Intel boosts ultrabooks and fanless PCs with more eighth-gen CPUs

Say hello to Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake

Ahead of the IFA trade show in Berlin, Intel is announcing its latest update for its eighth-generation Core family of U-series and Y-series CPUs. Code-named Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake, these Skylake-derived processors promise mobile users better peak performance and better battery life, as well as a range of platform improvements. Whiskey Lake builds on the core-count boost that Kaby Lake Refresh parts delivered to ultrabooks , while Amber Lake parts represent the first refresh of Intel's Y-series low-power CPUs since the arrival of Kaby Lake two years ago.

Of late, Intel has clearly defined where it sees the PC in today's stable of computing resources: as the place where owners will do their most important, most focused, and most creative work. To back up that view, we can point to the performance increases the company delivered with its Kaby Lake Refresh CPUs for ultrabooks. Even as single-threaded performance at the architectural level has stagnated, Intel has been able to add more cores to its processors and boost single-core clock frequencies to get better performance in both lightly-threaded and demanding multithreaded workloads. Those improvements are key to what Intel defines as a generational improvement these days.

  i3-8130U i3-8145U i5-8250U i5-8265U i5-8350U i7-8550U i7-8565U i7-8650U
Base clock (GHz) 2.2 2.1 1.6 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.8 1.9
Boost clock (GHz) 3.4 3.9 3.4 3.9 3.6 4.0 4.6 4.2
Cores/threads 2/4 4/8
L3 cache size (MB) 4 6 8
TDP   15 W

First, let's look at the three new 15-W parts Intel is launching today. As leaks suggested, the three CPUs launching in the Whiskey Lake family today boost peak performance above all. At the low end of the lineup, OEMs get a Core i3-8145U to play with. The i3-8145U establishes a familiar pattern among Whiskey Lake chips: it gives up 100 MHz on its base clock to the i3-8130U in exchange for 500 MHz of extra Turbo Boost peak.

Moving up the stack, the Core i5-8265U looks poised to supersede the i5-8350U as the best-performing 15-W Core i5 in Intel's arsenal, despite its nominally lower-end model number versus the i5-8350U. It delivers a 300-MHz peak clock boost over the i5-8350U in the same power envelope, and it only gives up 100 MHz to that chip in the unlikely-to-be-seen-often base-clock department.

Similarly, the Whiskey Lake i7-8565U looks poised to displace the i7-8650U from its position atop the stack of 15-W chips. A 400-MHz boost in peak clock speeds seems well worth the i7-8565U's 100-MHz deficit at base clocks compared to the i7-8650U. We'll need to see where customer pricing for these chips end up, but it looks like life with an ultrabook is about to get a lot sweeter, regardless of the price point buyers choose.

Whiskey Lake CPUs, like their Kaby Lake-R predecessors, will support LPDDR3 memory running at up to 2133 MT/s and DDR4 memory running at speeds up to 2400 MT/s.

  m3-7Y30 m3-7Y32 m3-8100Y i5-7Y54 i5-7Y57 i5-8200Y i7-7Y75 i7-8500Y
Base clock (GHz) 1.0 1.1 1.1 1.2 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.5
Boost clock (GHz) 2.6 3.0 3.4 3.2 3.3 3.9 3.6 4.2
TDP (default), W 4.5 5 4.5 5 4.5 5
Cores/threads 2/4
L3 cache size (MB) 4

The Amber Lake Y-series CPU family also lets what used to be called Core m chips benefit from Intel's under-the-hood tuning. The base Core m3-8100Y now has peak clock speeds closer to 2016's Core i7-7Y75, and the clocks only climb from there. The i5-8200Y's 3.9-GHz boost clock should chew through demanding web work much better than the i5-7Y54 and i5-7Y57 before it, while the i7-8500Y's peak speeds deliver a similar 600-MHz speedup over the i7-7Y75.

Y-series CPUs tend to find their way into premium Chromebooks and other fanless PCs where light and bursty workloads are the order of the day, so the Amber Lake family will likely prove a fine shot in the arm for the performance of those systems.

Unlike Kaby Lake Y-series processors, Intel says that Amber Lake parts will only support LPDDR3-1866 RAM rather than LPDDR3 and DDR3L alike.

Both families of chips integrate a new platform controller hub (PCH) that brings the improvements from Intel's most recent desktop chipsets to mobile systems. The Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake platforms have integrated controllers for wireless connectivity in their PCHes, meaning that notebook OEMs will be able to choose among Intel's Integrated Connectivity (CNVi) Wi-Fi modules to let their machines talk to the world. Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake systems will also benefit from native USB 3.1 Gen 2 connectivity.

One might see the Thunderbolt 3 dot above and think that Intel is integrating a TB3 controller into the Whiskey Lake PCH, but that's not the case. Despite the rest of the orbiting dots being standard equipment in Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake systems, Thunderbolt 3 is only included in the above diagram as a statement of capability rather than a sign that the company is bringing its TB3 silicon on-package. Several editors were led astray by this diagram during our briefing, so caveat emptor.

Since Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake chips include support for CNVi wireless modules, Intel will highlight systems configured this way with an "Optimized for Connectivity" badge similar to the image above. The reason for this is that the top-end Intel CNVi module, the Wireless-AC 9560, supports 2x2 MIMO and 160-MHz channel widths with compatible routers to potentially deliver over a gigabit per second of raw bandwidth. Just how many notebook makers opt to include that module remains to be seen, but the "Optimized for Connectivity" badge should at least allow those looking for the latest and greatest notebooks to pick them out of a crowd.

Intel has compiled a range of things that Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake systems might do better than a five-year-old PC, presumably a starting point for many in the slowing pace of PC upgrade cycles. Foremost among these for many will be battery life. Intel claims its new products will allow systems to run on battery for up to 16 hours (and possibly more with vendor optimizations), a number obtained by testing 1920x1080 local video playback. More mixed workloads might result in lower battery life figures, but Whiskey Lake ultrabook and Amber Lake fanless systems could still deliver more than a workday's worth of battery for on-the-go computing.

Intel also highlights improvements in video-encoding performance, integrated-graphics performance, wireless network speeds, and features like Amazon Alexa integration as reasons to plunk down the money for notebooks with Whiskey Lake chips inside. Notebook buyers should, of course, evaluate Intel's performance claims against their own needs, but it should go without saying that a five-year-old mobile PC likely won't hold a candle to the latest and greatest ultrabooks and fanless systems, in our experience.

Despite those various improvements, the simple fact that Amber Lake and Whiskey Lake chips both deliver substantial increases in peak boost clocks will likely be the single change that will make mobile PC users the happiest. Single-threaded performance improvements are precious and difficult to come by these days, so the fact that Intel has managed to provide those increases without changing the processors' thermal envelopes much or at all seems like a win-win to us. We'll doubtless hear about many notebooks with Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake chips inside as IFA kicks off this week, so stay tuned.

Tags: CPUs Mobile computing

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