Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Intel confirms Skylake upgrade for Core M later this year


Intel’s ultra low-power Core M has been available on the market since the back half of 2014. As the first Broadwell chip, Core M had the twin tasks of improving Intel’s performance in the lowest power segments while simultaneously allowing it to push into smaller form factors and tighter thermal envelopes. The chip achieved both of these goals to some extent, but OEM design decisions have sapped some of the potential out of the CPU. Intel is apparently going to keep pushing the ultramobile form factor front and center — at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet conference this week, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich told analysts that the company would launch Core M on Skylake later this year.

Information on the Core M version of the platform refresh is still limited. Krzanich referred to the usual suspects — improved battery life, improved performance — but didn’t give specifics on either front. It’s interesting that Intel’s Skylake predictions have been fairly muted compared to what the company had released for Haswell by this point. This may be a marketing decision — with Broadwell still rolling out, Intel likely doesn’t want to put too much emphasis on its next-gen platform or risk a short-term Osborne effect. Intel’s programming documentation suggests that AVX-512, at least, will only be deployed in Xeon-branded Skylake chips — but since AVX-512 is explicitly designed to focus on HPC workloads, consumers may not mind the lack.

14nm yields are up now, which means Skylake’s ramp should at least be smoother than Broadwell’s.

Krzanich did note that the Core M Skylake would also receive an upgraded version of Intel’s RealSense 3D camera, and that the platform would support Windows 10, Android, and Google Chrome. whether this Windows 10 support includes full DirectX 12 support or not. Intel has demonstrated DX12 running on its own hardware, but the state of DX12 support is somewhat fluid — there’s a base level of minimum compatibility required for the spec, and there are advanced secondary areas that GPUs can optionally support. It’s still unclear exactly which chips from which vendors will tag all the checkboxes, and complete support will require a robust driver stack (Intel’s historic 3D drivers have often lagged behind its competitors when it comes to compatibility and overall performance).

If Broadwell’s debut has demonstrated anything, it’s that an improved processor isn’t always sufficient to drive a compelling product. Systems like the Lenovo Yoga Pro 3 drew relatively mediocre reviews because Lenovo chose to push multiple boundaries simultaneously — trim the system weight, cut the battery life, and include an ultra-high resolution display, and the power gains the CPU once offered are effectively negated.

Intel’s second-generation architecture refreshes on a given process still tend to improve overall power efficiency, so it’s possible we’ll see further gains from Skylake on this front — or more horsepower in the same TDP bands, which amounts to the same thing. Either way, if Intel keeps its schedule, second-generation Core M systems should be on shelves by Christmas.

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