Intel's Next CPUs: Everything We Know About Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake

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Tick, tock, tock, tock, tock ...

Intel is keeping us occupied with two new 8th Generation CPUs as the wait for a 10-nanometer chip continues. Named Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake, these 14-nanometer chips are expected to be released by the end of 2018. They promise to bring further efficiency and power improvements beyond those offered by Intel's Kaby Lake and Coffee Lake CPUs.

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Intel has remained tight-lipped about these mysterious components, but the rumor mill has been churning to determine how big of a leap in performance the next crop of laptops will offer. Here is what we know about Intel's upcoming Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake microarchitectures.   

Performance upgrades: A big boost, but no miracle

Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake will supersede Kaby Lake R and Coffee Lake as the newest 14-nm microarchitecture. As with every upgrade, the CPUs are expected to provide a boost in overall performance when compared to their predecessors.

According to Intel, the new components will offer double-digit computing gains and come with integrated Wi-Fi. That may sound intriguing, but all rumors suggest they'll have the same configuration as Kaby Lake R, so don't hold your breath for a performance breakthrough.

Whiskey Lake

Whiskey Lake CPUs will be based on the 14nm++ process, according to images posted to Twitter by Thailand-based leaker Tum Apisak. The first 14nm CPUs shipped in 2014, and Intel has since made multiple refinements to the manufacturing process (each + stands for an improvement). The long-overdue shrink from 14nm to 10nm remains in production hell while yet another microarchitecture is released with improved clock speeds.

The Intel Core i7 edition of Whiskey Lake, rumored to be the i7-8565U, will allegedly have four cores and eight threads, matching the Kaby Lake R Core i7-8550U. The 15-watt Core i7-8565U is expected to have a base clock speed of 1.8 GHz and a max turbo frequency of 4.5 GHz. That's a significant leap up from the i7-8550U, which has a base speed of 1.8 GHz and a max turbo frequency of 4 GHz.

According to the leaks, the U-Series i5 CPU, supposedly named the i5-8265U, will offer a similar leap in performance. An image allegedly snagged from an Intel web page shows another 500-MHz jump in max turbo speeds to 3.9 GHz, up from the i5-8350U's 3.2 GHz. The four-core, eight-thread processor will start at 1.6 GHz if the rumors hold true.

Another improvement to the new i5 and i7 processors is a reported increase in CPU cache from 6MB to 8MB. Cache is an area of fast memory located on the processor that stores data from frequently used memory.

The tech site Wccftech reported on a listing by Chinese electronics giant Haier that appears to confirm the specs of the U-Series i5 and i7 CPUs. The Intel i5-8265U and i7-8565U appear on a product page for its upcoming Bo Yue notebooks. According to the leaked specs, the Core i5 has four cores, eight threads and a 3.9-GHz max turbo frequency, while the Core i7 also has four cores and eight threads but maxes out at 4.5 GHz.

A rumored dual-core Core i3-8145U CPU will have four threads and only 4MB of cache. It will start at a higher base clock speed of 2.1 GHz but max out at 3.9 GHz.

Gamers shouldn't get their hopes up. According to the rumors, these mobile chips will keep the 1.1-GHz Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU found in Kaby Lake R CPUs. The integrated graphics can play less-demanding games at low or medium settings, but anything more taxing is out of the question.

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It's important not to conflate the upcoming chips with the newest 28-watt CPUs Intel released earlier this year. Also based on the 14nm++ process, Coffee Lake microprocessors operate at higher frequencies and are more power-hungry. These chips most notably power the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, which has superfast performance but disappointing battery life.

Amber Lake

Like Whiskey Lake, Amber Lake appears set to introduce incremental upgrades to Intel's 7th Gen predecessor. The Y-Series parts were leaked by the Romanian tech news site NextLab 501, and Dell's Chilean branch accidentally published model numbers on a listing for the long-awaited Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 successor.

Based on that information, there will be three versions of the Amber Lake chips. Each will reportedly have two cores, four threads and 4MB of cache. As Intel's low-power processors, the Amber Lake chips have a thermal design power (TDP) of just 5 watts. The trade-off is lower clock speeds.

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The m3-8100Y, the only m-branded chip, will reportedly have a base clock speed of 1.1 GHz and a turbo-boost speed of 3.4 GHz, according to the leaks. The midtier chip, the i5-8200Y, starts at 1.3 GHz and goes up to 3.9 GHz. On the top end is the i7-8500Y, which is said to start at 1.5 GHz and go up to 4.2 GHz.

For comparison, the 7th Gen m3-7Y30 and i5-7Y54 have significantly lower maximum clock speeds of 2.6 GHz and 3.2 GHz, respectively. The 7th Gen i7-7Y75 CPU peaks at a frequency of 3.6 GHz.

Who's who? Kaby Lake versus Amber Lake

It's important to know the differences between Kaby Lake and Amber Lake, so you can choose the laptop with the right internals for your needs. Both of these mobile chipsets are designed for ultraportable laptops. However, U-Series chips require more power and typically yield better performance, whereas Intel's low-power Y-Series is designed for the thinnest and lightest laptops.

With a TDP of 15 watts, U-Series Whiskey Lake chips will consume more power than Y-Series Amber Lake chips, giving them stronger performance for everyday productivity. U-Series chips can be found in most compact 13- and 14-inch laptops, like the Dell XPS 13 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and even some 15-inch laptops, like the HP Spectre x360 15t.

Y-Series chips emphasize efficiency and are less powerful than their U-Series counterparts. With a very low TDP of 4.5 watts, Y-Series chips enable super-thin, fanless laptops. But lower power requirements don't necessarily mean improvements to battery life. Y-Series laptops typically have low-capacity batteries, which offset gains in efficiency. The next-gen 12-inch MacBook and Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 will likely adopt Amber Lake.

Release Date: When will Whiskey and Amber Lake laptops be available?

Laptops powered by Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake CPUs will likely surface in mid- to late 2018. They could even come as early as August. Gregory Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Client Computer Group, said to expect "140 new" laptop models and 2-in-1s with Amber Lake and Whiskey Lake CPUs to go on sale this autumn, according to our sister site AnandTech.

The launch of the low-power CPUs could coincide or precede the release of Intel's rumored eight-core Coffee Lake-S CPU, which is expected to be released in September with 9th Gen branding.

The year's biggest releases will come in the fall, so it would make sense for Intel to push out the Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake updates soon. When they do drop, the CPUs probably won't make much of a splash. After all, everyone is still waiting for the 10nm Cannonball.

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