Kaby Lake is the latest generation of CPUs from Intel following the undeniably successful Skylake generation, and so far we can say it’s been a roaring triumph. Not only does the microarchitecture fuel business desktops, like the , but it’s the driving force behind Apple’s most recent and as well.
- These are the best laptops you can buy right now
It’s not limited to productivity-focused machines either. With the newly released Kaby Lake-X chips, the company has invited gamers along for the ride as well – officially going head to head with . And, pretty soon, we may even get to see Kaby Lake make its way to Google’s rumored .
Whatever your area of interest regarding Kaby Lake, you can be sure that we’ve covered it below.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? Intel's 7th generation Core processor
- When is it out? Now for both desktops and laptops
- What will it cost? Ranges from $42 (£39, AU$66) to $350 (£415, AU$469)
Intel Kaby Lake release date
Last summer, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich confirmed that Kaby Lake chipsets had dispersed from factory conveyor belts and were subsequently sent to PC builders. In other words, Kaby Lake had formally arrived on our doorstep.
Since then, we’ve seen companies as reputable as HP and Dell, Lenovo and Microsoft release their own Kaby Lake-touting notebooks and desktop PCs. The spec has even made its way to ultra-thin and light gaming notebooks taking advantage of Nvidia’s Max-Q technology like the .
Of course, there were no shortage of spills leading into release of Kaby Lake. But, with most of the processors out in the open, we finally have the numbers we need to reach a consensus on the evidenced advantages Intel’s 7th generation chips boast over their predecessors.
Kaby Lake revealed CPUs
Outside of mobile, there are well over 20 Kaby Lake chips now on the market. From the Celeron G3930 to the Core i7-7700K, practically all the choices you had last generation are still present, albeit with better power efficiency and even a slight spec boost.
The Core i7-7700K is the flagship processor this time around, unlocked for overclocking as indicated by the discrete "K" moniker. Like the generations before it, the Kaby Lake architecture opts for a numerical naming convention: it consists of the “7” series CPUs to Skylake’s generation 6, Broadwell’s gen 5 and so on.
The i7-7700K is a quad-core, hyper-threaded CPU, which garners a fruitful 4.2GHz/4.5GHz core/boost clock. Although contained by extreme cooling conditions, early overclock results with the 7700K proved to be quite impressive, pulling off speeds of over 7GHz in some instances.
Still, pricing is where it counts, and you can take solace in the fact that the Intel Core i7-7700K still holds its own against AMD’s latest.
The Ryzen 7 1800X may boast more cores and threads than the 7700K, but Intel’s best consumer-grade option only costs the same $350 (£337, AU$498) as its predecessor, compared to the $499 (£500, around AU$650) 1800X. Plus, in terms of sheer clock speeds, the i7-7700K still dominates in its price range.
For Intel’s low- to medium-power range, there’s the Core i7-7500U, which initially leaked alongside the i7-7700K, but has since been found in the HP Spectre x360 as well as the Razer Blade Stealth. Intended for Ultrabooks on the top-end, this is a relatively high performance chipset, but still belongs to the "U" ultra-low voltage family.
This processor has two cores, four threads, and is clocked at 2.7GHz with a 2.9GHz turbo. Some of you might turn your noses up at dual-core laptop chipsets, but they still have a place in today’s world, particularly if you aim to save on battery.
Further on the mobile front, the higher-end Core m5 and m7 mobile chips of the past are now being integrated into the Y-series Intel Core family. These include the Core m3-7Y30, the Core i5-7Y54 and the Core i7-7Y75, which are being used in top-end laptops with fanless and convertible designs to complement the more power-hungry U-series processors.
Many of Intel’s 7th-generation selections also introduce Optane, a memory technology that brings hard drive speeds up to par with that of SSDs.
Intel Kaby Lake first laptops
Where will these chipsets end up? Well, they’re currently featured in a short list of notebooks, several of which we’ve already reviewed. The aforementioned Razer Blade Stealth and HP Spectre x360 are joined by the likes of the refresh among many others’ Ultrabooks, 2-in-1s and full-on laptops.
The MacBook Pro, too, has been given the Kaby Lake treatment, though our review of that model is pending. Because the “H” series Kaby Lake processors typically used in the 15-inch MacBook Pros weren’t available at the time of its release, Apple’s late 2016 laptops were still clinging to Skylake up until being hastily refreshed at .
Other laptops equipped with Kaby Lake processors include the new 2-in-1 featuring WiTricity magnetic wireless charging and the acclaimed Samsung Notebook 9 Pro convertible laptop. Plus, there are even more Kaby Lake-based laptops expected just around the corner, like the .
Intel Kaby Lake architecture
Cannonlake is likely to prove a much more exciting update than Kaby Lake. You see, Kaby Lake is very similar to the Skylake family we're already using. This is not what we originally expected of the Skylake successor, but Intel has changed how its processor development works.
Since 2007, Intel has worked in a 'tick, tock' rhythm of upgrades, where one generation shrinks the die, followed by a generation that alters the architecture. That changed this year. As of 2016, Intel now uses a "Process, Architecture, Optimization" approach, and Kaby Lake represents that last, frankly least interesting stage.
It's still a 14nm processor that’s fairly similar to Skylake throughout, and the desktop variants will use the same LGA 1151 socket. Unless something goes terribly wrong, Cannonlake will shrink Intel CPUs down to the long-promised 10nm die in 2017.
While there are some performance and efficiency improvements in store, it seems unnecessary for those with a Skylake CPU to upgrade to a Kaby Lake processor of the same level.
Intel Kaby Lake upgrades
There are some distinct improvements involved in Kaby Lake, though. The first is fully integrated support for USB-C Gen 2. Skylake machines can offer this already, but need an extra third-party piece of hardware. Now, its “native”. Again, not exciting, but it is necessary.
Gen 2 USB 3.1 enables bandwidth of 10Gbps, rather than 5Gbps. Thunderbolt 3 support is in, too. In a similar vein, HDCP 2.2 support is native in Kaby Lake. This digital copy protection is a newer version designed for certain 4K video standards. Ultra HD Blu-ray is the key one, though 4K Netflix on Windows 10 also requires a Kaby Lake processor.
That’s right, Kaby Lake also offers integrated GPUs better-suited to 4K video. Thanks to a new media engine built on a Gen9 graphics architecture, users can edit real-time 4K video using nothing more than integrated graphics. For video consumption, the new VP9 and HVEC 10-bit decode will enable all-day 4K video streaming on a single charge.
Kaby Lake only officially supports Windows 10 among Microsoft’s operating systems. This is yet another attempt by Microsoft to push those lingering on Windows 7, or anything a little older, into the present.
Apollo Lake: Kaby Lake's poor cousin
It's also worth considering the low-end Atom chipsets you'll see used in very cheap laptops, Windows 10 tablets and low-power mini PCs Intel calls NUCs (Next Unit of Computing). Although they’re not part of Kaby Lake, the latest “Apollo Lake” chips started to appear in late November, with Asus and HP being among the first to implement them.
These, too, are capable of 4K video playback acceleration by way of the HEVC and VP9 codecs. This is due in part to the move from Gen 8 to the Gen 9 graphics found in Skylake processors.
Kaby Lake-X: a higher-end future
If you're only interested in mainstream Kaby Lake models, the future isn't looking too complicated. They're trickling out, before being replaced by Cannonlake CPUs in late 2017. However, the outlook for seriously high-end hardware is more convoluted.
As of a couple of months ago, the newest high-end CPUs were part of the Broadwell-E series, even though among mainstream processors Broadwell is already old news. But in June, Intel released its more powerful Skylake and Kaby Lake “X” series processors, the latter of which comes in two flavors:
- 4.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-7640X (up to 4.2GHz with Turbo Boost)
- 4.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-7740X (up to 4.5GHz with Turbo Boost)
Both of these bear TDP ratings of 112 Watts in addition to supporting quad-channel DDR4-2666 memory. They’re still built on the same 14nm manufacturing node as less “X-treme” Kaby Lake chips, but they’re very obviously geared towards gamers seeking a “great VR experience,” as all of Intel’s marketing materials would suggest.
What mere mortal laptop and desktop buyers need to take from Kaby Lake, though, is that a.) we'll see even more machines using the new chipsets very soon and b.) unless you already need an upgrade, you might want to see whether 2017's introduces more exciting refinements.
Joe Osborne and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this article