10nm architecture processors has been a goal for Intel for many years. The delays were numerous, but 2019 will be the year Intel finally jumps the hurdle that is 10nm and we see the launch of the first Ice Lake laptops in the middle of the year.
But desktop 10nm chips still seem quite distant, with Intel admitting that it has fallen years behind AMD in the race to ever smaller process technology.
Pricing and availability
Ice Lake was officially announced at CES 2019 and though it was initially given a rough release date of Holiday Season 2019, it was only a few months later that Intel began announcing laptops equipped with mobile Ice Lake CPUs for laptops and 2-in-1s. The focus, to begin with, is on Y and U-series chips first. Intel says we’ll see as many as 30 laptop designs from different manufacturers by the end of the year.
The desktop chips, however, won’t arrive until later. PC Builders Club initially claimed that we won’t see Ice Lake hit desktops until 2021. A leaked Intel roadmap also suggested we might not see 10nm on desktop until 2022, but it might be that Intel doesn’t bother with 10nm on desktop at all. The latest news from Intel CEO Bob Swann, was that Intel would begin production on 7nm chips in 2021, potentially for a 2022 release.
Speculation on pricing for such fabled chips would be nothing but that, and with little of anything concrete to go on about core counts, clock speeds, or release dates for desktop parts, we can’t really suggest what any future Ice Lake desktop chips might cost. If they ever appear at all.
Performance and architecture
Ice Lake is built upon Intel’s Sunny Cove architecture which utilizes a 10nm process. When combined with software tweaks that allow for on-the-fly adjustments to memory frequency and screen refresh rate, Ice Lake-equipped laptops should be very energy efficient. Intel told Digital Trends that Sunny Cove should push laptop battery life to more than a day. It’s already managed as much as 25 hours in some early prototypes.
Most will be more interested in performance, though. There aren’t many Ice Lake chips to talk about just yet, but we do have a handful that have been announced in a few select laptops. There is a single Core i3 model, which is a dual-core, four-thread chip with a clock speed of 3.4GHz. There’s also a handful of four-core, eighth-thread Core i5 CPUs that clock up to 3.7GHz on a single core, while a single core i7 model clocks to 3.9GHz on one core.
We don’t know much about the raw performance of most of these chips yet, but NoteBookCheck did discover some leaked benchmark results for the Core i7 model, known as the 1065G7. It’s found in a new HP Spectre x360 and was allegedly capable of delivering single core performance of 5,691 in Geekbench, which is roughly comparable to a desktop Intel Core i7-8700K. That’s very impressive considering it’s a notebook CPU with a much lower TDP of just 15 watts.
While a similar benchmark saw it score slightly lower, at 5,234, these are still impressive benchmarks that suggest Ice Lake has made some impressive instructions per clock (IPC) gains thanks to the generational leap and die shrink.
Some of this could come from Sunny Cove’s doubling the amount of L1 and L2 data cache from the respective 32kb and 256kb amounts, as well as a new memory controller that uses AI to handle workloads more efficiently.
“We integrated a 4×32 LPDDDR4 3733 dual-rank system that supports up to 32GB,” Intel Fellow and Chief Client Architect Becky Loop said earlier this year. “That gives us 50GB to 60GB of bandwidth that actually feeds your display, graphics, media, multi-threaded performance for your cores. On top of just providing the LPDDDR4, we also have gearing mode to handle autonomously in hardware the ability to dynamically change the frequency of memory on the system. So based on the workload, we can optimize the power and performance on the system to give you better performance and responsiveness.” Intel calls this gearing, DL Boost.
Ice Lake will support a new instruction set: AVX 512. Although that is unlikely to have much application for the average worker or gamer, when it comes to high-powered A.I. tasks, cryptography, or video editing, this new instruction set could have a dramatic impact on performance once it becomes more widely adopted. When combined with Ice Lake’s new support for Vector Neural Network Instructions, anything incorporating A.I. — like visual image searches or smart assistants — could see dramatic improvements in response times.
Iris Plus graphics
Beyond the central processing capabilities of Ice Lake chips, they will also incorporate an 11th-generation Intel graphics core. That’s just one generation away from Intel’s 12th-gen architecture planned for its dedicated graphics card technology. Branded as “Iris Plus,” this new integrated graphics option should give Ice Lake laptops a significant boost over Intel UHD graphics.
In actual games, that could mean up to 1.8 times faster than Intel’s previous integrated graphics, making 1080p gaming a bit more achievable. Examples given by Intel include over 40 FPS (frames per second) in Fortnite at medium settings and 80 FPS in CS:Go on medium settings. That still doesn’t compare all that well to discrete graphics, but it’s a nice jump up from basic Intel UHD graphics and should compete favorably with AMD’s onboard Vega graphics cores in some of its mobile chips.
We don’t yet know what processors Iris Plus will be available on, but it’s bound to be a top tier option for most laptops that offer it rather something that’s available on base configurations.
Keeping up with the trends in wireless networking, Ice Lake will have native support for Wi-Fi 6 (802.11.ax) to give devices access to the highest speed of wireless internet and local data transfers. As more Wi-Fi 6 router options become available, we’ll begin to see the real results of the significant increase in speed that comes with the new standard, which could provide up to a 70% reduction in latency.
Intel’s own version is called Wi-Fi 6 Gig+, which doubles Wi-Fi 6’s support of 80MHz channels up to 160MHz.
The other high-speed connectivity that Ice Lake will champion is Thunderbolt 3. The architecture for Thunderbolt support on Ice Lake has also been redesigned to allow manufacturers to easily accommodate ports on both sides of the system, similar to Apple’s MacBook Pro implementation. In addition, simplifying the Thunderbolt design will also reduce power consumption by 300 milliwatt per port when the port is fully utilized.
Spectre and Meltdown
Ice Lake’s architecture, Sunny Cove, will have hardware fixes for the Spectre and Meltdown architectural flaws that caused so much consternation among hardware manufacturers and software developers over the past year. So far we’ve seen microcode fixes for many of the most affected, recent-generation chips, and some of Intel’s ninth-generation chips implemented hardware fixes for specific instances of these exploits.
Intel has confirmed, however, that Ice Lake will go well beyond that, potentially representing the first CPU generation from Intel to mitigate major Spectre variants at the silicon level. That may also mean some of the performance-impacting stop-gap solutions protecting users against these exploits will not be present, although most think it unlikely that Ice Lake will be able to halt all the potential exploit paths.