Intel's 'Kaby Lake' chip starts strong as Intel retools its PC strategy

Intel says 400 devices will ship with the 7th Generation Core processors.

Compal 2-in-1 with Kaby Lake.

Compal 2-in-1 with a 7th Generation Core processor code-named Kaby Lake shown during a keynote at Computex on May 31, 2016.

Credit: Agam Shah

Intel's upcoming 7th Generation Core processor family, code-named Kaby Lake, is off to a quick start.

More than 400 devices with Intel's upcoming chip design will reach the market, said Navin Shenoy, corporate vice president and general manager for Intel's Client Computing Group.

One of those devices will be Asus' Surface-like Transformer 3, which will ship in the third quarter starting at US$799. The device has a 12.6-inch screen that displays images at a resolution of 2880 x 1920 pixels. It weighs 695 grams and is 6.9 millimeters thick. The device has a 13-megapixel camera, and it can be configured with a 512GB SSD and up to 8GB RAM.

Shenoy, speaking during a keynote at the Computex trade show in Taipei, also showed a 2-in-1 made by Compal during the keynote. It's not clear if the first Kaby Lake chips to reach PCs will be low-power Core M or the faster Core i chips.

Other PC makers will also announce Kaby Lake devices, though it's not clear when.

Devices with Kaby Lake will include Thunderbolt 3, IR cameras for Windows Hello, and the latest graphics technologies to handle 4K content, Shenoy said. He didn't share more information about Kaby Lake, however, and Intel declined to provide additional chip details.

Kaby Lake will succeed the current crop of 6th Generation Core processors code-named Skylake. The processor design has the underpinnings of Skylake, but should have better graphics, power management, and integration of I/O technologies.

The look ahead to Kaby Lake comes as Intel retools its PC strategy to be in line with the realities of today's PC market. Intel will focus on a handful of distinct markets, primarily 2-in-1s and gaming and enthusiast PCs, with sales growing in an otherwise slumping PC market. The company will also continue to focus on mini-PCs like NUC desktops, Shenoy said.

At the same time, Intel is restructuring operations to shed its long-time reliance on PCs to focus on growth areas like the Internet of Things, cloud computing, data-center hardware, communications technology, and memory. Intel in April said it would lay off up to 12,000 employees worldwide and would cut products it deemed unprofitable or irrelevant. Some Atom chips for mobile phones are already on the chopping block.

Shenoy reiterated the company's commitment to PCs, saying computer designs are constantly changing with emerging applications like virtual reality.

The addition of Kaby Lake to Intel's chip lineup last year was unexpected and broke Intel's tradition of making two Core chip designs with every manufacturing process. It is the third Core chip design on the 14-nanometer process after Broadwell and Skylake and was added after manufacturing issues caused Intel to delay a move to the 10-nm process. Kaby Lake continues Intel's tradition of delivering yearly chip upgrades.

The successor to Kaby Lake is a chip code-named Cannonlake, which will be made using the 10-nm process and be available for PCs in the second half of 2017.

Intel later this year will also ship processors code-named Apollo Lake for entry-level PCs and tablets. The chips will sell under the Pentium and Celeron brands.

Competition to Kaby Lake will come from AMD's processors based on the Zen CPU architecture, which will first gaming systems later this year, and to mainstream laptops and desktops next year. AMD has focused on improving raw CPU performance in the Zen-based chips.

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