Image source: Intel. 

According to DigiTimes, citing "sources from Taiwan PC makers," microprocessor giant Intel (INTC -5.42%) will start shipping next-generation desktop processors based on its Kaby Lake architecture (branded seventh generation Core) by "year-end 2016" -- in line with previous leaks and Intel's own public statements.

That's all well and good, but DigiTimes has some information on Intel's future processor plans beyond this year's Kaby Lake. Let's take a closer look.

Coffee Lake and Cannonlake for desktops and notebooks, respectively

DigiTimes says that in 2017, Intel plans to release two separate processor families targeting notebook personal computers and desktop personal computers, respectively.

The report says that for notebooks, Intel will release a product family known as Cannonlake, manufactured in the company's upcoming 10-nanometer manufacturing technology. For desktops (and likely, as PC Watch previously reported, high-performance notebook systems), Intel is expected to release a fourth generation of products manufactured in its 14-nanometer technology known as Coffee Lake.

Both Cannonlake and Coffee Lake, per the report, will arrive in the second half of 2017 -- though it's not clear whether this refers to shipments to system vendors or availability of systems using the chips to end-users.

Icelake for both in 2018

DigiTimes goes on to say that Intel will introduce a new processor family, known as Icelake, in 2018. Presumably, processors based on the Icelake architecture will replace both Cannonlake in thin-and-light notebooks and Coffee Lake in desktops and high-performance notebooks.

Icelake is expected to be manufactured in Intel's 10-nanometer technology (likely the second-generation 10-nanometer+ technology that Intel mentioned last month). Additionally, under Intel's "Process-Architecture-Optimization" product development methodology, Icelake should also bring to bear a significantly enhanced architecture relative to what the company is likely to ship with both Cannonlake and Coffee Lake.

Still some unanswered questions

Although Intel's strategy of splitting the desktop/high performance notebook lines from the mainstream notebook processor lines is now known, there are still a lot of things that we don't yet know about it. 

For example, we know that Cannonlake includes a new processor architecture (it's not the same processor core as Skylake or Kaby Lake) and a new graphics architecture. However, very little is known about what Coffee Lake really is. PC Watch says that Coffee Lake will come in configurations with up to six processor cores and will include the company's GT3e graphics (Intel's desktop chips and most of its high-performance notebook chips top out at four processor cores and GT2 graphics). 

Are these processor cores going to be the same ones used in Skylake and Kaby Lake? Or is Intel doing an implementation of the enhanced Cannonlake cores in the older 14-nanometer technology? How about graphics? Is Intel simply planning on scaling up the same graphics engine found in Skylake/Kaby Lake (known as Gen. 9 graphics) or does Coffee Lake get the newer Gen. 10 graphics and media engine?

My suspicion is that Intel will take the path of least resistance and that Coffee Lake will ultimately just be "scaled up" Kaby Lake with more of the same processor and graphics cores. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad strategy, as it would still ultimately yield more performance (and could speed time-to-market), but from a performance/power efficiency perspective, it wouldn't be ideal.