Intel casually announces that Ice Lake-family 10th-gen Core chips are shipping now


Intel held its Computex keynote Monday night (US time), and if we can be completely honest, we weren't exactly blown away by the company's announcements. There was the Core i9-9900KS that you've no doubt heard about—more or less a Core i9-9900K with "multi-core enhancement" built right in—and some new Xeon E-series CPUs, as well as a few other topics we'll be talking about eventually.

The real news came almost as an afterthought at the end of Intel's show: the company is apparently shipping 10nm Ice Lake-family mobile CPUs to its partners as I write this. There are purportedly 11 different processors coming, ranging from Core i3s to Core i7s. All of the chips on the way at this time are Ice Lake-U and Ice Lake-Y models. That means "ultra low voltage" and "extremely low power" for those who aren't intimately familiar with Intel's nomenclature.

Even though we don't have a detailed list of the incoming CPUs, there's a lot to talk about. These chips, which Intel is calling "10th Generation Core," are built using Intel's second go at 10nm, the so-called 10nm+ process. (Recall that the barely-there Cannon Lake CPUs were the first attempt.) Rather than being yet another rehash of the Skylake architecture, these chips are based on the Sunny Cove core design that the company has been talking up for a while. The graphics in Ice Lake are based on Intel's Gen11 design, and the chips have quite a few other tricks, too: integrated Wi-Fi 6, Thunderbolt 3, and an on-die MIPI CSI 2 interface for mobile camera devices.

Hopefully at some point we'll get to do an architectural deep dive on Sunny Cove as we have in the past. For now, we'll have to be content with what Intel tells us.  The company claims that Sunny Cove offers an average 18% uplift in instructions-per-clock (IPC) compared to Skylake, which is quite significant indeed. Rival AMD's Zen 2 cores are supposedly a tremendous leap over that organization's previous-generation hardware, and those chips are "only" purported to step things up by some 15%, clock-for-clock. 

IPC isn't everything, of course. Keep in mind those words: "per clock." The products on the way are low-power parts for sure, but even at 15 W, a 4.1 GHz max boost clock looks a bit anemic next to the Whiskey Lake-based Core i7-8665U's 4.8 GHz. It will be interesting to see if the slightly lower boost clocks are the result of the fatter Sunny Cove core design or simply a limitation of Intel's beleaguered 10nm fabrication process. We're also interested to see if the bump in IPC can overcome the relative deficit in clock rate.


TechPowerUp got some pics of Ice Lake. They have a better, close-up shot over there. You should check it out.

These chips support dual-channel DDR4 RAM running at up to 3200 MT/s out of the box—no overclocking needed. Yet more interesting is their ability to hook up to four 32-bit channels of LPDDR4X memory running at an eye-watering 3733 MT/s. That extra memory bandwidth should come in handy for feeding the chips' thirsty Gen11 graphics. Intel has made a whole pile of architectural improvements to its graphics parts since Skylake's launch, but none are likely as significant as the 50% increase in functional units. The "GT2" variant found in most "UHD Graphics" parts contains 32 execution units (EUs) in these Ice Lake parts (up from 24 on Gen 9), while certain Ice Lake-U models will come with Iris Plus graphics built with 48 or even 64 EUs.


1920x1080 resolution. Intel claims Gen11 is 80% faster than Gen9, clock for clock.

Intel claims the largest model is capable of 1.12 TFLOPs of single-precision compute, or 2.25 TFLOPs of half-precision. In combination with the CPU's DLBoost acceleration, that's quite a pile of performance for AI inferencing. The implications for graphics are less clear-cut—GPU compute doesn't cleanly correlate to graphics performance—but Intel also says that the rasterizer is capable of shading 16 pixels per clock and texturing twice that number. That puts the top-end Iris Plus configuration squarely in the realm of AMD's Vega 8 GPU built into the (65 W) Ryzen 3 2200G, which isn't bad at all for a 28-W chip.

Other interesting tidbits about the graphics in these Ice Lake processors include their official support (finally) for VESA Adaptive Sync, their "tier 2" support for DX12 variable-rate shading, and their trio of display pipelines that enable them to run three UHD 4K HDR displays simultaneously—assuming your system board has the requisite DisplayPort connections. Sadly, there's nary a mention of HDMI 2.1, but the display controller does support HDMI 2.0b's 10-bit formats.

I wasn't kidding when I said that this news seemed like an afterthought. Besides the fact that it was a very quick announcement right at the end of Intel's keynote, Intel didn't talk about specific models, pricing, availability, or anything else, really. Intel had representatives from its biggest partners on stage to show off their upcoming hardware, but it's anyone's guess when you'll actually be able to buy one. Generally speaking, I'd rather have the technical details in hand and have to wait for the mundane stuff rather than vice versa, but it's pretty unusual that we can't even tell you when to look out for systems packing this hardware with any more precision than "later this year."

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