May 28, 2019 | 07:00
Intel has used its Computex 2019 keynote to reveal that 10nm Ice Lake CPUs featuring the Sunny Cove architecture will finally be
arriving in volume shipping in volume to partners very soon and arriving in thin and light laptops in Holiday 2019, while also detailing for the first time its Project Athena standards, with laptops adhering to them expected to arrive before the year is out.
When the Sunny Cove CPU architecture was first revealed back at Intel’s Architecture Day 2018, it seemed likely it would form the basis of Ice Lake CPUs. With the tick-tock cycle a thing of the past, Intel now tries to follow a Process-Architecture-Optimisation (PAO) cycle for CPUs. As is well known, it has been stuck on the Optimisation part of the equation for some time; besides a single low-volume Core i3 Cannon Lake mobile CPU, Intel has been unable to get 10nm CPUs to consumers, but today’s announcement finally changes that and pretty much sounds the death knell for Cannon Lake (‘Process’) and moves swiftly on to Ice Lake (‘Architecture’).
Said architecture is indeed Sunny Cove, and with it Intel claims to have achieved an 18 percent IPC increase. To be clear, Intel has only confirmed mobile Ice Lake CPUs for now, specifically 9W, 15W, and 28W parts that will introduce the 10th Gen Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 families. These power figures mean that thin and light devices are what you can expect to see powered by Ice Lake; Intel’s strategy on desktop and in gaming laptops continues to rely on 9th Gen 14nm Coffee Lake Refresh.
Exact SKUs for Ice Lake, at the time of writing, are unavailable, but we do know at this stage to expect up to four cores and eight threads and peak speeds of 4.1GHz. Intel already admitted back in December that it wouldn’t be making any clock speed headway here; the focus of Ice Lake is on efficiency and instructions per clock (IPC), which are of course linked.
On the graphics front, Intel will finally be moving on from Gen 9/9.5/10 architectures (e.g. Intel UHD Graphics 620/630) and onto the new Gen 11, and in its full implementation (Iris Plus) this will see 64 Execution Units enabled, but there will also of course be different Intel UHD Graphics variants with fewer functional units. GPU clock speeds will top out at 1.1GHz, and again this is not a figure that’s seen an increase, but Intel is targetting proper 1080p gaming in titles like Fortnite and Dirt Rally 2.
The new Ice Lake parts will support LPDDR4x memory at up to 3,733MHz and DDR4 at a maximum of 3,200MHz. Having faster memory will be especially beneficial to the onboard GPU.
Intel will also be integrating Thunderbolt 3 onto the CPU die for the first time, with devices expected to enable up to four full Thunderbolt 3 ports – including having them on both sides of the same laptop – as a result. Intel describes it as the biggest integration since graphics was added to Sandy Bridge CPUs, and it will certainly be interesting to see how CPU performance might be affected as a result of power-hungry Thunderbolt 3 devices.
Along with the new CPU, Intel will be introducing a new Platform Control Hub (PCH) built on the more mature 14nm process. It has fully integrated voltage regulators for both the CPU and PCH and introduces Wi-Fi 6 Gig+ to the platform as well.
There is a lot more detail to go into with Ice Lake, Sunny Cove, Gen 11, etc., but as we’re right in the middle of Computex we’ll leave it there for now. In terms of devices, Intel is expecting more than 30 designs to hit the market (each ‘design’ will have mutiple variants and configurations), and we’ll certainly be looking to get some in for review and finally see how 10nm stacks up.
Update 30/05/2019: An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to Ice Lake CPUs as arriving next month. This was based on carefully worded information given to us before Intel's keynote actually took place, but we nonetheless apologise for not doing more diligent fact checking on this point.
December 11 2020 | 17:30