Intel Launches (and Confuses with) 6th Generation Core CPUs called Skylake



On September 1, Intel® formally launched the Skylake family of CPUs. It was the second of three—maybe four—Skylake launches. We are slightly confused.

You’d be forgiven if you haven’t yet heard of Intel’s Skylake, the company’s highest performance and lowest power (per Intel) CPUs to-date. I can’t dispute the superlatives, though some CPU experts (and competitors) are tossing small pebbles. Regardless, there’s a lot to love about this 6th Generation Intel® Core™ (i3/i5/i7/Xeon®) family and it’ll soon be pervasive—but be prepared to be confused by the rollout.

Intel has launched or will launch several dozens of SKUs for platforms like PCs, “extreme” gaming PCs, laptops, 2:1’s/ultrabooks, tablets, value machines, embedded, workstation PCs…and other tranches that only PC experts can parse fully (PCWorld editor Mark Hachman says 48 SKUs and counting). After all, here at Embedded Systems Engineering we cover “embedded” and need only worry about Intel’s official embedded roadmap (which isn’t yet fully launched).

We will provide more info on Skylake after Intel’s next Skylake launch. That will be the third launch, and rumors are that there is a fourth planned as some over-clocked and server versions roll out. Confused yet?

Skylake is Intel’s new flagship 14nm processor line, replacing Broadwell and Haswell. Per Intel VP Kirk Skaugen, it’s “the best processor we’ve ever done.” In August, Intel took some wraps off of Skylake. As we went to press (9/16/15), many more details of Skylake were revealed at Berlin’s IFA show (not to mention some details made public at Gamescom and at Intel’s Developer Forum in August). And since there’s no embedded roadmap yet—in Intel-speak that’s “IoT Roadmap”—we anticipate more SKUs coming in Q4 2015. Embedded vendors ADLINK and GE Intelligent Platforms had announcements, but not too many details yet.

What’s going on with this launch?

I’m not really sure, but I have a theory. Usually, products follow the Tick (architecture)-Tock (process shrink) model. But the 5th Generation Core products (Broadwell, 14nm) were just launched in Q2 2015, and the 4th Generation Core (Haswell, 22nm) products just started shipping in volume in late 2014/early 2015—less than 12 months ago. It would seem that Broadwell (5th) might have (had?) the shortest Intel CPU life on record.

We know that Intel had process challenges with Haswell’s FinFET (“Tri-gate”) technology, causing a slip and messing up the well-timed Tick-Tock/calendar cadence. As Haswell finally got rolling this year—perhaps up to a year late—Broadwell (5th) still had to launch before Skylake. So it launched (mostly) as planned in Q2. Yet why wasn’t Skylake pushed out to give Broadwell some time in the market?

Two reasons: because Skylake is the processor Intel really wants to succeed; and Intel’s partner Microsoft is pushing an orthogonal market message. Windows 10, now available for free for Windows 8 users, extends the life of older PCs with compelling features and performance improvements experts are praising. (Note: Windows 10 is also extremely optimized for Skylake.)

Yet Intel makes money only when new PCs replace old ones, and Skylake purports some game-changing performance in graphics, security, wireless charging, wireless display and networking, and contextual interaction via Intel’s RealSense™ camera. In a nutshell: Skylake is compelling enough to drive consumers to buy new PCs and laptops.

So Skylake’s launch seems to be a combination of what’s-available-now, plus match-the- Fall-tradeshows, coupled with the hugely important 2015 holiday shopping season. By October, all should be revealed as new end products start to launch—across many more markets than we can cover—and we then plan to bring you up-to-speed on the embedded/IoT roadmap.

For now…have patience as Skylake gets rolling.


ciufo_chrisChris A. Ciufo is editor-in-chief for embedded content at Extension Media, which includes the EECatalog print and digital publications and website, Embedded Intel® Solutions, and other related blogs and embedded channels. He has 29 years of embedded technology experience, and has degrees in electrical engineering, and in materials science, emphasizing solid state physics. He can be reached at cciufo@extensionmedia.com.

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