Intel Tiger Lake CPUs: Everything we know so far

Intel's Tiger Lake could change CPUs forever. Here's what we know so far

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Intel’s Ice Lake mobile CPUs have only just launched, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get hyped up for what comes after that. Tiger Lake is the expected replacement architecture for Ice Lake, and it could bring with it major improvements in processor and graphics performance, as well as some baked-in features like new-gen wireless connectivity and much improved AI performance.

If you can’t wait for new Intel CPUs, here’s our list of the best Intel processors you can buy right now.

Pricing and availability

Intel’s leaked roadmap from earlier this year suggested Tiger Lake wouldn’t land until sometime in the first half of 2021, but that’s all changed. The first batch of Ice Lake-powered laptops are launching in the second half of 2019, with as many as 35 designs planned. With this accelerated release of Ice Lake, Intel has now pushed up Tiger Lake. Announced in April 2019 at an investor meeting, Tiger Lake will now debut in 2020 instead. Intel could give us the details of Tiger Lake at any point, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see our first glimpse at CES 2020.

Although there will be some performance enhancements over Ice Lake processors, Intel will again be restricting the Tiger Lake range to low-power Y and U series mobile CPUs. That means that prices for these CPUs won’t be super high, even at the high-end. 8th-generation Whiskey Lake U-series CPUs ran from $107 up to $409. Ice Lake CPUs are slightly more expensive, with the most costly (so far) Core i7-1065G7 priced at $426. We’d expect Tiger Lake to lie somewhere in the ballpark of those two generations’ pricing.

All of these chips will only be found in laptops and 2-in-1s, though, so these prices won’t be seen by the average buyer.

Performance

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Tiger Lake will be based on an enhanced 10nm process node named 10nm+. It will have some improvements over Ice Lake at an architectural level, with its Willow Cove cores enjoying an improved cache subsystem over the Sunny Cove cores found in Ice Lake CPUs. A report from Tom’s Hardware in September, suggested that Tiger Lake-U mobile processors would see an increase of L3 cache by as much as 50 percent. That’s not too dissimilar to the doubling of L3 cache that we saw in AMD’s Ryzen 3000 desktop processors over their second-generation counterparts, which helped increase gaming performance on the AMD CPUs dramatically.

Tom’s Hardware also spotted a UserBenchmark listing for a Tiger Lake CPU in late July 2019. The unnamed processor had four cores and eight threads, with a 1.2GHz base clock and a 2.9GHz turbo clock. Those clock speeds feel a little low, but this is likely an early engineering sample so we would expect clock speeds to increase as we get closer to release hardware. Indeed, Toms’ later engineering sample leak with the same core and thread count had a turbo clock of 3.4GHz. We expect that to rise further as we head towards the eventual reveal of buyer hardware.

According to the UserBenchmark results, this unnamed chip was roughly as capable as an Intel Core i7-8559U quad-core CPU, and more than 25 percent faster than the quad-core AMD Ryzen 7 3750H in single and quad-core scenarios. It only lost out in multithreaded workloads by a single percent.

Intel has claimed that we can expect significant performance improvements in video encoding and particularly in small form factor systems, although as Tom’s Hardware points out, some of the numbers it quotes in relation to those improvements are a little lopsided.

Tiger Lake processors are expected to support the AVX-512 instruction set, which has the potential to enhance specific tasks like networking, encryption, and AI. This instruction set was previously only available in Intel’s Xeon and Skylake-X processors.

Graphics

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As much as Tiger Lake will improve CPU performance over its predecessors, the more impactful generational leap may come in the form of its 12th-generation, Xe graphics. Tiger Lake will be the first generation of Intel CPUs to take advantage of its new Xe graphics architecture, the grander version of which will power Intel’s upcoming dedicated graphics cards.

Intel has promised huge performance improvements with Xe and Tiger Lake’s version will reportedly deliver up to four times the GPU performance of the UHD graphics found on 8th-gen Intel CPUs and up to twice the performance of that seen in Intel’s 11th-generation graphics on Ice Lake mobile CPUs. That’s enough of an increase to expect smooth, 1080p gaming at 60 FPS in esports titles and older AAAs.

More specifically, a recent series of patches for Linux included details about 12th-generation graphics and their new Display State Buffer, as per HotHardware. It reportedly helps reduce loading times and CPU usage, thereby freeing up the CPU for other activities and greater overall performance.

Another intriguing aspect about Xe graphics is that there may be some difficulty in backwards compatibility. A merge request on GitLab highlights that changes in the instruction set used by 12-generation graphics will require work to make the more typical i965 driver work on the new graphics hardware.

“Gen12 is planned to include one of the most in-depth reworks of the Intel EU ISA since the original i965,” the merge request reads. “The encoding of almost every instruction field, hardware opcode and register type needs to be updated in this merge request. But probably the most invasive change is the removal of the register scoreboard logic from the hardware, which means that the EU will no longer guarantee data coherency between register reads and writes, and will require the compiler to synchronize dependent instructions anytime there is a potential data hazard.”

Wi-Fi, AI

Two big enhancements that Intel has been keen to talk about with Tiger Lake are how it will affect wireless networking and AI development. Performance on the latter will reportedly increase by 2.5-three times under Tiger Lake. When combined with Tiger Lake’s low power requirements, this could make it a great chip line for small, but powerful internet of things devices.

As for Wi-Fi, the sixth generation (802.11.ax) will be natively supported by Tiger Lake, giving users access to super high-speed data transfers, better performance on busy networks, improved latency, and a reduction in power draw. That should equate to better connection speeds and longer battery life for Tiger Lake devices. But all that is launching with 2019’s Ice Lake.

Spectre

Intel’s Ice Lake CPUs include the greatest collection of hardware fixes for mainstream processors yet seen from Intel, and Tiger Lake is expected to improve upon that with further security features. We don’t have any firm details on what variants of Spectre will be protected against with a new line of CPUs, but we would expect a greater number of hardware protections against additional variants. Perhaps including the same V3A Rogue System protections we saw in the Cascade Lake generation of Xeon CPUs.

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