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Intel has officially outed their next generation of processors, codenamed ‘Skylake’. Intel, as many will know, are most famously known for their server, desktop and laptop processors, even as they have made inroads into the mobile and smartphone space in recent times. With this new generation of processors, they aim to deliver more than just speed gains in devices ranging from tiny thumb-sized compute sticks to high-end gaming rigs. Let’s meet this new family.
First a quick bit about Intel’s processor ancestry. Since 2007, Intel’s processor launches have followed what is known as a ‘tick-tock’ cycle. The ‘tick’ refers to a launch of chips that is marked by a shrinking of their fabrication process–the integral ability to squeeze more transistors onto processors. The ‘tock’ alludes to the launch of a generation of chips that utilizes the same fabrication process, but introduces new features, capabilities and enhancements within the processors.
This particular Skylake launch is part of their ‘tock’ cycle, building on their 14 nanometer fabrication process that was introduced with their preceding generation of Broadwell processors.
The Skylake family will comprise 48 new chips, spanning four broad device form factors:
Small-screen 2-in-1 detachable devices and tablets
Ultra-thin notebooks and convertibles
Large screen high performance notebooks
The gamut of desktop computing applications from all-in-one PCs to high-end gaming rigs.
Processors across this range are categorized under the Y-Series, U-Series, H-Series and S-Series respectively.
There was a time when new processors meant flaunting clock speeds and transistor counts.
Some of the key usage areas that Skylake brings enhancements to include:
4K video playback: These new processors have special hardware support for 4K video decoding, which accelerates playing HEVC/H.265 streams; a standard that is used to encode Ultra HD videos. This being a processor-intensive application, older processors used to be brought to their knees when playing back these hi-res videos. This capability is now brought even to tablets and ultrabooks.
Longer battery life: Along with a 60 percent improvement in processor speed compared to their previous generation, Intel claims a 60 percent reduction in power consumption as well. In the case of their new Core M processors (which will power tablets and 2-in-1 detachable devices,) these will now consume under a Watt–yes, less than an LED night lamp–when in operation. Intel claims that laptops based on these new processors will be able to deliver 10 hours of 1080p video playback on a single charge when using a generic 38Wh battery. Of course we reckon real world battery life results would be more conservative, in the area of a couple of hours of added compute time per day. We’ll know more subsequently after spending time with review units.
Better graphics performance: The new HD 500-series graphics in these processors are slated to deliver up to 40 percent better performance. Which means that right out of the box you could fire up current-generation games even on an ultrabook, albeit at normal graphics settings. Still, a feat that was until now unthinkable.
Special support for Windows 10 features: Skylake processors pack several new features that are built to mesh with new Windows 10 capabilities.
Support for next-gen interfaces: The new Thunderbolt 3 interface (capable of 40Gbps transfer speeds, or eight times quicker than USB 3.0) will enable a host of connectivity capabilities, such as the ability of a single laptop to drive a pair of 4K monitors in tandem, augment its own graphics power with an external graphics card, while simultaneously delivering connections to a range of USB Type-C devices. Also Intel’s WiGig capability in Skylake will enable laptops and tablets to communicate with displays and other peripherals using the convenience of wireless along with blazing data transfer speeds.
With Skylake, Intel will for the first time be releasing unlocked processors for mobile use: say hello to the ability to overclock a laptop.
Not all of these processors will be available from the get go: the Core i3, i5, and i7 processors will be first off the production line, while others like the Pentium M, Celeron and Xeon-based Skylake processors are expected to debut later in the year.
If you’re holding off on buying your next tablet, laptop or desktop, here’s how you can identify Skylake processors from the device spec sheet: as a rule of thumb, look for a Core i3/i5/i7 or m3/m5/m7 processor with the model number starting with ‘6’. For example, the Core m5-6Y54 or the Core i7-6560U. This number identifies the generation of the processor, in this case the sixth-generation.
In the meanwhile, with stocks of existing processors being offloaded to make room for this new generation of processors, look out for some particularly enticing deals on current-gen hardware.