Intel 10th-Gen Ice Lake CPUs: Everything you need to know

At Computex, Intel has given us our first true look at the future of its chips

intel 10th gen ice lake project athena

10nm architecture processors has been a goal for Intel for many years. The delays were numerous, but 2019 is the year Intel will finally jump the hurdle with its 10th-gen Ice Lake processors.

From the initial announcement at CES 2019 to the more detailed specs released at Computex, we now have a better idea of what these chips will be like and what we can expect from them.

Pricing and availability

Ice Lake was officially announced at CES 2019 and has been given a rough release date of “Holiday 2019.” Intel has begun its Ice Lake roll-out with mobile CPUs for laptops and 2-in-1s, focusing on Y and U-series chips first. Intel says we’ll see as many as 30 laptop designs from different manufacturers by the end of the year.

The desktop chips, however, 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. A recently leaked roadmap revealed an even more grim situation, making hardware enthusiasts and gamers wait until 2022 for the high-end chips to arrive.

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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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. When combined with software tweaks that allow for on the fly adjustments to memory frequency and screen refresh rate, it 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

Most will be more interested in performance, though. Strangely, specifics in clock speed or even model name haven’t been released quite yet. All we know for now is that Intel is starting with U-series and Y-series mobile processors. U-series is typically reserved for mainstream laptops such as the Dell XPS 13 or MacBook Pro, while the Y-series is an ultra-low power chip for fanless laptops such as the MacBook Air or HP Spectre Folio.

From what we know right now, the core counts have not changed in either series from its Whiskey Lake 8th-generation predecessors. That means the U-series will range from two cores to four cores, while the Y-series is still stuck at two cores. The boost clock speed will max out at 4.1GHz — but beyond that, actual performance is still a mystery.

Other improvements to the Sunny Cove architecture include doubling the amount of L1 and L2 data cache from the respective 32kb and 256kb amounts, as well as a new memory controller that uses AI to handle workloads more efficiently.

“We integrated a 4×32 LPDDDR4 3733 dual-rank system that supports up to 32GB,” Intel Fellow and Chief Client Architect Becky Loop said. “That gives us 50GB to 60GB of bandwidth that actually feeds your display, graphics, media, multi-threaded performance for your cores. On top of just providing the LPDDDR4, we also have gearing mode to handle autonomously in hardware the ability to dynamically change the frequency of memory on the system. So based on the workload, we can optimize the power and performance on the system to give you better performance and responsiveness.” Intel calls this gearing, DL Boost.

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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.

Iris Plus graphics

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Beyond the central processing capabilities of Ice Lake chips, they will also 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. Branded as “Iris Plus,” this new integrated graphics option should give Ice Lake laptops a significant boost over Intel UHD graphics.

In actual games, that could mean up to 1.8 times faster than Intel’s previous integrated graphics, making 1080p gaming a bit more achievable. Examples given by Intel include over 40 FPS (frames per second) in Fortnite at medium settings and 80 FPS in CS:Go on medium settings. That still doesn’t compare all that well to discrete graphics, but it’s a nice jump up from basic Intel UHD graphics.

We don’t yet know what processors Iris Plus will be available on, but it’s bound to be a top tier option for most laptops that offer it.

Improved connectivity

hp spectre folio
Jeremy Kaplan/Digital Trends

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. As more Wi-Fi 6 router options become available, we’ll begin to see the real results of the significant increase in speed that comes with the new standard, which could provide up to a 70% reduction in latency.

Intel’s own version is called Wi-Fi 6 Gig+, which doubles Wi-Fi 6’s support of 80MHz channels up to 160MHz.

The other high-speed connectivity that Ice Lake will champion is Thunderbolt 3. The architecture for Thunderbolt support on Ice Lake has also been redesigned to allow manufacturers to easily accommodate ports on both sides of the system, similar to Apple’s MacBook Pro implementation. In addition, simplifying the Thunderbolt design will also reduce power consumption by 300 milliwatt per port when the port is fully utilized.

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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