Processor families and release dates

The current release schedule for Intel desktop and laptop processors

18 January 2017

Intel has a release cycle for its processors, below is a summary of the chips available now and in the future.

Current desktop processors                 Current Mobile Atom Processors

Sandy Bridge Bay Trail (Available)
Haswell Braswell (Available)
Broadwell (Available) Apollo Lake (Available soon)
SkyLake (Available) Gemini Lake (Q4 2017)
KabyLake (Q2 2017)  
Coffee Lake (Q2 2017)  
Cannon Lake (Q4 2017)  
Ice Lake (2018)  

The current generation of processors is SKY Lake, Kaby lake should be available Q2 2017 for the Atom based low power units the current generation is Apollo Lake with Gemini Lake due the middle of 2017. Whilst Kaby Lake is an optimised version of the Skylake chip set, one thing to watch is Windows 7 support. KABY LAKE currently does NOT support Windows 7 so be careful if designing systems around Win7.

Kaby Lake is more than just an incremental improvement on an existing design. It comes with a whole lot more features than currently available. So, what’s changed?

For starters, it comes with native support for USB 3.1, which is significantly faster than previous versions of the USB standard. Previously, if you wanted to use USB 3.1, you had to have a third-party add-on chip installed.

It also comes with support for HDCP 2.2 (High-Bandwidth Digital Copy Protection). This is a DRM package used to ensure that digital content isn’t intercepted between the source and the display. Although DRM remains hugely unpopular, HDCP is required to rent movies on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video, among other sites.

Kaby Lake will also support Intel’s new and exciting Optane storage technology, which looks poised to utterly revolutionize the world of solid state drives. Although it doesn’t offer that much in terms of increased storage — SSDs are still much smaller than HDDs — it does come with some significant performance advantages.

That’s to say nothing about the inevitable performance upgrades and increased power efficiency. I think we’ll see much of this in terms of its ability to handle graphics intensive applications. Ever since the heady days of the first Intel Core 2 processor, Intel has dedicated more and more space on their chips to graphics processing. Kaby Lake promises to be no exception.

Overall, we can expect these new chips to shine when Ultra HD 4K becomes mainstream. As early as 2014, Intel was promising that these chips would come with native support for decoding HVEC content, which is especially exciting when you consider that Kaby Lake also supports Thunderbolt 3, which can power as many as two 4K displays simultaneously.

Is Kaby Lake compelling enough that you should purchase a new CPU or computer?

I don’t think so. There’s not a huge amount to distinguish between Sky Lake and Kaby Lake. The manufacturing process is the same, as is the microarchitecture. Plus, it severely limits your ability to choose the right version of Windows for you, at least at this time.

The improved graphics performance is welcome, as is the ability to better handle 4K video. Its native support for USB 3.1 is a huge bonus, as will be the support for Intel Optane SSDs when they finally hit the market later this year. But is that enough of a reason to upgrade? I’m not sure. Probably not.