Computing

Intel Tiger Lake CPUs: Everything we know so far

Intel’s Ice Lake mobile CPUs were the company’s long-awaited foray into 10nm processor development, but they were just the start. 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-generation wireless connectivity and much-improved A.I. 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

Originally expected to debut in 2021, Intel’s Tiger Lake CPUs are now slated for release in the second half of 2020. Intel debuted the new-generation chips with faster and more efficient CPU and GPU cores at CES 2020, highlighting performance improvements on a new architecture and the final introduction of its long-awaited Xe graphics engine.

In mid-February 2020, we learned that Tiger Lake development kits had already shipped out to Intel partners for testing, and there are rumors of a Tiger Lake-powered Chromebook in the works. But it may not see release until next year.

That may be when the bulk of Tiger Lake laptops make their appearance. Considering the rollout of Ice Lake CPUs has been slow and steady, we would expect Tiger Lake to be much the same, with an initial launch of a handful of laptops, followed by a continuous release of more models throughout the rest of the year and the first half of 2021.

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 prices for these CPUs won’t be super-steep, even at the high end. The 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

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 2019 suggested that Tiger Lake-U mobile processors would see an increase of L3 cache by as much as 50%. 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.

Intel’s official word on the matter is that the new CPUs will be faster than Ice Lake and will benefit from the architectural improvements. It hasn’t revealed official specifications or clock speeds yet, which means we’re still uncertain about how much faster they’ll be than Ice Lake chips, though it is unlikely to be too dramatic. Ice Lake’s drop from 14nm to 10nm wasn’t much more than we’ve seen in recent years of Intel optimization, so a move to 10nm+ isn’t likely to do much more.

Notebookcheck discovered some benchmark results for a rumored Tiger Lake CPU in January 2020, highlighting that a modest frequency difference of 500MHz between two different models suggested that cooling could play a big role in the eventual capabilities of any Tiger Lake-equipped system. It did, however, manage to handily beat a Ryzen 7 3780 based on AMD’s older Zen+ architecture. It’s not yet clear how these chips would hold up against the newer Ryzen 4000 Zen 2 laptop CPUs.

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. While these clock speeds are a little concerning, Tom’s subsequent 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 toward 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% 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 percentage point.

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 artificial intelligence (A.I.). This instruction set was previously only available in Intel’s Xeon and Skylake-X processors. Intel claimed in its CES reveal of the new-generation CPUs that bolstering these technologies should result in far faster photo enhancement, including improved resolution and detail in a picture through machine learning.

Graphics

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 e-sports titles and older AAA games.

Describing it as the “most disruptive and advanced architecture yet” at its CES unveiling, Intel expects its Xe graphics to make a big impact on the long-standing dynamic of AMD and Nvidia dominating the GPU headlines — even if Intel’s onboard graphics are already more numerous than either. It has big plans for the desktop space with discrete graphics, but it could be with Tiger Lake CPUs, where no additional GPU may be necessary, that it has the most impact.

It may not just be the new GPU’s raw power that makes it so capable, either. A recent series of patches for Linux included details about 12th-generation graphics and their new Display State Buffer, according to 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 backward 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, A.I., and more

Two big enhancements that Intel has been keen to talk about with Tiger Lake are how it will affect wireless networking and A.I. development. Performance on the latter will reportedly increase by 2.5-3 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 6th generation (802.11.ax) will be natively supported by Tiger Lake, giving users access to 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. That’s already available on Ice Lake, however. What is new is the “latest generations of display technology,” so expect HDMI 2.1 to be fully supported with the new-generation CPUs, and perhaps Thunderbolt 4, too.

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 added 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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