Over the past six weeks, AMD’s Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 CPUs have been making Intel’s life a bit difficult. Chipzilla’s standard desktop lineup has been rattled by AMD’s new chips, which offer higher core counts and better performance in many workloads for significantly less money. Intel, of course, was never going to take this lying down — and new rumors suggest the company will accelerate the launch of its Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X CPUs, pulling them forward to a June Computex unveiling as opposed to the original August timeline. Meanwhile, Intel will reportedly launch its Coffee Lake refresh in August of this year rather than waiting until January 2018.
There’ve been a number of rumors about Intel’s shifting product timelines, but whether this reflects Intel’s own plans or ordinary rumormongering isn’t clear. Defining some terms may therefore be helpful.
Skylake-X: Skylake-X is the ‘normal’ CPU update we’d expect Intel to launch as part of an HEDT (High End Desktop) refresh cycle. The current 6xxx HEDT chips are built on Broadwell and support the older X99 chipset, which first debuted in 2014. Skylake-X will supposedly be available in 6, 8, and 10-core flavors.
Kaby Lake-X: Kaby Lake-X’s exact features and capabilities are somewhat unclear. Rumor suggests it’s a four-core CPU + integrated graphics capable of running on the X299 platform. While it’s normal for Intel to offer lower core counts as part of the HEDT product stack, this would be the first time Chipzilla has offered a quad-core with graphics and the first time it split the HEDT lineup with introductions based on two different cores. How the Kaby Lake-X would differentiate itself from the X270 variant is unknown, but rumors of a 112W TDP suggest higher CPU clock speeds at a minimum.
Basin Falls: Basin Falls is (supposedly) the codename for the new X299 chipset and the Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X processors based on it. The image below, originally by BenchLife, claims to show the standard platform — but the diagram makes the Kaby Lake-X look like a complete waste of a product, given that it’s limited to two channels of DDR4 and just 16 lanes of PCIe 3.0.
Coffee Lake:Coffee Lake is a refinement of Intel’s 14nm+ process (14nm++). It’s expected to deliver marginal performance improvements, possibly similar to the ones Intel gained from Kaby Lake. Practically, this would seem to point to a few percentage points more clock speed. This would likely be along the lines of a 4.4GHz base clock with a 4.6 – 4.7GHz Turbo, as opposed to a 4.2GHz base and 4.5GHz Turbo like the Core i7-7700K features. It’s also rumored Intel’s Coffee Lake chips will include more cores, giving the company a six-core ordinary desktop part for the first time ever.
When you put all these rumors together, they suggest Intel will pull in its high-end launches, offer some new SKUs, and possibly push six-core chips into the desktop space. How it all fits together is something of a mystery, however — why would Intel launch six-core chips on X299, then on regular desktops two months later? Why buy a Kaby Lake-X at all? Is there some group of HEDT customers who are dying to buy Intel’s most expensive consumer platform, then equip it with a CPU with entry-level graphics and no ability to make any use of the X299’s major features over the X270 chipset?
Maybe there are, or maybe these rumors are missing some details. Either way, we’ll know soon.