Intel has been building up this year to its eventual release of its first widely available consumer 10nm Core processor, codenamed "Ice Lake". The new SoC has an improved CPU core, a lot more die area dedicated to graphics, and is designed to be found in premium notebooks from major partners by the end of 2019, just in time for Christmas. With the new CPU core, Sunny Cove, Intel is promoting a clock-for-clock 18% performance improvement over the original Skylake design, and its Gen11 graphics is the first 1 teraFLOP single SoC graphics design. Intel spent some time with us to talk about what’s new in Ice Lake, as well as the product's direction.

The Core of Core: 10th Gen Core

Intel’s first batch of 10nm Ice Lake processors are being given the official brand name of ‘Intel 10th Generation Core’, and will feature up to four cores with hyperthreading and up to 64 execution units of Gen11 graphics. The aim of this first round of parts will be the thin-and-light mobile market in the form of the Ice Lake-U and Ice Lake-Y processors. Intel uses these designation for anything from 5W to 28W TDP, which covers all the mobile ultra-premium devices.

The cores inside Ice Lake-U are based on the ‘Sunny Cove’ microarchitecture, and are a further extension of the overall Core microarchitecture design. The new core affords several security benefits towards Spectre and Meltdown, and Intel is promoting a very healthy 18% IPC increase from its Skylake microarchitecture, which was initially launched as a 6th Gen Core part in 2015 (more on this later).

Asides from the core design, and the increased graphics performance, Intel is also putting a lot of effort into the rest of the design of the SoC. This includes AVX-512 extensions to help with deep learning and inference (applying pre-trained neural networks to new situations), integrated Thunderbolt 3 support for up to four full-bandwidth ports, CNVi support for Wi-Fi 6, and a range of platform designs under the umbrella of Intel’s new Project Athena initiative, which Intel hopes to spur on the next generation of premium devices and experiences in this market.

The Processors

Despite Intel continually talking about upcoming devices, and very general top down specifications, we have not seen a full, official CPU list from the company about what frequencies and what performance metrics the new Ice Lake processors will have. At an event a couple of months back, Intel showed this slide:

This slide states that we should expect to see i3, i5, and i7 versions of Ice Lake, with TDPs ranging from 9W to 28W, however the key value in there would be 15W. The processors will be up to four cores (so expect to see some dual cores), with a turbo frequency up to 4.1 GHz. Graphics will be available up to 64 execution units and up to 1.1 GHz, with certain platforms enabling four Thunderbolt 3 ports. Memory gets a healthy boost compared to previous platforms, with support being up to LPDDR4X-3733 (32 GB) or DDR4-3200 (64 GB). Each CPU has 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes for external use, although there are actually 32 in the design but 16 of these are tied up with Thunderbolt support.

Without a specific CPU list, it becomes a little worrying that the company hasn’t actually decided where the binning of these processors is going to fall. It also speaks to the fact that we are still several months away from having these processors in the market, so Intel is trying to find that balance of performance and yield. What we did discover at Computex earlier this year is that some vendors which are planning to have Ice Lake systems available, did disclose some CPU data:

There are of course some unconfirmed specification lists floating around the internet as well.

Ice Lake Design Wins, and Project Athena

At Computex, Intel showed off a number of systems it says will be the leading designs for Ice Lake in Q4. These included a very impressive Dell XPS 13 system, a HP design with a wooden finish, and an Acer Swift model aiming to be the lightest Ice Lake laptop to come to market.

The Dell XPS 13

All of these devices come under Intel’s new Project Athena initiative.

Project Athena borrows inspiration from Intel’s previous initiatives, such as Centrino and the Ultrabook. The goal here is to promote an ecosystem of Intel’s partners to design the next wave of devices and form factors that spurs on a good deal of innovation. This means that Project Athena has some very strict design targets that Intel’s partners have to follow and achieve in order to get the Athena designation/certification.

This means a lot of the following:

  • Modern Connected Standby
  • Biometric Login
  • Wake from Sleep in <1 sec
  • Core i5 or better
  • >8GB DRAM in dual channel
  • >256GB NVMe SSD, or Optane
  • OpenVINO and WinML support
  • 16+ hours of video playback
  • 9+ hours of wireless web browsing
  • Charge 4+hrs in 30 mins
  • Thunderbolt 3, Wi-Fi 6, Gigabit LTE (optional)
  • 2-in-1 or Clamshell,
  • 12-15.6 inch, minimum resolution 1080p, touch display, narrow bezel on 3 sides
  • Backlit keyboard, precision touchpad, pen support

Truth be told, supporting all of these means that the laptop should be a good buy with a decent user experience. These are a great set of goals to have for a mobile device, and it looks set that devices with the Athena designation should be very good.

However something to keep in mind is that in order to enable some of these technologies, it requires the OEMs to invest into Intel’s component ecosystem. Battery life, for example, helps if OEMs use the sub-1W panels that Intel has designated suitable for these devices. To implement Thunderbolt 3 and Wi-Fi 6 in a system is easy if a vendor uses an Ice Lake CPU, which also means that OEMs have to buy Intel’s AX200 chips (or a Killer AX1650, which is an AX200 underneath) to get Wi-Fi 6 to work. For Thunderbolt 3, re-timers are needed to support Type-C, and Intel makes those. The only other way to implement these features requires add-in cards which are higher power, and using those makes hitting the battery life targets, or the form factor requirements, difficult. Ultimately, to get the best of the Project Athena targets, the only way to do so is to buy more components from Intel or Intel approved component suppliers. Some may argue that programs like Project Athena end up cutting competition in this regard.

It should be noted that Ice Lake isn’t a requirement for Athena. But at this point it really, really, helps.

Intel will give the final Athena certification with a verification platform. This certification is built around what Intel says are ‘Key Experience Indicators’, such as the device being ready-to-go at a moment’s notice, providing enough worry-free battery life for common office tasks, and maintaining consistent responsiveness regardless of the state of the system.

Expect to see Athena devices in the market in Q4.

This Article

In this article, we’ll be going over Intel’s disclosures on Ice Lake, its new core Sunny Cove, as well as the new supported features and technologies within. We also comment on each of the new implemented items, with respect to user experience and realistic market/industry responses.

Combining 10nm CPU + 14nm Chipset
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  • notashill - Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - link

    Are those RAM/SSD targets really "greater than" 8GB/256GB or is it supposed to be "greater than or equal to"?

    Either way I would love to see an end to companies having >$1000 machines with pathetically low RAM/storage and then charging 500%+ markups to upgrade them to something decent. Like Microsoft's $1200 to go from 4/128 to 16/512.
  • mkozakewich - Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - link

    I can't believe Microsoft has been using 4 GB as their base amount for the last six years. At some point it becomes insulting.
  • repoman27 - Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - link

    “Intel uses the ‘U’ designation for anything from 9W to 28W TDP, which covers all the mobile ultra-premium devices.”

    No they don’t. 9W are Y Series, 15 and 28W are U Series. This is all clearly stated in Intel’s publicly available product briefs for 10th Generation Core processors.
  • HStewart - Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - link

    I be curious for more information on the Y processors - what the performance difference between Y and U. But it looks like these Ice Lake chips are designed for Ultraportable machines and not designed to replace to higher end ones - even like my Dell XPS 15 2in1 - I am really curious about that replacement - it's GPU is probably short lived possibly in updated higher voltage Ice Lake with Gen 11 graphics or new version with Xe graphics. I also have a Dell XPS 13 2in1 with Y processor - I am actually bringing it to meeting today - it is lightweight and does not really need that much power for what I using it for. I think it will be very interesting to compare this new XPS 13 2in1 and the existing XPS 15 2in1 - yes 15 2in1 has faster processor - but it not Ice Lake and that could make a huge difference.
  • Hixbot - Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - link

    4.2% annual IPC growth doesn't sound great but it is better than anything we've seen since SandyBridge.
  • Targon - Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - link

    And that should make people question the claims about performance increases. Mind you, how much performance has been lost on Intel chips due to the security issues? Intel may be comparing theoretical performance increases, without disclosing the fact that first through 9th generation have actually lost performance since launch due to security mitigations.

    So, +18% IPC, but -20% due to security mitigations for issues that are still there. Has Intel actually fixed the problems with the memory controller and other problems that allow for Meltdown and the other problems, rather than mitigating around the problem? If a problem has existed since first generation Core processors that turns out to be a design flaw, that also shows that the fundamental core design hasn't changed all THAT much.
  • rahvin - Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - link

    Meltdown and some of the first spectre mitigations are going to be fixed in the hardware. Later spectre variants are probably only fixed in microcode and software.

    Where that line is drawn is going to be determined by when they froze the physical design for tapeout.
  • eek2121 - Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - link

    I'm not knocking Intel on the IPC growth. If they had an 18% increase, great for them! However, mobile Intel CPUs of any variant (U, HK, Y, etc.) are much slower than their desktop counterparts. My Core i7 2600k absolutely destroys the 6700HK in my laptop. Laptops in general are designed to be low power devices, so performance is never the number one factor in designing a laptop, even on the high end. The only exception to this is the so called 'desktop replacements' that weigh a ton, have desktop class hardware, and basically need to be plugged in to not have the battery die after an hour.

    That's also the reason I take this announcement with a grain of salt. 18% on mobile is one thing. 18% on the desktop is something else. As I've mentioned to people here and elsewhere, the smaller the process, the harder it is to maintain high clock speeds. Also, from reading certain documentation, it seems that part of that 18% is counting the addition of AVX-512. I could be mistaken though.
  • erple2 - Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - link

    Wow, really? That has not been my experience at all. My 6700hq has generally been (usually significantly) better performing than my 2600k for the vast majority of tasks I've thrown at it.
  • jospoortvliet - Monday, August 5, 2019 - link

    Any task that requires sustained compute will of course suffer on thr lower power budget on mobile. But tasks which require short bursts of activity will do better thanks to vastly improved turbo since the 2600k. So depending on what you do your impression might very well be accurate.

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