It looks like Intel’s all-new processors are finally on the horizon - paving the way for even more efficient laptops and 2-in-1s.
After false starts and rumours that Intel had trashed its work on the redesigned processors altogether, Intel has finally announced more details about the totally new series of Core i3, i5, i7 and i9 processors that are due in late 2019.
The microarchitecture they will be based on is codenamed Ice Lake. It promises a doubling in performance alongside Wi-Fi 6 support and, naturally, Thunderbolt 3 for fast data transfer. Indeed, Ice Lake will be the first processors to natively integrate Thunderbolt.
It's now also been announced that Thunderbolt 3 will be part of the new USB 4.0 standard.
Intel has been releasing 9th generation processors (including six new processors at CES 2019) so it stands to reason that Ice Lake will be the 10th generation Core processors.
When will we get the 10th generation Core processors?
Speaking at an Intel Architecture Day conference in Silicon Valley in December 2018, Intel's Ronak Singhal previewed the Sunny Cove CPU core that will be the key part of the Ice Lake hardware.
Sunny Cove is based on the 10nm manufacturing process that will be the basis for the Ice Lake next-generation Core chips (as well as the next-gen Xeon server chips that may or may not be inside the next-generation Apple Mac Pro due this year - Intel is currently citing 2020 for these chips).
This latest announcement doesn’t take away from the fact these new chips are later than a pizza driver that stops off for a sleep; they were originally slated for 2015.
Now they’ll be with us later in 2019 and probably not in many laptops until early 2020; these processors might not even be announced as a consumer product until CES 2020. Officially, Intel said at CES 2019 that PC makers "are expected to have new devices with Ice Lake on shelves by holiday 2019" but as we said, that remains to be seen.
Dell's Sam Burd did come on stage at CES 2019 with Intel and show off an Ice Lake-powered XPS prototype that looked very much like a Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.
Why Ice Lake is so important for Intel
The new chips can’t come soon enough for Intel: AMD’s Ryzen processors are reportedly making inroads into the admittedly-small PC builder market.
Early 2020 is going to be a mega-busy time for Intel since it’s also when it will start being able to produce its 5G modems for smartphones – we’re expecting that to be a key component for the 5G iPhone in 2020 (probably known as the iPhone XI S if current naming conventions continue).
It seems Intel’s engineers have had to go back to the drawing board because of a problematic approach - we’re guessing that meant there was a high error rate or poor yield on chips produced using the 10nm process.
It's a crucial time for Intel despite its deep expertise in transistor density – rivals TSMC and Samsung have both started producing 7nm mobile processors this year and will turn their attention to producing 7nm processors for bigger devices – AMD’s Zen 2 architecture is rumoured to use 7nm.
Intel’s new processors will include tech enabling acceleration of processing such as AI tasks for things like facial recognition. There will also be new integrated on-processor graphics, known as Gen11. Intel is also planning to introduce a discrete graphics processor by 2020 to battle AMD and Nvidia.
Intel has also been talking about Foveros, a new tech to package processors that means more complex processor dies can be stacked upon one another rather than having to be placed side-by-side. This could enable totally new device designs that are super thin and light.