Intel Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake Revealed: What You Need to Know

Intel today released new versions of the CPUs that power most portable laptops. Unveiled at IFA 2018, the new Y- and U-series chips have higher clock speeds than their predecessors, and come with integrated Gigabit Wi-Fi and enhanced voice support.

But before you get too excited, know that these new Amber Lake and Whiskey Lake chips use the same 14++ nanometer process as Coffee Lake CPUs, and join the crowded 8th Gen chip family. Yes, the wait for 10nm continues, so you should expect only minor performance and efficiency improvements this time around.

How powerful are Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake?

Intel claims the new processors have twice the overall performance of a 5-year-old Intel CPU, and offer 1.8x better web performance. Video editing in Adobe is projected to be almost three times faster, and 4K videos should take half the time to create. That all sounds impressive, but Intel didn't provide comparisons to last year's Kaby Lake CPUs. Based on the new CPU's specs, we're not expecting performance breakthroughs.

The new Whiskey Lake-U CPUs contain up to 4 cores and 8 threads, the same as their Kaby Lake predecessors. The three low-power Amber Lake-Y CPU variants are all dual-core and have 4 threads.

The performance improvements were enabled by increasing clock speeds. The i7-8565U has a base clock speed of 1.8 GHz and a max turbo frequency of 4.6 GHz, whereas last year's Kaby Lake Core i7 CPU had a higher base clock speed of 1.9 GHz but topped out at 4.2 GHz. The new Core i5-8265U also bumps the maximum processor frequency up to 3.9 GHz from 3.6 GHz. The Core i3-8145U chip has a base clock speed of 2.1 GHz and maxes out at 3.9 GHz.

The Y-series chips were similarly optimized with higher clock speeds. On the high-end, the Core i7-8500Y has a base frequency of 1.5 GHz and tops out at 4.2 GHz. The Core i5-8200Y has a max frequency of 3.9 GHz, while the low-end Core m3-8100Y reaches up to 3.4 GHz.

What does this mean for battery life?

We're most interested to see what impact the new chips have on a device's battery life. Intel claims laptops powered by the new chips can stay powered for up to 16 hours on a charge. That figure comes from the chip maker's own benchmarks, so take it with a grain of salt.

How does Whiskey Lake-U compare to Amber Lake-Y?

The 15 watt U-series chips are designated for ultrabooks that offer general productivity, like the Dell XPS 13 or Lenovo X1 Carbon, while 5 watt Y-series chips are better served for thin-and-lightweight laptops with fanless designs, like the 12-inch MacBook or Dell XPS 13 2-in-1. In short, U-series chips offer better performance but draw more power, while Y-series chips enable greater portability but aren't great for multitasking.  

What features are new this year?

The new processors come with integrated Gigabit Wi-Fi and improved voice support for assistants like Alexa and Cortana. While most modern laptops already support fast internet speeds through a dedicated Wi-Fi chip, Gigabit connectivity will now come baked into the processor. The CPUs also come with a dedicated quad-core audio DSP, which is designed to make it easier to wake voice assistants, even when your laptop is in a low power state. 

Can Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake run the latest games?

Laptops with Y- and U-series CPUs aren't meant for gaming, and that won't change with the release of Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake. The chips are paired with the same integrated Intel UHD 620 GPU that we've seen in numerous ultrabooks over the past year.

The new CPUs should decent job powering less graphically intensive games, but don't expect to play Fortnite on high settings. The new Dell XPS 13, which relies on the Intel UHD 620 GPU, can play Dirt 3 at 1080p resolution at 67 frames per second. You can learn more about Intel's processors in our laptop CPU guide.

When can I buy a laptop with Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake CPUs?

The new 8th Gen U-series and Y-series chips are expected to be widely adopted by laptop manufacturers. We wouldn't be surprised to see new devices with the CPUs unveiled at IFA in the next few days, and made available in the coming weeks.

We'll put the Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake processors through their paces once they arrive at our doorstep, so stay tuned.

Phillip Tracy

Phillip Tracy is the assistant managing editor at Laptop Mag where he reviews laptops, phones and other gadgets while covering the latest industry news. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Phillip became a tech reporter at the Daily Dot. There, he wrote reviews for a range of gadgets and covered everything from social media trends to cybersecurity. Prior to that, he wrote for RCR Wireless News covering 5G and IoT. When he's not tinkering with devices, you can find Phillip playing video games, reading, traveling or watching soccer.