Intel Ice Lake CPUs: Everything you need to know

Is Ice Lake coming soon? Here's what we know about Intel's future chip design

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Intel’s Ice Lake CPUs were originally expected to replace the ill-fated 10nm Cannon Lake architecture that was slated for a 2016, then 2017, then 2018, release date. With Cannon Lake rumored to be canceled entirely and Intel switching gears to talk up Ice Lake, it may be that that 10nm product line, based on the Sunny Cove architecture, will form the core of Intel’s next-generation CPUs.

Here’s everything you need to know about Intel’s Ice Lake.

Pricing and availability

Ice Lake was officially announced at CES 2019 and has been given a rough release date of “Holiday 2019.” We’re told that Intel will begin its Ice Lake rollout with mobile CPUs for laptops and 2-in-1s, focusing on Y and U-series chips first. That would suggest that desktop chips won’t arrive until later. PC Builders Club claims that we won’t see Ice Lake CPUs in desktops until 2021, with Intel looking to release 14nm Comet Lake parts as an intermediate generation of processors. They won’t release until spring 2020, we’re told.

Its pricing is likely to be reminiscent of Intel’s typical structure. While AMD’s Ryzen pushed Intel into upping the core counts of its mainstream CPUs, Intel has yet to show any sign of lowering its typically higher-then-AMD prices. Entry-level Ice Lake CPUs would likely range between $100 and $200, with more capable “K” iterations with overclocking potential, more cores, and higher clock speeds, starting at around $250 and going all the way up to around $500.

Performance and architecture

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With Intel and AMD planning to shrink down their mainstream CPU architectures, many people are excited about their respective potential. Intel has been using a modification of its 14nm production process since 2014’s Broadwell release and though gains have been made, Intel’s next shrink is expected to bring much more of a performance leap to the table. How much, though, is up for debate.

Ice Lake is built upon Intel’s Sunny Cove architecture which utilizes a 10nm process. That will make Intel’s new Ice Lake CPUs far more energy efficient than their predecessors and when combined with software tweaks that allow for on the fly adjustments to memory frequency and screen refresh rate, could lead to huge increases in battery life in laptops. Intel told Digital Trends that Sunny Cove should push laptop battery life to more than a day. It’s already managed as much as 25 hours in some early prototypes

Performance is less defined right now. Intel has yet to announce anything in the way of model names, core counts, or clock speeds. Typically, shrinking a process means being able to pack more transistors into the same chip. If Intel has made performance-enhancing architectural changes, too, we could see further gains beyond the move to 10nm, but right now we can’t make any hard predictions on that front.

Ice Lake will support a new instruction set: AVX 512. Although that is unlikely to have much application for the average worker or gamer, when it comes to high-powered A.I. tasks, cryptography, or video editing, this new instruction set could have a dramatic impact on performance once it becomes more widely adopted. When combined with Ice Lake’s new support for Vector Neural Network Instructions, anything incorporating A.I. — like visual image searches or smart assistants — could see dramatic improvements in response times.

Beyond the central processing capabilities of Ice Lake chips, we expect them to incorporate an 11th-generation Intel graphics core. That’s just one generation away from Intel’s 12th-gen architecture planned for its dedicated graphics card technology. Early hints of its potential suggest that the 11th-gen graphics could be far more capable than the existing “UHD” graphics Intel packs into its Coffee Lake designs.

Intel itself has claimed the 11th-generation graphics will offer more than a teraflop of power, which would put it on an even playing field with some very-low-level dedicated graphics cards, like the Nvidia GT 1030.

Improved connectivity

Keeping up with the trends in wireless networking, Ice Lake will have native support for Wi-Fi 6 (802.11.ax) to give devices access to the highest speed of wireless internet and local data transfers. There aren’t many routers supporting this speed just yet, but a few have appeared at CES, and as that chicken and egg problem gets solved throughout 2019, there should in time be plenty of compatible hardware to help you take full advantage of it by the time Ice Lake laptops and desktops start appearing.

The other high-speed connectivity that Ice Lake will champion is Thunderbolt 3. Giving laptop manufacturers native support for the USB-C port option is likely to make Thunderbolt 3 the standard it should have been a long time ago, with support for up to 40Gbps data transfers and charging. As USB-C becomes more widespread in various devices, laptops that focus on the reversible port will be able to trim the fat by dropping larger legacy options.

Spectre and Meltdown

Ice Lake’s architecture, Sunny Cove, will have hardware fixes for the Spectre and Meltdown architectural flaws that caused so much consternation among hardware manufacturers and software developers over the past year. So far we’ve seen microcode fixes for many of the most affected, recent-generation chips, and some of Intel’s ninth-generation chips implemented hardware fixes for specific instances of these exploits.

Intel has confirmed, however, that Ice Lake will go well beyond that, potentially representing the first CPU generation from Intel to mitigate major Spectre variants at the silicon level. That may also mean some of the performance-impacting stop-gap solutions protecting users against these exploits will not be present, although most think it unlikely that Ice Lake will be able to halt all the potential exploit paths.

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