Earlier this year, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) told investors that its first 10-nanometer product, code-named Cannonlake, would be delayed into the second half of 2017. Instead of prolonging the life of its just-released Skylake processors, though, Intel said it will be releasing yet another 14-nanometer architecture in 2016, known as Kaby Lake.
Until today, there wasn't much publicly known about Kaby Lake beyond Intel CEO Brian Krzanich's statement that it would "build upon the foundations of the Skylake micro-architecture but with key performance enhancements."
However, thanks to a leak from the generally reliable BenchLife.info, we now have a lot more information about this next-generation chip. And fortunately for Intel and its stockholders, it looks pretty good.
The big improvement is graphics
According to one of the two leaked slides, it would appear the biggest improvement is in the media and display engines. The new features include support for 5K display output as well as acceleration of 10-bit HEVC and 10-bit VP9 streams directly in hardware. Skylake, in contrast, can only handle 8-bit HEVC streams in hardware and uses hybrid acceleration for VP9.
All told, Kaby Lake should offer much more robust video/media capabilities than those found in today's Skylake chips, which should ultimately lead to an improved user experience and better power efficiency.
I also suspect that in addition to better media capabilities, Intel will also make improvements to the 3D graphics engine, boosting performance in gaming applications. With each generation, Intel makes improvements here, enabling more mainstream games to be playable at reasonable quality settings.
Improved CPU performance and a new chipset, to boot
In addition to the new graphics technology, Intel claims Kaby Lake will deliver "increased Core performance." I had originally thought Intel may achieve better CPU performance by just pushing up clock speeds on the proven Skylake CPU core, but the slide seems to suggest Intel has made some improvements to the CPU core relative to Skylake as well.
Intel also seems to be bringing a new chipset with some upgrades from the one that pairs with Skylake. The improvements include support for up to 24 PCIe 3.0 lanes, up from 20 in the currently available Z170 chipset. Intel also claims "increased port flexibility" with respect to these lanes relative to Z170.
However, the slide says the upcoming Kaby Lake chips will actually be compatible with current generation Skylake motherboards. This is good news for people who bought Skylake and for some reason want to pop Kaby Lake into their systems.
Kaby Lake looks like a solid improvement from Skylake
Although the delay of Intel's 10-nanometer Cannonlake processor is still less than ideal, it looks as though Intel plans to deliver a fairly interesting product with Kaby Lake, which should help Intel avoid some of the issues it had with Broadwell, particularly in the desktop space.
According to a prior leak from BenchLife, investors should expect the first Kaby Lake parts (which will be low-power models with Intel HD Graphics) to arrive in late 2016. The rest of the parts, which include quad-core mobile parts, dual-core mobile parts with Iris graphics, and quad-core desktop chips, should come either very late in 2016 or in early 2017, depending on the part in question.