Kaby Lake Processor

Announced on August 30, 2016, Kaby Lake – the new processor by Intel in now available in stores as OEM or as part of desktop and mobile systems. What it means for us, average users, let’s have a glance at it.

A Glance at Kaby Lake Processor from behind the Desk

As you may remember from CPU for Dummies, any processor is similar to a large office building packed with hardworking clerks. Now, we all know that large companies often redesign their managing headquarters, or build new, higher towers to intimidate the competitors. They all go big and aspire for more, so to say, but in processors’ world it is the other way about. Processors tend to shrink in size with every next generation. Naturally, shrinking in size as well as the market demands architecture changes as well.

So, CPUs are differentiated not only by their architecture, but by the nanometer manufacturing process as well. Other words, how many miniscule transistors and circuits will fit in one square nanometer of the silicon wafer we call chip for comfort. So, manufactures have three options: either to shrink the CPU but resume the same architecture, or to revise the whole architecture completely to better fit the new environment, or both. Coming back to our clerks’ metaphor, either just move the department into a smaller office and leave the employees to their own devices, or help them organize the working environment, or stay in the same office as before but squeeze in some more desks and, perhaps a printer for good measure.

Here is where the Intel’s tick-tock principle comes in. Every “tick” represents a shrinking of the process technology of the previous microarchitecture (sometimes introducing new instructions, as with Broadwell, late 2014) while every “tock” stands for a new microarchitecture. Tick or tock is expected to come every 18 months. Now, you see, why your desktops and mobiles become obsolete so quickly, don’t you?

But in year 2016 Intel broke the tick-tock routine. The 10 nanometer Cannonlake was to succeed the 14 nanometer Skylake, but it never happened. Intel officially announced on July 16, 2015, that Cannonlake has been delayed until the second half of 2017. Instead, Kaby Lake, developed by the same Israeli team from Haifa, arrived.

Kaby Lake is the optimized step of the newer “process-architecture-optimization” model. It features the same CPU core and performance per MHz as Skylake. Yet, it features smoother and quicker performance due to the following specific features: (my comments come in brackets):

  • Increased clock speeds across all CPUs models up to 300 MHz (games will become faster, no doubt, as well as ‘heavy’ applications like Adobe Photoshop or HD video editors)
  • Faster clock speed changes: it takes less time for the CPU to transition from one frequency to another one, e.g. from a low power state to a high performance state – consequently this may bring an increase in performance and responsiveness (think of it as of a BMW with automatic transmission)
  • Improved graphics core: full hardware fixed function VP9/HEVC (including 4K@60fps/10bit) decoding; improved hardware HEVC encoding; full hardware fixed function VP9 8bit encoding (lots of spooky looking abbreviations mean that Kaby Lake are designed for 4K and 3D video, i.e. Netflix 4k is available on Kaby Lake desktops only)
  • Higher GPU clock speeds for select CPUs (You’ll be able to select what cores should work faster than their siblings, it will prolong the CPU life and besides, your cooling system will not overwork)
  • 200 series chipset (Union Point) on socket 1151 as Kaby Lake is compatible with 100 series chipset motherboards after a BIOS update (when in need for an upgrade, it will spare you a new motherboard, the Kaby can be installed into the one you have now, provided it got the 1151 socket)
  • Up to 16 PCI Express 3.0 lanes from the CPU, 24 PCI Express 3.0 lanes from PCH (more memory and more demanding video cards can be installed into the system)
  • Support for Intel Optane Technology (all the marketing blah-blah spared, Optane Technology features supports for HDDs and SSDs of large capacity and boosts their performance)

But there’s a big fat fly in the ointment. Though Kaby Lake CPUs is fully compatible with most existing x86/x86-64 operating systems, older versions of Windows shall not be supported. For those of us, who still run on Windows 8.1 or 7 it’s just devastating. Windows 10 will from now on be the only supported Microsoft OS. Redmond has officially announced that no drivers will be available for older versions. However, Intel eventually provided drivers such as the HD Graphics 620 driver for Windows 7 and 8 on its download center site. But it doesn’t obliterate the fact that Microsoft is forcing their new OS by hook or by crook.

I love Windows 7 myself. For me, this is an ideal OS. And I have been contemplating an upgrade for my desktop coming spring. Now, I think, I’d stick to Skylake, however much I’d love to test a Kaby. While enthusiasts have managed to overclock the long awaited Kaby Lake up to 7 MHz, some reviewers are more somber about the issue. Minor improvements in the graphics and clock speed departments, according to them, will not make up for the fact that all in all Kaby is the carbon copy of Skylake.

Now, the Kaby Lake family will have the following models:

Desktop processors:

  • High-power: K: 91 W
  • Medium-power: (none): 65 W
  • Low-power: T: 35 W
  • Mobile processors:
  • High-power: H: 35 W, 45 W
  • Medium-power: U: 15 W, 28 W
  • Low-power: Y: 4.5 W

As you can well see, the desktop segment omits the medium class CPU. There’re only two options: top-end and low-end. While for mobile system it’s more cheerful. The problem is, the choice of CPUs for advanced users and home upgrade fans has shrunk significantly. Mobile CPUs are available as part of already manufactured mobile devices. And we all know how upgrade unfriendly are modern laptops, let alone tablets.

Is it worth upgrading your desk system to Kaby Lake or shelling out money for a Kaby Lake powered mobile? My answer is, if you’re not a hardware enthusiast or a pro gamer, save your money for Cannon Lake which is to arrive mid-2017.

Links

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First 5 Things You Need to Know About Kaby Lake. Published by Paul’s Hardware on January 3, 2017

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