At Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) developer forum back in September, the general manager of the company's PC Client Group showed off the company's next generation processor architecture, known as Skylake. He didn't just hold up a chip; rather, he showed a working system powered by a Skylake chip running 3DMark, a popular performance test that puts significant stress on a computer's processor and graphics systems.
Now, while Skylake may just seem like "yet another" new Intel processor that brings performance and power consumption improvements over the prior generation of chips, leaked information points to substantial improvement over the prior generation Broadwell processor.
In short, it's a much bigger deal than some might think.
The biggest improvement? Graphics and media.
Not too much is known about the microarchitecture of the Skylake processor core beyond the fact that it is a "tock" in Intel-speak, meaning that it's a bigger improvement over Broadwell than Broadwell was over Haswell. This is certainly welcome news, as more processor power is always better, but this won't be the biggest area of improvement for the chip; graphics and media seem to be.
The Skylake processor is known to include Intel's next generation "Gen. 9" integrated graphics processor. Interestingly enough, according to CPU World, Gen. 9 will include support for "new codec types." The biggest, and perhaps most important one, seems to be HEVC/H.265 encode and decode support built into hardware. I recommend reading CNET's excellent piece on HEVC/H.265 for why this is such a big deal.
Additionally, once again according to CPU World, Intel will be increasing the maximum graphics performance on its top-end mobile variant of Skylake. The highest-performing mobile Skylake chip will feature what Intel calls "GT4e" graphics, which means that Intel will be adding yet another tier of graphics performance to its product stack.
Finally, as I wrote about previously, CPU World reported that Intel will be including an eDRAM cache on even the 15-watt Skylake chips aimed at Ultrabooks. This could suggest that the graphics processor on these low-power Skylake chips is so powerful that Intel needed to include this cache in order to allow the processor to achieve its full performance potential.
What does this mean for Intel's business?
The hardware H.265/HEVC support should allow for improved power efficiency when playing videos encoded in the HEVC format, since dedicated hardware for a task is widely accepted to be more efficient than doing it in the CPU.
This probably won't be a big selling point, but given that mobile system-on-chip products like Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon 808/810 support HEVC video decoding, Intel needs to make sure that the PC platform doesn't fall behind mobile devices in this respect.
Perhaps more important is the new GPU architecture as well as the increased graphics content on a number of models. If Intel is able to find customers interested in buying the Skylake chips with the new GT4e graphics tier, then this should translate into average selling price upside. Intel is also likely to see average selling price upside from the inclusion of the eDRAM cache on the 15-watt Skylake parts.
All in all, Skylake looks as though it should bring some serious performance and feature improvements, notably in graphics, which should translate into increased revenue per chip sold. It would seem, at least to this Intel shareholder, that Skylake is a pretty big deal.