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Intel Kaby Lake: Everything you need to know about the 7th-gen processor

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Kaby Lake is Intel's generation of processors, and it's starting to appear in all sorts of laptops. Here's everything you need to know.

Contributions from David Ludlow

The below information is only about laptop hardware: desktop chips aren’t set to land until January 2017, so we won’t get more information for a few months yet. However, both chips share the same core architecture, so many of the improvements found in the mobile chips will also be on the desktop versions.

Watch: The ultimate guide to Intel Core i processors

What is Kaby Lake?

Kaby Lake is the code name for Intel's 7th generation Core processors. In the general scheme of things it's a minor upgrade over 6th-gen Skylake kit, but it's still a big enough improvement to make 2017's laptop market look very interesting indeed.

So far this year we've seen a few latops announced with Kaby lake processors on board, including the Dell XPS 13, Asus ZenBook 3 and HP Spectre. We'd also be very surprised if Apple's new MacBooks, due to be annouced this evening, didn't get an Intel Kaby lake processor or two.

Kaby Lake is a minor upgrade because Intel has ditched its ‘Tick-Tock’ approach to processor design, meaning there are no major structural changes to the chip or what it’s capable of.

Previously, each generation of Intel processors would see a reduction in process size (smaller, lower power consumption) and then an improvement in architecture (more powerful). This was called Tick-Tock.

Related: The best gaming PC you can build yourself

Instead of Tick-Tock, Intel has now stretched out the lifespan of a given process size, in this case 14nm (nanometers), to three phases. Its new approach first sees a reduction in process size, then an upgrade to architecture with a final ‘optimisation’ phase added in to make the most of what’s been done so far.

Process, Architecture, Optimisation. Drum that into your head.

This is bad for fans of big-number upgrades, but obviously great for Intel, which is able to make the most of what has become an increasingly complex process of designing chips.

It also means it’s able to offer up fairly small semi-annual upgrades with brand-new model names, which laptop and desktop manufacturers can use to show off and shift more units.

In the case of this generation of 14nm hardware, 5th-Gen ‘Broadwell’ was the process redesign, Skylake was the architecture redesign (meaning an entirely new socket), with Kaby Lake the last hurrah for 14nm before Intel moves onto ‘Cannonlake’, which will be a 10nm design.

For 7th Generation Core, Intel is describing its 14nm process as 14nm+. With the move to Broadwell, Intel started to manufacture taller and thinner transistor fins. This essentially allows for increased drive current and performance. A continuation of this technology is what’s letting Intel drive more performance for Kaby Lake with the same power consumption as 6th Generation Core. Better efficiency in the chip also means that the processors can Turbo Boost to higher speeds for longer.

Kaby Lake Media Engine

Perhaps the biggest change to the processor is the addition of a new media engine, which can decode Ultra HD video on-chip. While previous Core chips may have been powerful enough to do so in software, the effect on battery life was noticeable.

By shifting decoding into hardware, Intel can improve battery life and reduce heat, and is quoting three times the battery life when decoding 4K video. That figure will depend on the particular laptop, but it’s certainly an impressive feature. Intel’s media engine will decode VP9 and HEVC 10-bit codecs, which covers the most popular Ultra HD formats, especially for streaming.

Kaby Lake specifications

The dual-core Intel Core i7-7500U is the first chip Intel has shown off. Expect to find this chip in ultra-thin laptops and tablets such as the next-generation Microsoft Surface Pro 5, whenever that appears. It’s a dual-core chip with Hyper-Threading.

Official Intel benchmarks explicitly compare the Core i7-7500U to the previous-generation Core i7-6500U. Intel is claiming a 12% performance increase in productivity, as measured by SYSmark 2014, and a 19% increase in web performance, as measured by WebXPRT 2015.

In short, your most frequently used basic applications as well as your favourite websites should be significantly snappier.

Intel Kaby Lake

Below you can see a comparison table of the U-series processors that Intel’s announced, complete with their core specs.Intel Kaby Lake

Related: Everything you need to know about Intel Core M

Somewhat confusingly, Intel has re-branded its Core M line-up once again, rolling them into its Core i brand. This is fairly confusing for everybody involved, with the only way to spot whether your Core i laptop is actually a Core M laptop in disguise is to see the 'Y' in the model number, for instance the Core i7-7Y75 below.

Intel is claiming a similar performance increase for its 4.5W low-power Core M processors. In its benchmarks, comparing the new Core i7-7Y75 to the Core m7-6Y75, Intel is claiming a 12% performance increase for productivity apps and an 18% improvement in web browsing performance.

Elsewhere, Intel has said that the new HD graphics chips are capable of playing Overwatch in HD. If this claim rings true for other popular eSports titles, we might start seeing laptops without dedicated graphics cards being marketed as budget gaming machines.Intel Kaby Lake

Below, you can see the low-power mobile processors that Intel has announced, along with their key specs.

Intel Kaby Lake

Kaby Lake desktop chips

We don't know much about 7th-generation desktop chips at the moment and we're not expecting any new information until later this year or early next year. Kaby Lake desktop chips will use the same socket type (LGA1151) as the current 6th-generation Skylake hardware. Intel logo

In theory this means that if you have a current-generation motherboard designed for Skylake chips (H110, B150, Q150, H170, Q170 and Z170), a new Kaby Lake chip should fit nicely. But, you should confirm this with the manufacturer as, generally speaking, a fairly hefty BIOS update will be required to get a new processor to play nicely with a motherboard with an older chipset.

Kay

May 6, 2016, 12:45 am

Which person would be stupid enough to upgrade from a Skylake cpu to a Kaby lake cpu for a measly 5% or less performance increase. Because Intel has no competition for desktop chips it's just sitting on it's arse doing diddly squat. Come on AMD, we need you now then ever before. I hope Zen shakes up the market.

Edds

May 10, 2016, 10:14 pm

3.6Ghz base, 4.2Ghz boost is exactly Intel i7 7700 CPU, 200Mhz clock bump from i7 6700 CPU with 3.4Ghz base and 4.0Ghz boost... so nothing curious, it's crystal clear... i7 is not only "K" SKU...

Scritty

May 14, 2016, 1:42 pm

I'm not an AMD fan, though used to use them and loved them back in the original FX days 10 or so years ago. (and before that the wonderful 1.4Ghz T-Bird and Palomino) but I suspect AMD will seriously challenge, and possibly sneak past Intel for the first time since the original Core Duo took the crown for Intel all those years back. AMD's Zen chips pushing IPC while having 6 or 8 hardware cores (not 4 + 4 with MT) and running at around 4.4Ghz to 4.6 Ghz could be serious contenders. They pretty much said 5Ghz is not an option though many suspected that would be the next move. 4.4Ghz is plenty high enough if the processor is energy efficient (much better than current gen please) and AMD improves IPC dramatically, which they claim they have. Maybe an Intel beater? Maybe, maybe not - but at least a real contender again

Peter

August 17, 2016, 9:34 pm

Totally agree and one gets the sense of them teasing out the lifespan of a given chip just because they can. It wouldn't surprise me if they have the actual ability to leap a few generations ahead of such an offering as this but at the moment have no business incentive too. That said we are now in an age of 'good enough computing' were even older chips hold up well for most tasks and upgrading for a few percentage points that won't probably be noticed in real world tasks is for enthusiasts only.

Cura

August 18, 2016, 9:43 pm

2600K here.
The good question is, should a Sandy Bridge user wait until 10nm (Cannonlake) or upgrade to Kaby Lake?
(if everything goes to plan then there should be a year wait time more in difference?)

Rex Lajos

August 19, 2016, 12:40 am

If you are happy with it then wait. If cannon lake is only moderately better than kaby lake then you know what to do. Buy AMD and support competition. Or a used skylake but even i7 2600k used are waaaay over priced.

yahtzard

August 20, 2016, 11:32 pm

Intel truly out did themselves with the i5-2500 / i7-2600 gen chips...

Until Intel does something compelling... Keep the 2600k for sure. I own one and as long as you are not too concerned about power consumption and have good airflow through your box... The chip overclocks and boosts like a beast. I run completely stable at 4Ghz and can push to 4.2 with limited hiccups on air alone... After testing, I turned the OC off, because... why bother?

I don't know what you use your rig for, but my 2600k has never been the bottleneck of my system and as mantle / dx12 make things more and more parallel, I only expect the life of my 2600k to be extended even further.

Here is what might change my mind... XPoint. I think in the next generation of PC's, additional layers of storage will be added closer and closer to the processor. Eventually, I can imagine RAM being moved onto the CPU, XPoint (or something similiar) moving into the DIMM's and some combination of SSD/HDD sitting behind that. If I had to guess, Kabby Lake will be the first generation of CPU's to support these new PC architectures...

Even then... unless your loaded... keep waiting because, the prices will be sky high... But then again, I'm probably speculating too much... but I'd be willing to bet that I'm not far off the mark on this one :)

yahtzard

August 20, 2016, 11:45 pm

What are you going to do with a chip that is 10, 20, 50% more powerful? Most current CPU sit mostly idle most of the time. The kind of data processing tasks that could wind up your desktop CPU, probably shouldn't be done on a desktop. Additional battery life from equally powerful chips is always nice, but not a compelling reason for me to buy.

The only thing left is gaming... and very very sadly, most games are written for the lowest common denominator, aka consoles... These days, if a game is straining your CPU chances are that it's because the game was poorly optimized/ported. If that really is the case, throwing more wasted clock cycles at the problem could help... but it's really not a good use case.

Wirxaw

August 21, 2016, 8:38 pm

Are you serious? Since Sandy Bridge, Intel pooped out Ivy, Haswell and Skylake. All the while people, who invested into 2600k or settled for OCed FX 8300+ - have been fine all these years.
They indeed don't do shit, they just "offer new releases" so that people who "want to upgrade" automatically choose them. Even though FX could easily outperform anything in price\value, except for 2600k until 6300. And even 6300 is a marginal improvement.
Intel just bullied the market, while AMD delivered a stable budget 2600k analogue, and went on creating architecture from scratch. Intel, on the other hand, just kept polluting the market.

However, as to your question who buys these things:

1. Upgraders. One person might want to upgrade PC in 2012 for Sandy. 2013 for Ivy. 2014\15 for Haswell. 2016 for Skylake.

2. HEDT\IT - people, who either don't count money, or who make money by reviewing\working with hardware.

3. Slowpokes - who really buy into what Intel sells. They lack the qualities of group #2, but still somehow have the money.

John Little - omegashock - com

August 23, 2016, 9:25 am

I agree completely. The i7-2600 series is fantastic. The current series is really only a moderate increase in power.

Although, the increased memory support from the current chipset is nice.

Owen Hertzs

August 29, 2016, 8:46 pm

2600K is outdated... i mean it was nice and maybe you're not having issues with it. But it really is a bottle neck nowadays.
Only dual channel memory... wut!
16 pci 2.0 lanes! hellz no, ill take 24 3.0 lanes please (MINIMUM)
1333 ram speed, uhm no... 2400 is the new 1333 baby

Owen Hertzs

August 29, 2016, 8:47 pm

Was this article updated cause I see a two week old date but 4 month old comments...

MattMe

August 30, 2016, 4:53 pm

Happens a lot on this site. I think it's for their Google spiders so the pages rank higher.

dave

September 13, 2016, 2:03 pm

I'd say wait until Zen CPUs arrive and see where that 2600K performance sits in comparison. I built a 2500k system years ago, replaced the 2500k with a 3570k where the 2500k died for no reason but overall if you have a 2500k, 2600k, or any slightly newer gen equivalent, you can certainly afford to wait until Zento do some performance comparisons. Quad Cores are starting to look kind of old hat now though with games regularly utilising 4 cores, some games even more than that, so a 8 core 16 thread Zen CPU could potentially be a fantastic upgrade.

danwat1234

September 15, 2016, 8:50 pm

Neither. Wait for Coffee Lake (the 4th 14nm CPU that launches around the same time as Cannon Lake) , or Ice Lake, the 2018 CPU.

danwat1234

September 15, 2016, 8:52 pm

Sandy Bridge to Skylake might be 25% more performance clock for clock average. if that. Kaby lake CPU cores are identical to Sky. Wait for Coffee or Ice lake. Or Tiger lake. Those 'might' bring some performance increases and possibly finally more cores on mainstream desktop/laptop CPUs.

danwat1234

September 15, 2016, 8:56 pm

Some business software requires a lot of CPU power. Day trading software like ThinkorSwim or Fidelity ATP are CPU hogs. They need a 4GHZ Haswell to run liquid smooth. Though, can get by with a super high end Core 2 Duo.
Windows updates, installing software, searching SSDs for files are CPU bottlenecks often.

I agree Haswell to Kaby Lake, not more than 15% performance increase most likely. Coffee/Ice/Tiger lake will be ones to look at.

Ninjawithagun

September 16, 2016, 3:31 pm

No, not anywhere near 25% increase. Try 7-10% at most. And that's multimedia. If you want to talk applicability to gaming, the delta is far less. This is the main reason why I still have my 3930K in my main gaming system. Simply put, there has been no reason for me to upgrade as every single follow-on CPU family has not given any noticeable difference in performance - and is certainly not worth upgrading the mobo, CPU and memory. Hopefully Cannon Lake or Ice Lake changes that...

Ninjawithagun

September 16, 2016, 3:40 pm

Actually, AMD's Athlon 64 CPUs were awesome and that was the time where they had Intel knocked down for the count. Then, AMD got lazier and lazier. And now, after 8 years of slumbering, AMD may catch up to Intel with Zen...if they aren't lying about the performance like they did with the R9 Fury X Fiji GPU...

Ninjawithagun

September 16, 2016, 3:43 pm

Not me! I refuse to drink Intel's BS Kool-Aid ;-) Still have my 3930K and I'm not moving until they can actually release a CPU product truly worthy of an upgrade...< holding my breath >

danwat1234

September 16, 2016, 6:24 pm

Coffee lake will be the 4th generation at 14nm, 8th gen CPU, coming out in late 2017/early 2018 they say, same time as Cannon10nm. Coffee may have more performance, maybe more cores too... maybe....

Yeah for gaming, a decent Intel quad core Nehalem or newer is fine I think. Probably a quad 4GHZ core 2 duo would be OK for new games even. Would be about the same as a 2.33GHZ i3 (no turbo) quad Skylake, give or take IMO.

I thought Haswell(4th gen) to Skylake(6th) was the 5-10%. Sandy(2nd) to Haswell(4th) I thought was a bigger jump, maybe 15%.
At any rate, Kaby Lake is a bust. We'll see at the end of next year!

I'd use the extra CPU power not for gaming. To win the war on software bloat put simply and the hunger for no delays with software, updates, installs, loading times.

Stern Lanze

October 1, 2016, 11:47 pm

Shut up, cretin. You talk fucking bullshit, all the features you mentioned give you almost no gain if you overclock the sandy bridge. The only thing that is bottlenecked here is your fucking subhuman brain.

Stern Lanze

October 1, 2016, 11:49 pm

Shut up next time inbred, you are a fucking mutated cretin.

Owen Hertzs

October 3, 2016, 4:46 pm

True! Though things like the 40 lanes on the 6850k are nice for enthusiasts who want SLI + NVMe cards etc. It just doesnt work as well with older chips. Im looking at an ecosystem of performance, not just the CPU. 25% is 25% though

Owen Hertzs

October 3, 2016, 4:46 pm

Your ability to debate with reason and to speak words worth speaking is matched only by your maturity (that of a 15 y.o. who cant have their pie and lays on the floor waving their limbs about)

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