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Intel Kaby Lake announced as the 7th generation Core processor

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Aimed at laptops and 2-in-1s, these chips bring subtle efficiency and performance improvements

Intel Kaby Lake

Intel’s Skylake processors are getting a mid-generation refresh in the shape of the new Kaby Lake CPUs, launching today under the "7th generation Core" branding. In short, Kaby Lake is a revamp of the 14nm Skylake with a few efficiency and power improvements thrown in. It’s the chip that bridges the gap until the 10nm Cannonlake, which Intel has penciled in for 2017.

Kaby Lake also opens the door for Apple to finally upgrade its MacBook Pro (and maybe even Air) computers, after the Cupertino company opted to skip the Skylake architecture altogether with those models. Microsoft's Surface Book suffered from a number of power management problems relating to Skylake, and other PC manufacturers also had to issue an aberrantly high number of firmware and driver updates for their Skylake machines. Apple's abstinence from those chips could well have been motivated by those very same challenges, which Intel will surely have prioritized to fix with its new generation.

With Kaby Lake, Intel is emphasizing experiences rather than hard specs. Being a second "tock" in Intel’s tick-tock strategy, Kaby Lake isn’t really going to differentiate itself from its predecessor with pure power or stamina improvements, so Intel’s focus is on the kinds of things its new CPUs would let people do. At the top of the list is video: multiple streams of 4K content, 360-degree videos, and virtual and augmented reality applications. Intel wants to be part of delivering all of those to more people, along with functionality like Windows Hello, the facial identification login, which is supported across more laptop models now.

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There are still a couple of measurable advantages to Kaby Lake, though, and those start with efficiency. Intel claims its 7th-gen Core chips are 10 times more efficient — in terms of performance per watt — than the first generation, whereas the 6th-gen family were only 8 times better. Also improved is web performance, by 19 percent in Intel’s benchmarks, along with productivity apps, which clock in at 12 percent faster. These are all best-case scenarios for Intel, and in the real world the Kaby Lake difference is unlikely to be quite so tangible.

There'll be a sub-10mm-thick laptop this year, according to Intel

Intel’s new processor announcements are always a good chance to look ahead to unannounced products, and one of the promises the chipmaker offers is of clamshells (aka laptops) "thinner than 10mm." That’s even less than the scarcely believable HP Spectre 13. With more than 100 new designs from all the various PC manufacturers already in the pipeline for this year, Intel’s Kaby Lake will find itself in many, if not most, of the computers sold this holiday season. It starts off with dual-core mobile chips in the Core M3, Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processor families. Intel says OEMs should start shipping Kaby Lake-powered systems from the start of September and quickly ramp up from there.

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