Intel provided more information on their product roadmaps late Monday at CES 2019, formally introducing the widely anticipated and long-delayed Ice Lake processors, the first to use Intel’s 10nm manufacturing process in substantial quantities. The company also announced more offerings in their 5G solutions, as Intel aims to compete with Qualcomm in the smartphone modem market, as well as offer a competing product to the “always-connected” ultraportables equipped with Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, running Windows 10 for Arm.
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Intel characterized the Ice Lake series of processors as the company’s “first volume 10nm PC processor,” which combines Intel’s Sunny Cove microarchitecture with the 11th generation of Intel’s integrated graphics technology. Intel claims this will be the first platform to “support Intel Adaptive Sync technology, enabling smooth frame rates and capable of more than 1 TFLOP of performance for richer gaming and creation experience,” according to a press release, as well as integrate Thunderbolt 3 support and WiFi 6 (802.11ax) support, eliminating the need for an external chipset.
The first Ice Lake processors will be 15W (Ice Lake-U) models, with four cores and two threads per core, and 64 GPU execution units, up from 24 on previous processors. This requires the use of LPDDR4X memory.
Intel’s prior attempt at a processor built on 10nm designs was Cannon Lake, which was plagued with production issues. To date, only one Cannon Lake design has been commercially launched, the Core i3-8121U, which is found in China-exclusive variants of the Lenovo IdeaPad 330, and in low-end versions of Intel’s Next Unit of Computing small form factor (SFF) PCs.
Issues with Intel’s transition from 14nm to 10nm production processes have been the source of extensive speculation in the industry, leading to speculation late last year that Intel’s difficulties were likely to prompt the company to skip directly from 14nm to 7nm processes. While these rumors were ultimately untrue, low yields and lower production capacity due to converting fabrication plants have constrained Intel’s ability to supply processors, leading to delays in introductions of new models from PC OEMs across the industry.
For servers, Intel previewed Ice Lake server processors at CES 2019, with shipments expected in 2020.
Ice Lake is also confirmed to have silicon-level fixes for the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities, which provide security with negligible performance impact compared to microcode-level and software-level patches used in existing products.
Intel is also introducing new variants of the the Coffee Lake-R desktop processors, adding “K” variants for the i9-9900, i7-9700, and i5-9600, which allow overclocking, and “KF” series for the aforementioned three, as well as in the new i3-9350KF, which allow overclocking but lack integrated graphics. These are the first mainstream Intel desktop CPUs lacking integrated graphics in several generations—the processors in question are expected to have the circuitry for graphics, which are disabled at the factory as part of a product binning strategy as the CPU cores function correctly, but GPUs may be underperforming when tested.
For the 5G market, Intel demonstrated the Snow Ridge SoCs, which the company claims “is intended to bring Intel architecture into wireless access base stations and allow more computing functions to be distributed out at the edge of the network,” with expected shipments in 2H 2019.
Because of design differences between 4G LTE networks and 5G NR, higher numbers of base stations are necessary to provide coverage on mmWave networks. Intel is aiming to be a major solutions vendor for both base station equipment for 5G mobile networks, and is widely speculated to be the supplier of the modem in the first 5G iPhone.
For a full forecast of when and where 5G smartphones will be available, and the companies providing the technologies that power them, check out TechRepublic’s cheat sheet to 5G smartphones.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Ice Lake is Intel’s second attempt at a 10nm CPU, following production yield issues with Cannon Lake which have constrained Intel’s supply chain.
- Intel is offering the first desktop processors without integrated graphics in several generations.