It was just months ago in January 2015 that we were talking about the Fifth Generation release from Intel codenamed Broadwell processors for desktops, laptops, tablets and hybrids. The processor offered modest performance boosts and increased cell life. However, the next version of the Microprocessor was already waiting in the wings to be released soon, as there was considerable delay in release of Broadwell chip.
The Intel Skylake Processor was released at the Gamescom trade show in August 5, 2015, just about 6 months after the last release. It was released as two variants – Intel Core i7-6700K and Intel Core i5-6600K. Intel Core i7-6700K is the flagship processor at 4 GHz clock speed, quad-core hyper threaded ( meaning eight virtual cores), whereas Intel Core i5-6600K is a 3.5 Ghz processor, quad core, non-hyper threaded. There is also a provision for overclocking these processors.
The timing for the release was excellent as it coincided with Windows 10 Operating System release by Microsoft. The release was the “tock” in the typical “tick-tock” release paradigm of Intel, with “tick” being the release of Broadwell processor.
Further, at the recently held Intel Development Forum (IDF-15) held in San Francisco between 18 August and 20-August 2015, Intel shared some of the architectural details for Skylake, the 6th generation Intel Core i7-6700k processor, which were missing from the initial launch.
The Skylake processor is the first Graphical Processor Unit (GPU) from Intel with DirectX12 support. A GPU, also called a Visual Processor unit (VPU) excels in providing a highly parallel structure of information processing making it much more effective than CPUs, and therefore is very efficient in manipulating computer graphics and image processing. DirectX12 is the latest version of Microsoft’s DirectX API and will be available on Windows 10 computers, tablets, mobile phones and Xbox. DirectX encapsulates hardware details from developers by means of these APIs and also helps Computer Games to be played much faster. Providing for DirectX12 Support would help Skylake Processor to work very well on Windows 10 based systems.
An important feature of Skylake processor is its support for Rezence charging by wireless mode in laptops and all PC manufacturers have agreed to use this mode. A move towards “wire-free” computing seems to be evident as many Skylake systems support wireless charging solutions. Intel is also reported to be working on having chains of hotels, automakers and coffee shops to install the charging stations and wireless systems will be in vogue.
We do not have detailed information from Intel on what the part numbers on future Skylake GPUs will be, or the correspondence between the cores and the chips, we may like to infer some relationships. What we understand is Intel has launched SKUs which are high-end of desktop type, which Intel calls GT2 configuration. The next two configurations, GT3 and GT3e (with EDRAM) are meant for special desktop processors or mobile chips. GT1 configurations, on the other hand map to lower-end chips in the Pentium and Celeron families. Skylake’s graphics core consists of slices, sub-slices, and Execution Units just like Intel’s previous GPUs. A slice consists of 3 sub-slices, and further, each sub-slice contains 8 execution units (EUs). So, there are 24 EUs per slice. A GPU configuration consists of three slices which mean that there are 72 EUs in a GPU configuration.
Skylake processors as compared to Broadwell processors are expected to operate at lower power consumption, provide a 10%-20% CPU performance boost in single and multi-threaded applications, and 30% faster Intel HD integrated graphics performance. The battery life is also expected to be 30% more because of improved energy efficiency.
The Skylake is available in 4 families like other processors and each of these series is expected to show performance improvement. Preliminary data suggests following percentage improvements in MacBook models as shown below:
- Y-Series (MacBook): This is targeted for the mobile segment and would provide at the most a 17% faster CPU, a maximum of 41% faster Intel HD graphics, with a peak of 1.4 hours longer battery life
- U-Series (MacBook Air): This is targeted for the mobile segment and would provide at the most a 10% faster CPU, a maximum of 34% faster Intel HD graphics, with a peak of 1.4 hours longer battery life
- H-Series (MacBook Pro): This is meant for the mobile segment and would provide at the most 11% faster CPU, a maximum of 16% faster Intel HD graphics, with a peak of 80% lower silicon power
- S-Series (iMac): This is meant for desktops and shows up to 11% faster CPU, a maximum of 28% faster Intel HD graphics, with 22% lower TDP (thermal design power)
The other excellent feature that Skylake provides is that it comes with a built-in Digital Signal Processor (DSP). This allows one to turn on and control PC by one’s voice. So, does that mean that we will not need a Power switch in our PCs with this chip going forward?
With all the exceptional features in Skylake, Intel has taken a great leap in processor technology ahead of its rivals, but it cannot be complacent. AMD is expected to launch new range – seventh generation A-series chips based on AMD’s Zen architecture in 2016. AMD expects that this range will restore a lot of its lost glory. Intel cannot take AMD lightly and needs to have a roadmap to counter any surprises that AMD poses in 2016.