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Intel CPU Roadmap: All the "lakes" from 14nm to 7nm

Intel CPU Roadmap: All the “lakes” from 14nm to 7nm

Intel CPU Roadmap: All the “lakes” from 14nm to 7nm

Keeping track of everything going on in the technological world can be difficult. Take the CPU as an example. Even if you’re religiously following news about the best gaming CPUs, keeping track of Intel’s dozens of platforms and product codenames can be difficult, especially if new names keep popping up on leaked roadmaps. To the uninitiated, these codenames can be confusing and mysterious, so I put together this CPU codename cheat sheet.

I’m going to include all past and present “Lake” processors in Intel’s offerings – although I skip most server-specific designs like Cascade Lake, and Atom-derived designs (N/E/M/ Z-series processors) because they’re not really for PC gaming enthusiasts. Then, here’s a not-so-brief overview sorted by release date.

Intel Kaby Lake wafer, image courtesy of Intel

Intel CPU “Lake” series to date: 6th to 9th generation

Skylake (SKL, 14nm, 6th Gen Core, Aug 2015): The first of “Lake” CPUs, Skylake was a major CPU architectural overhaul. Intel moved from a 4-wide design (that is, fetching, decoding, and executing up to 4 instructions per clock cycle) to a 6-wide design. This is the second of Intel’s 14nm CPUs – the “tock” of Broadwell’s “tick”, although Intel dropped the tick-tock shortly after. Desktop and mobile variants are 2-core or 4-core, with and without hyperthreading (aka SMT, symmetric multithreading), depending on the series. Skylake also serves as the introduction to Intel’s Gen9 graphics technology, with improved performance and features.

[Larger Skylake-X variants (socket LGA2066) were introduced in 2017 and range from 6-core/12-thread to 18-core/36-thread designs, and these are part of the 7th Gen or 9th Gen Core families. And that’s the last I’ll say about HEDT (high-end desktop) for this article.]

Kaby Lake (KBL, 14nm+, 7th Gen Core, Aug 2016): Kaby Lake represents the official end of Tick-Tock, although technically Devil’s Canyon (optimized 22nm 4th Gen Haswell) has screwed things up. Fundamentally, Kaby Lake has the same architecture as Skylake, but with an improved manufacturing process – hence the “+” on 14nm+. These changes include modified fin profiles and strained silicon, as well as manufacturing improvements that naturally occur as the process matures.

The desktop and mobile versions have the same 2-core and 4-core designs as the SKL, and for the first time a Pentium-branded CPU has hyperthreading enabled (I don’t count the original Pentium 4 hyperthreading). Kaby Lake also updated the graphics core to Gen9.5, and the main change involves support for 4K HEVC/VP9 video decoding.

A close-up of the Intel Coffee Lake wafer.

Coffee Lake (CFL, 14nm++, 8th Gen Core, October 2017): Coffee Lake wasn’t on Intel’s original roadmap — it was likely introduced to counter AMD’s Zen architecture, which promises up to 8-core/16-thread designs at mainstream prices. Coffee Lake also marks the end of Intel’s “Process-Architecture-Optimization” initiative, as it represents the second optimization phase. CFL retains Gen9.5 graphics.

14nm++ increases transistor gate pitch for lower current density and higher leakage transistors. This in turn allows for higher frequencies despite larger die size and increased idle power usage. The biggest change is the mainstream desktop 6-core/12-thread design for the Core i7, 6-core/6-thread for the Core i5, and 4-core/4-thread for the Core i3. The mobile model is also equipped with a 6-core 45W CPU for the first time.

Cannon Lake (CNL, 10nm, 8th Gen Core, May 2018): Ah yes, the short-lived Cannon Lake, Intel’s first 10nm processor design.have so There’s a lot to say about this, so bear with me.

Originally scheduled to launch in 2016, first shown in 2017, and first shipped in 2017 Very With limited numbers in May 2018, there were more than a few issues with Cannon Lake. Intel’s Cannon Lake page (linked from the Core i3-8121U, the only Cannon Lake CPU as far as we know) doesn’t even exist. But actually the CPU did ship, dare you say otherwise! (This puts CNL one step ahead of Tejas, the last iteration of NetBurst, which was dug up and then never saw the light of day.)

Intel’s Stacy Smith holding a Cannon Lake wafer in 2017, image courtesy of Intel

How bad was Intel’s first attempt at 10nm? The company downplayed the problem, but let’s look at the facts. Intel released a 2-core/4-thread “mobile” design with the GPU portion of the chip disabled. It’s common for new process nodes to start with smaller chips, but it’s important to disable the integrated GPU in mobile products. It may be necessary to increase the number of feature chips available to Intel, which suggests very low yields. Even so, performance and power don’t look great.

Cannon Lake does include AVX512 instruction support, which can help in some specific cases, but basically everything else is bad. Power consumption, memory latency and other factors are worse than existing 14nm mobile designs. In retrospect, the difficulties posed by all the enhancements that were originally crammed into Intel’s 10nm process far outweighed the potential benefits. Cannon Lake was also supposed to launch with Gen10 Intel graphics, but with the GPU disabled, Gen10 effectively turned into Steam software.

Whiskey Lake (WHL, 14nm++, 8th Gen Core, Aug 2018): Whiskey Lake is a lesser-known fork in Intel’s CPU mainline, appearing around the same time as Coffee Lake Refresh, but with a focus on mobile CPUs. It includes the same Meltdown/Spectre hardware mitigations (many of which are still done in firmware). There are only a handful of Whiskey Lake processors, mainly including 4-core/8-thread i5 and i7 models, as well as 2-core/4-thread Core i3 and Pentium, and a 2-core/2-thread Celeron.

Intel Coffee Lake Refresh and 8-core i9-9900K

Coffee Lake Refresh (CFL-R, 14nm++, 9th Gen Core, October 2018): If the first Coffee Lake part doesn’t end “Process-Architecture-Optimization”, then the update will definitely end. Still using the same 14nm++ process, the 9th Gen Core CPUs add the Core i9 branding and the 8-core/16-thread i9-9900K, as well as higher boost clocks – up to 5GHz for the first time on an Intel CPU. Coffee Lake Refresh also adds certain hardware mitigations for the Meltdown/Spectre vulnerability.

That’s where Intel is today, with more 9th Gen Core models on the way, including the first 8-core 45W laptop part – capable of 5.0GHz turbo clocks on top models as well. Again, it’s worth pointing out that Intel is currently rolling out its fifth-generation mainstream 14nm products (Broadwell, Skylake, Kaby Lake, Coffee Lake, and CFL-R).

Intel’s Upcoming and Future Designs: 10th Gen and Beyond

From now on, all eyes are on the upcoming CPUs. Plans may change, and the farther we go, the less reliable any data is. The crystal ball always seems to be cloudy.

Intel’s Gregory Bryan holds an Ice Lake chip at CES 2019, image courtesy of Intel

Ice Lake (ICL, 10nm+, 10th Gen Core, 2019/2020): After Cannon Lake and its first 10nm process technology blunder, Intel hit the reset button — which is why it got a plus. Ice Lake will mass-produce 10nm+ and is likely to be the successor to Coffee Lake, Whiskey Lake and Cannon Lake. We briefly discussed some leaked data regarding the 10th Gen CPU name, Ice Lake is currently scheduled to launch on mobile platforms first, even this year. However, it is not mentioned in the current Ice Lake desktop implementation roadmap, although Ice Lake for servers has been discussed before.

At the heart of Ice Lake is the new Sunny Cove microarchitecture, with 2-core and 4-core mobile designs. This would make the ICL more of a true successor to the current WHL than the CFL. Ice Lake will also feature Gen11 graphics and will feature a standard 64 EU design, making it Intel’s first TFLOPS-class GPU. Ice Lake may also see the introduction of PCIe Gen4 support, although this was initially listed as a server feature, so it may or may not make its way to mobile chips.

Intel Comet Lake with 14nm torch after Coffee Lake Refresh

Comet Lake (CML, 14nm++, Core 10th Gen, 2020): This is a new addition to Intel’s client CPU roadmap (thanks Tom for the hardware), and apparently we’re ready to go back to Intel’s 14nm++ again (or is it 14nm++++ now? I seem to be lost). This would represent Intel’s fifth “optimization” pass for 14nm (unless you combine CFL and CFL-R under one refresh).Needless to say, this does not boost confidence in Intel’s 10nm process, as Comet Lake appears to be tasked with updating Intel’s mainstream desktop platforms Next year. Oops.

Similar to how CFL-R adds two cores to Coffee Lake, the latest leaks show Comet Lake expanding Intel’s mainstream CPUs to include designs with up to 10 cores/20 threads. This may be necessary if Intel wants to avoid competition from AMD’s upcoming Ryzen 3000 parts, which are shipping 16-core/32-thread parts into socket AM4. However, even as Comet Lake boosted core count and performance to keep pace with AMD, it arrived 6 months too late.

Whether Comet Lake will work on existing LGA1151 300-series chipset motherboards or will require a new platform is unclear. Comet Lake will also be used for H/U/Y series (2/4/6 core) mobile parts.

Tiger Lake (TGL, 10nm++, 11th Gen Core?, 2020?): The successor to Ice Lake is Tiger Lake, which is scheduled to use Intel’s third-generation 10nm process. Little is known about the architecture other than the initial planned migration to Gen12 graphics. Depending on what happens to the ICL, the TGL may be moved forward or it may be pushed back. Intel’s forays into higher-performance graphics parts in 2020 could also impact future GPU designs.

Image courtesy of Pexels.com

Rocket Lake (RCL, 14nm++++?, 11th Gen Core?, 2021?): Another recent addition to some roadmaps is Rocket Lake, which trotted 14nm in round seven. Yes, seven: BDW, SKL, KBL, CFL, CFL-R, CML, and now RCL. Rocket Lake hasn’t been on many roadmaps yet, and all sources seem to point to alleged slide leaks from Tweakers and Dell. It’s on the “commercial” roadmap, so it’s likely a specific business implementation of Comet Lake, not a new design. I wouldn’t put too much stock on its existence, as it seems ridiculous to release a new 14nm design in 2021. Again, weird things happened (*cough* Cannon Lake *cough*).

Alder Lake (ADL, 10nm?, Gen 12?, 2021?): We are now plunged into the deep unknown, and all we have now are basic codenames. According to some rumors and leaks, Tiger Lake is followed by Alder Lake. At least two years away, possibly representing the fourth iteration of 10nm, and little else is known.

Meteor Lake (MTL, 7nm, 13th Gen?, 2022?): Last but not least, plans for Intel’s first-generation 7nm parts already exist, at least on paper and in name. That part will be called Meteor Lake and will launch in 2022. Unless things change, it’s entirely possible from Cannon Lake and the 10nm transition.

Keep in mind that while AMD (TSMC) is already making 7nm parts, the physics of TSMC’s 7nm process seems to be more in line with Intel’s 10nm plans, so Intel isn’t necessarily three years behind.Even so, it is a huge Intel was effectively three years ahead of the process technology competition when 22nm was introduced.

Intel Lakefield prototype, image courtesy of Intel

That’s what Intel’s Lake processors are — or at least all major desktop and mobile versions. I skipped low-performance, low-power designs like Apollo Lake, Gemini Lak, Lakefield, Skyhawk Lake, and Elkhart Lake, as well as server-only designs. Even without those, Intel still has a dozen different CPU lakes for you to swim in.

Perhaps even more shocking is that most of the five generations of Intel CPUs are covered by a single process technology: 14nm. Digging into the details of the various process technologies is…

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Wilbert Wood
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