The gaming and enthusiast sub-segments of the personal computer market have been good to microprocessor giant Intel, even if the personal computer market at large haven't been so kind. As a result of the continued strength in those two sub-segments, I believe that Intel will ramp up its efforts to provide targeted and compelling products to these buyers in a bid to keep upgrade cycles short and average selling prices growing.
A little while ago, generally reliable BenchLife.info leaked an Intel (INTC 0.43%) desktop processor road map, showing what new products the company plans to introduce for desktop computers over the next year or so. It showed a product known as Kaby Lake-S as slated for launch in middle of the fourth quarter of 2016 (we'll call it November), while a product called Kaby Lake-X was expected to arrive in the second quarter of 2017.
At the time of the leak, I believed that Kaby Lake-X was merely Intel's way of differentiating versions of Kaby Lake-S targeted at enthusiasts from those aimed at "regular" desktop buyers. BenchLife later revealed with another set of leaks that Kaby Lake-S and Kaby Lake-X are actually distinct products, with the latter being a variant of the former adapted for the company's High End Desktop, or HEDT, platform.
In light of this new information, as well as based on the road map from BenchLife, investors should probably expect that the chip maker is planning to release Kaby Lake-S chips targeted at enthusiasts and gamers next quarter.
What does Kaby Lake bring to the table?
According to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich on the company's most recent earnings call, Kaby Lake is essentially the prior generation Skylake chip with a few feature enhancements manufactured on an improved version of the company's 14-nanometer process.
Most gamers and enthusiasts are unlikely to be too interested in the graphics/media features that Intel plans to add with Kaby Lake; these buyers are likely to pair these processors with high performance stand-alone graphics cards.
This means that if Intel wants to make an interesting product for enthusiasts, it's going to need to deliver improvements in CPU performance.
If Intel is reusing the Skylake CPU architecture for Kaby Lake, the way that the company will have to wring out performance enhancements is through increases in frequency. Ideally, not only will Kaby Lake chips run at higher speeds out of the box than their Skylake counterparts, but they should be user adjustable to speeds greater than what the prior generation Skylake chips could achieve.
What I expect from Kaby Lake-S
A recent leak showed that Intel's upcoming Core i7-7700 (non-K model) runs at 3.6GHz base and 4.2GHz maximum single core turbo. This represents a 0.2GHz improvement relative to the Skylake-based Core i7-6700, or a 5.9% improvement in base frequency and a 5% improvement in maximum single core turbo.
If the Core i7-7700K can deliver similar improvements over its predecessor in terms of base/boost frequencies, then we should be looking at a part that clocks at around 4.2GHz base/4.4GHz maximum single core turbo.
Slightly higher speeds out of the box would be nice, but not really "game changer" material. What will be worth watching for will be how well this chip will be able to overclock -- that is, how far beyond specification it can go while maintaining stability using a reasonable cooling solution.
From what I've seen on various review sites, 6700K chips could generally hit between 4.6GHz and 4.7GHz on good cooling solutions. If Kaby Lake chips can ultimately hit, say, 4.8GHz-5GHz regularly, then I'd call that a success.