might seem rather unusual for Intel to be retiring Kaby Lake so quickly, but there are a number of factors at play which are making this generation different from previous ones. For a start there is now increased competition in the CPU market from AMD’s Ryzen processors, but Intel are also struggling against the continual demand for CPU die shrinks and the increasing difficulty of making ever smaller transistors.
So now we’re looking at another stop-gap processor generation based on the same basic architecture as Skylake and Kaby Lake, as well as the same lithography Intel have been using since the 2015 Broadwell designs.
Intel’s old-school tick-tock release cadence - where they launched a new architecture on an old process before re-engineering it again for a smaller lithography - was retired because successive CPU generations were having to stick on a particular production process for longer periods of time. It was then replaced by a new release cadence they called Process>Architecture>Optimisation... which didn’t even make it through one cycle. Now it’s just Process>Architecture>Optimise>Obey>Submit.
So if it’s all essentially the same why should we care about Coffee Lake? Well, this time it’s all about the AMD-inspired increased thread-count and a six-core i5...
"We've made great progress on getting this product ready for market later on this year," he explained, "and in fact we expect to see the 8th generation Core in laptops and in desktops by the holidays season this year."
That italicised bit there is particularly interesting, because we were concerned Intel would follow their usual MO and might drop laptop parts covering both their Cannonlake and Coffee Lake architectures, leaving the desktop chips to twist in the wind until 2018.
The normal Intel release cadence has seen the laptop version of a new generation arrive in the back-to-school or holiday period, with the desktop chips following in the new year. It's definitely welcoming to find them now looking to release both at the same time.
So, what generation is Cannonlake going to belong to? Quite possibly the same 8th Gen Core as Coffee Lake because Intel have also said their future production process usage will be ‘fluid.’ To my mind that means one generation will in the future be made up of multiple lithographies across the range.
It kind of looks like Intel are struggling to nail down the 10nm node in order to create anything above the sorts of low-power processors they’ll drop into the next-gen ultrabooks. If the CPU yield of the 10nm parts is too low with the more complex desktop and high-end laptop chips then they would simply be too expensive to produce. By using multiple lithographies with this CPU generation Intel can still claim to have 10nm locked in for their 8th Gen chips while also holding back genuine mass production so the process can mature.
Recent reports claim Intel have brought forward the launch of the Skylake-X, Kaby Lake-X /and/ the Coffee Lake CPUs so we may be looking at a different release schedule than we’ve seen in past Intel chip launches. Previous launches have seen Intel drop the low-power mobile chips to match the back-to-school or Christmas laptop markets and then follow up with the desktop parts at the beginning of the following year.
With increased competition from AMD, most especially on the core and thread-counts, it looks like the desktop processors may well see the light of day this year, with a potential August release being mooted. If Intel does push forward and launch the Skylake-X/Kaby Lake-X processors at E3 in June then the gaming show precedent has been set making a prospective Gamescom launch for Coffee Lake not beyond the realms of possibility.
It's probably going to be difficult for Intel to resist pricing the flagship six-core Coffee Lake CPUs higher than their current K-series chips, but I'm hopeful the increased competition from AMD will mean they can't push the prices of the Core i7 or i5 chips any higher than the current $350/$250 price point.
Unless Coffee Lake matches the Broadwell generation of chips, where Intel only released a pair of K-series desktop processors, then we ought to see quad-core CPUs with equivalent specs to the 7700K and 7600K arriving for a good deal less than their current pricing too. Simply dropping the pricing for what would have previously been Intel's top-tier gaming chips alone could make the 8th Gen Core range very interesting for us gamers.
If Intel can deliver cheaper pricing for a pair of K-series quad-core i7 and i5 CPUs, and if they can hold their nerve and release the six-core i5 at the same price as the 7600K then Intel are going to have some winning gaming processors on their hands.
Coffee Lake is the next 14nm CPU design after Kaby Lake, which Intel is calling 14nm++ in an attempt to make it seem different. What’s making the new generation relevant, however, is the fact they’re bringing six-core / 12-thread processors into high-end laptops and standard desktops for the first time.
This is the big news for Coffee Lake: both the Core i7 and Core i5 ranges will have a six-core CPU at the top. The Core i7 will come with six cores and 12 threads while the Core i5 version won’t come with HyperThreading and so will be stuck with a straight six-core design.
That's rather exciting for us gamers because it means there will be a robust 14nm six-core part combining Intel's high-end single-threaded gaming performance with an extra two cores to give it decent multi-threaded chops too. Right now Intel's resolutely quad-core K-series i5 is able to either keep pace with, or beat AMD's six-core, twelve-thread Ryzen 5 1600X, so add another couple of Intel cores to the mainstream mix and you'll have a hell of a gaming chip.
We were hoping it would use the architectural enhancements of the 10nm Cannonlake generation, but instead it looks like the new mainstream multi-core maestro is going to be rocking the same Kaby Lake design which arrived at the start of the year.
That means essentially the ol’14nm CPU architecture will continue from its introduction with Skylake in 2015 right through until part-way through 2018. It's like some tacit admission from Intel that architectural advances aren't that important to most users. After all, we can still happily game on an ancient Sandy Bridge i5 or i7 and those are around five years old, so maybe they're onto something.
In terms of the clockspeed we don’t really have any indication of what levels Intel are going to be able to get their little six-core chips running at. We’ve seen an engineering sample of what looks like the six-core i5 tip up in the SiSoft Sandra database. That chip is running at a relatively pedestrian 3.5GHz, without any hint of a Turbo frequency. That could be because the early sample isn’t being pushed as hard as a release chip might be, but it might also be because Intel are now squeezing more cores into the same sized package as their quad-core chips.
What else that SiSoft benchmark tells us is that the overall Coffee Lake processors are the exact same size as the Kaby Lake CPUs despite having another two cores inside. This early sample looks like it’s running on a 200-series motherboard because it states the board is a Kaby Lake Client Platform.
We also now know the cache sizes for Coffee Lake too. The Core i5 sample chip is sporting 9MB of L3 cache - another 3MB (1.5MB per core) over the previous Core i5 7600 - would would seem to indicate the Core i7 version will come with 12MB of L3 cache if it follows the traditional cache delta between i5 and i7 chips.
Intel were originally claiming 15% better performance (albeit on SysMark…) for Coffee Lake compared with the previous Kaby Lake generation of chips, but at Computex this year they annouced the performance increase will be double that.
"Earlier this year you probably heard we committed to get a 15% performance improvement as we went from 7th generation to 8th generation core," said Intel's Gregory Bryant. "But you know our engineers, they weren't satisfied with that, they didn't want to stop there. They knew that they could do better and they dug in.
"Now I'm happy to report the 8th generation is going to deliver more than double that. That's right, more than 30% performance improvement generation over generation."
That would be an impressive generational performance uplift, especially considering the last few generations of Intel chips have struggled to even offer a modest 10% performance boost. The fine print at the bottom - which I even struggled to read on the big screen - claims the >30% comparison actually refers to the low-power, ~15W Core i7 chips of the two generations, not the desktop processors.
The implication is the mature 14nm++ process optimisations will result in improved processor performance. That could mean energy efficiency improvements which in turn allow Intel to push the stock frequency of the new CPUs higher than they currently have them set at.
I’d love to believe the Coffee Lake optimisations are going to deliver that 30% performance boost across the board, but given the delta between Skylake and Kaby Lake’s top i7 chips was a paltry 7% speed bump (and most of that was down to the 300MHz increase in clockspeed) I’m not holding my breath. Especially as Intel are still claiming there was a 15% performance boost in SysMark between those CPUs too.
That doesn't sound particularly exciting as that would mean the top-end Coffee Lake i7, a likely ~$350 CPU, will only perform as well as a $240 AMD chip. Importantly, though, the latest benchmark covers an engineering sample i7 running at just 3.19GHz compared with the 3.6GHz of the 1600X.
That's not going to be the final clockspeed of the Coffee Lake i7, with it more likely to be knocking around the 4GHz mark when Turbo-ing like a champ. And then there's the fact that Intel have long been the overclocking kings when it comes to providing headroom in the more mainstream CPUs.
The 1600X taps out around the same 4GHz mark, while we would expect the new Intel chips to be able to overclock to at least 4.5GHz without breaking a sweat. Which is great 'cos we know them PCs don't like no liquids...
In terms of the raw numbers, though, the single core performance of a stock-clocked 1600X comes in at 4,574 in Geekbench against the Coffee Lake chip's 4,619 score. It's similarly close in the multithreaded stakes too, with the 1600X hitting 20,769 vs. the Intel's 20,828. That's mighty close, especially for a chip that's running 400MHz slower than the competition.
The Coffee Lake i7 ought to then be able to offer the same level of multi-threaded performance as the Ryzen 5 1600X but with the added bonus of Intel’s traditional gaming performance lead. In short, the addition of a six-core CPU at both the top two tiers of Intel chippery could make a huge difference to the processor landscape at the under $350 mark.
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