Late last year, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) launched the very first of its ultra-low power Core M processors aimed at thin-and-light clamshells and 2-in-1 PCs. The initial parts, based on Intel's Broadwell architecture, offered lukewarm performance. However, higher-performance models soon followed, appearing in Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) thin-and-light MacBook.
The ever-reliable CPU World has published the specifications of Intel's upcoming Core M processors based on the company's Skylake architecture. And from the looks of it, these chips offer solid improvements over the current Broadwell-based Core M parts.
Let's take a closer look at the specs of these new chips.
CPU improvement looks good
At the highest end of the product stack, Intel is said to be offering the Core m5 6Y75. The CPU cores in this chip are expected to run at 1.2 gigahertz base frequency and can turbo-boost to 3.1 gigahertz. The previous Broadwell flagship, the Core M 5Y71, runs its CPU cores at 1.2 gigahertz base speed and can turbo to 2.9 gigahertz.
This performance suggests that, at its peak, the best Skylake-based Core M chip will be able to offer nearly 7% better frequency. Combined with the architectural improvements present in the Skylake design, general-purpose CPU performance should move up by somewhere north of 10%.
Further, since Intel is known to have focused significantly on power consumption with Skylake, the Skylake-based Core M chips might be able to sustain higher frequencies for longer in typical usage. That could mean an even bigger improvement in overall system performance than what the "speeds and feeds" suggest.
Nice graphics boost, too
The 6Y75 sees the base frequency of its graphics processor run at 300 megahertz with maximum turbo to 1 gigahertz. The top Broadwell-based Core M processor runs its graphics processor at 300 megahertz base and 900 megahertz maximum turbo, so it looks like Intel was successful in increasing the maximum frequency on the graphics block.
What's more encouraging, though, is that the Skylake-based Core M chips will feature the company's next-generation Gen. 9 graphics and media engine. This improved architecture should lead to improved performance-per-clock in 3D-intensive applications such as games, as well as more robust and power efficient media processing (think playback of complex video streams).
Skylake Core M is a major step in Intel's long-term journey
For many years now, Intel has been on what seems to be a relentless journey to drive its high-performance Core processors into very low power envelopes. With the Haswell generation of processors, Intel had finally crafted "the" Ultrabook processor, enabling high performance and all-day battery life in devices such as the MacBook Air.
The next step, it would seem, is to build "the" processor for something like Apple's newest MacBook computer. With Broadwell, Apple was able to launch its initial MacBook, but I still think that in order to become "the" mainstream notebook form factor, the MacBook -- and devices like it -- will need major leaps in features and performance.
With the Skylake-based Core M, Intel seems to be bringing a lot of interesting features and performance enhancements that will enhance the value propositions of devices like the MacBook. However, I still think that it will be another couple of generations before the performance and features are there.
Intel's next generation Kaby Lake processor family probably won't do it (although it should, once again, offer a solid improvement), but by the time Intel transitions to its 10-nanometer manufacturing technology, the company might just be able to cram enough performance into such a tight power envelope to make the Core M product line truly "mainstream."