avatarby Edgar CervantesAugust 31, 20160 comments

Kaby Lake

Intel’s new 7th generation “Kaby Lake” processors have been anticipated for quite some time now, but recently they’ve finally came to fruition. And boy are we seeing them everywhere at IFA 2016 this year.

The new chips are using the same 14nm process as their Skylake predecessors, but offer new features and improvements which help to target future and upcoming technologies. With the new chips, Intel is touting better power efficiency, faster speeds, and much better support for 4k video encoding and gaming. From a strict refresh improvement standpoint, the new chips deliver even better than expected, displaying over 8% better performance than the previous generation.

Along with the new software support comes new I/O support and improvements as well. Kaby Lake is bringing native support for the new Thunderbolt 3 connection, which combines both data and video to enable a number of uses from the port. Through the connection, users can charge devices, transfer data, and even extend their displays, all from one port. In addition, Thunderbolt 3 devices can also be daisy chained together to perform multiple processes at once, meaning less ports and even thinner devices.

Thunderbolt can also transfer graphics data at insanely high rates. As companies such as Razer have shown, it is now possible to attach full desktop GPU’s to thin and light ultrabooks, giving users graphics power when they need it, and the portability of an ultrabook when they don’t. Though Razer is currently one of the only companies offering this external GPU solution, the native support of Thunderbolt 3 in new Kaby Lake laptops provides a strong foundation for other companies to create their own external solutions, helping to bridge the performance gap between laptops and desktops. Again, something we are seeing more of at IFA.

Better 4k video playback also means big things for virtual reality support. Though most VR environments are rendered by the systems graphics processor, video playback is rapidly becoming a popular option for VR media. Although many of the current generation virtual reality options only play back media at 2k resolution, we are still in the very early stages of virtual reality as a media consumption platform. It would not be surprising at all to see 4k HMD solutions coming from the likes of HTC and Oculus in the coming years, so iterating on this playback technology is necessary to advance the industry.

Certain titles such as Cities: Skylines are also extremely CPU intensive, doing much more calculation-based processing than graphical computation. Assuming developers create games of a similar caliber for virtual reality, we could see a need for faster, more powerful CPUs. Though Kaby Lake is technically a “Tock” in Intel’s new “Tick-Tock-Tock” node shrink cycle, the improvements brought by the 7th generation processors look to be perfect for the new platform, and we can hope the company continues to iterate on these new optimizations in further releases.

Kaby Lake is available in a number of laptops and ultrabooks starting today, and should roll out in new laptop releases throughout the year. If you were looking to take advantage of these new optimizations in your desktop, you’ll have to wait until January for Intel to release those variants. These will also require a new motherboard chipset, so start planning now if you were looking to make the switch.

Excited for the new release? It’s an incredible time for computing, and we’re looking forward to see how much Kaby Lake improves our virtual reality experiences.