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Ice Lake Debuts 10nm, New Cores

August 13, 2019

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Intel’s historic forward march in processor performance has finally hit a wall—and it’s a formidable barrier, despite measuring only 10 nanometers thick. The first real products manufactured in the company’s long-delayed 10nm FinFET technology are 11 “Ice Lake” notebook processors that generally run at lower clock speeds and consume at least as much power as their 14nm predecessors. Even their new 10th Generation “Sunny Cove” CPUs can’t always overcome the clock-speed slippage. Fortunately, the new chips offer faster graphics, better hardware accelerators, greater memory bandwidth, and other features that probably matter more to typical users. Also, some models have more cores.

The 10nm transistors are slower than the transistors on existing 14nm chips but are smaller, enabling higher integration on the processor die. One beneficiary is the much larger Gen11 GPU, which Intel says is about 2x faster than its previous integrated graphics. Another is the industry’s first integrated Thunderbolt 3 controller. A copackaged 14nm south-bridge chiplet adds more new features: an 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) controller and two voltage regulators for the processor and chiplet itself. On balance, users can praise Ice Lake for the new goodies its 10nm technology allows even while puzzling over its retrograde CPU speed and power efficiency.

As the first of Intel’s 10th Generation Core processors, Ice Lake falls in the company’s U- and Y-series, replacing the 8th Generation Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake, respectively. The U-series holds steady at 15W thermal design power (TDP) and targets thin-and-light notebook PCs. The Y-series rises to 9W TDP and targets 2-in-1 or convertible PCs that are tablets with keyboards. Ice Lake is already in production, and Intel expects systems to hit the shelves by the end of this year. Another new family, code-named Comet Lake, may debut at about the same time for the same types of systems.

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