Today’s the day Intel is officially rolling out their latest generation of Core i processors, and as usual, they won’t be releasing everything all at once. While the 8th generation will eventually cover CPUs for everything from tablets to 2-in-1s to laptops to desktops, today’s announcement is just focused on light laptops and 2-in-1s — and no wonder, because it’s those chips that might see the biggest leaps forward in performance this year.
Here’s a quick backgrounder — not all Intel Core i chips are created equal. There are different series suited to different kinds of computers, with higher-power, higher-clocked CPUs going to desktops and more power-efficient CPUs going to 2-in-1s that actually need decent battery life.
Today, Intel is talking about their U series. Those are the CPUs we’ll see in new laptops and 2-in-1s, of which we’ll no doubt see many at the IFA trade show in Berlin in a couple weeks. Intel is saying we should expect 40 percent more performance from their new chips over the previous generation — and how they’ve done it is good news for multitaskers.
These new U-series chips (two i5, two i7) are still based on the previous generation (Intel has been using the same size die for four years now), but Intel has finally decided to use quad-core CPUs instead of dual-core CPUs. Roughly speaking, more cores (and threads — the whole 8th gen U series has four cores and eight threads) means the computer can do more things at once, and do them effectively.
Most VR enthusiasts have understandably sprung for more powerful desktop PCs to get a premium experience — something they expect if they buy an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive. But, we’re seeing some movement toward mainstream VR. Microsoft is leading the charge with their mixed reality platform, which they’ve spearheaded with a handful of hardware partners. The games and video those headsets run are a lot less processor-intensive, but they’ll still need quite a bit of power.
Intel’s new chips promise to be just right for those kinds of mainstream VR games and apps, but they should also be able to handle multitasking more effectively. You should see less slowdown if you’ve got tons of browser tabs open or if you’re trying to use a laptop to do a little bit of heavy photo or video editing. If you’ve playing around with taking 4K video, you’ll be happy to know that these new CPUs will make that way faster, too. Gaming quality will still depend on whether or not the laptop in question comes with a discrete GPU — Intel’s integrated graphics aren’t changing, and they’re not well suited to graphics-intensive games, VR or otherwise.
There are some interesting side notes here. In a way, these first few 8th generation chips aren’t next-gen chips in the sense we’re used to. We had been equating the Coffee Lake codename with 8th gen, but the first chips out of the gate will still be based on the last-gen Kaby Lake design. Intel has simply added two cores and four threads to those chips, although they have managed to improve clock speeds with some manufacturing and design tweaks.
We know Intel has been working with a 14 nm die for four years now, calling subsequent tweaks 14 nm+ and 14 nm++. These first U-series will be based on the 14 nm+ design of last year’s Kaby Lake processors, but the 8th generation won’t stop there. Intel will have plenty more to say later in the year about their 8th gen chips for more powerful machines like workstations and desktops, but they have confirmed that the 8th generation of chips will eventually include some 14 nm++ CPUs. They’ll also manage to introduce their first 10 nm chips during this generation, although we don’t know exactly which products those are destined for. Intel has also confirmed that all 8th gen chips will work with Intel Optane memory, their new kind of storage that helps make higher-speed memory cheaper.
Being the sort meant for laptops and 2-in-1s, don’t expect to see Intel selling these CPUs on their own. We’ll definitely see them in loads of devices between now and the holiday season, though. The new laptops might be tough sells given that Intel is clearly on the verge of bigger and better things with 10 nm chips arriving in the next year or two, but if you’ve got a laptop that’s about to give out, the extra cores and threads on these U-series chips should make this fall’s new laptops worth considering.