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Exclusive: The Secret of Intel Corporation's Coffee Lake Revealed

By Ashraf Eassa – Sep 14, 2016 at 9:08AM

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It's a next generation processor design but manufactured in a mature technology.

Image source: Intel. 

A little while ago, a couple of news outlets leaked some key details about microprocessor giant Intel's (INTC -6.41%) next generation desktop and high-performance notebook processor family known as Coffee Lake. The product family, according to DIGITIMES and PC Watch, will be manufactured in the company's 14-nanometer manufacturing technology.

PC Watch also revealed that the high-performance notebook versions of Coffee Lake will pack up to six processor cores, rather than the typical maximum of four cores that the company has offered previously with such processors.

However, a mystery remained: would Coffee Lake be based on the company's older Skylake/Kaby Lake architectures but simply "scaled up," or would the architectural/design enhancements be more extensive?

I can now reveal, with a high degree of certainty, that Coffee Lake is more than just a scaled up Skylake/Kaby Lake.

It's Cannon Lake -- on 14-nanometers

For low-power notebooks and 2-in-1 convertibles, Intel is expected to release a product known as Cannon Lake. Cannon Lake is expected to feature an updated version of the processor core used in both Skylake and Kaby Lake. It is also expected to bring a new generation of graphics architecture, referred to as Intel's Gen. 10 graphics.

And, as Intel has already publicly disclosed, it will be manufactured in the company's upcoming 10-nanometer manufacturing technology.

However, it wasn't clear what Intel planned to do with Coffee Lake. Was it going to be Kaby Lake, but simply with more processor cores and perhaps a few other minor updates? Or would it be a meaningful architectural update?

To my surprise, it would appear to be the latter.

Where's the evidence?

In trying to find more information out about Coffee Lake, I stumbled across the following on Intel's website:

Image source:

Notice that Intel mentions Cannon Lake H (Intel's H-series processors are intended for high performance notebooks) as well as Cannon Lake S (Intel's S-series processors are aimed at desktops). In parentheses next to these two product names, Intel writes "Coffee Lake."

It's clear from this that Coffee Lake is based on the Cannon Lake architecture, but Intel is giving it a different name since it is manufactured on a different process technology than the "true" Cannon Lake parts (in this case Cannon Lake U/Y for ultra-books and 2-in-1 devices).

Good planning on Intel's part

What Intel seems to be doing here with respect to Cannon Lake and Coffee Lake (aka 14-nanometer Cannon Lake) appears to be the result of good planning and an honest internal assessment of the health of the company's upcoming 10-nanometer manufacturing technology.

As I have written before, I believe that the reason that Intel is keeping its high performance notebook and desktop processors on its 14-nanometer technology is cost. By late 2017/early 2018 (when Coffee Lake is expected to launch), Intel's 14-nanometer technology should be quite mature, while the company's 10-nanometer technology will have barely just begun production.

For extremely power consumption-sensitive products like ultra-thin notebooks and 2-in-1 personal computers, the move to 10-nanometer technology makes sense as the battery life/power benefits can be well understood by consumers.

However, for desktop computers -- which are almost always plugged into the wall -- and high performance notebooks (which generally don't have great battery life to begin with and are also often plugged into the wall), the 10-nanometer power savings aren't likely to be as interesting.

For these segments, being able to deliver improvements in performance and features is key, and it would seem that with Coffee Lake Intel is doing everything that it can to deliver on both of those.

Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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