Intel Announces 8th Generation Core Processors for Notebooks

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Although it’s only been about a year since Intel announced its 7th generation Core processors, the company has just taken the wraps off its brand new 8th generation Core chips. The first batch of these processors is notebook-bound, with availability expected to start this September. Desktop 8th generation Core chips will arrive later in the fall, with enterprise and purpose-built segments following later in 2017 and into early 2018.

Let’s take a look at what Intel is saying about its 8th generation Core chips, and what it means for you if you’re shopping for a new notebook.

Intel 8th Generation Core U-Series Processors

This first batch of 8th generation Core processors for notebooks will be “U”-series 15-watt parts, a popular thermal profile amongst notebook makers. (The majority of mainstream consumer and business notebooks we receive for review have Intel 15-watt processors; the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (2017) is a prime example.) But that’s not news, as Intel has had a “U”-series product line for years.

The big news with the “U”-series this time around is that the ones announced so far have four processing cores, up twofold from the previous generation. In addition, these new quad-core chips also support Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology, which allows each core to process up to two threads simultaneously. With four processing cores, the processor can handle up to eight threads at once. The previous-generation “U”-series parts were dual-core; even with Hyper-Threading support, they could only handle four threads simultaneously. Doubling the number of cores and threads is probably the main reason why Intel says these 8th generation chips are 40 percent faster than the outgoing generation. That’s a nearly unprecedented leap from generation to generation. We’ll have to see how the numbers pan out once we start getting in review units.

4K Video and Better Battery Life

One of the major advantages Intel is touting with this generation is improved 4K video playback performance. Although we didn’t have problems with 4K video playback on the 7th generation Core processors (or the 6th generation, for that matter), watching something in 4K while on battery had a tendency to lead to short battery life. This time around, Intel says the improved power efficiency of the 8th generation parts allows “up to 10 hours” of local 4K video playback on a single charge. That’s definitely a claim we’ll have to put to the test, but it’s an impressive claim nonetheless.

Either way, it appears the integrated graphics processor (IGP) built into the 8th generation Core chips is the same as it was in the 7th generation chips. Intel has made no announcements regarding improvements in that area. In short, you still won’t be able to play the latest Call of Duty on your IGP, but older titles from the mid- to late-2000s ought to work fine.

(If you’re looking for a gaming notebook, especially one for 4K, take a look at our feature: What to Look for in a VR-Ready Notebook)

Technical Specifications: 8th Generation Core U-Series Processors

For the techies and not-so-techies out there, it’s worth a look to see what the differences are between the 8th generation Core processor parts. Intel has so far announced these four models, listed left to right from least to most powerful.

 

Core i5-8250U

Core i5-8350U

Core i7-8550U

Core i7-8650U

Base Frequency

1.6GHz

1.7GHz

1.8GHz

1.9GHz

Max. Turbo Boost Frequency

3.4GHz

3.6GHz

4.0GHz

4.2GHz

Cache

6MB

6MB

8MB

8MB

Intel vPro Supported?

No

Yes

No

Yes

As we’ve seen with previous generations, there don’t appear to be a whole lot of technical differences between the Core i5 and the Core i7 lines of the “U”-series processor chips. The specifications we listed here are the only notable differences between them that we could find on Intel’s product pages. Here are some of the things they all have in common:

  • 14nm fabrication
  • Up to 32GB of memory support (DDR4-2400 or LPDDR3-2133, up to two channels)
  • Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics with shared memory
  • 12 PCI Express lanes (maximum)

Something that may have caught your eye is the relatively low base frequencies for these processors. The Core i5-8250U, for example, runs at just 1.6GHz. Compare that to the 7th generation Core i5-7200U, which ran at 2.5GHz. The latter is just a dual-core processor, however, while the Core i5-8250U has four cores. Given both processors occupy a 15-watt thermal footprint, it seems logical that more cores would have to each run at a lower frequency than if there were less cores.

The Turbo Boost clocks for the 8th generation Core processors, however, are very impressive, so don’t let the low base clocks fool you. The Core i5-7200U could get to 3.1GHz, whereas the Core i5-8250U can reach 3.4GHz. That’s a good indicator the clockspeeds of these new chips can vary wildly depending on what they’re doing. Much of the chip’s ability to engage the Turbo Boost clock is related to how hot it’s running. We expect there to be variations in performance from notebook to notebook, even if the notebooks have the same processor model. The notebooks with better cooling will undoubtedly have an advantage. 

Conclusion

We think it’d be crazy not to look at these new Intel 8th generation Core chips with a smile. Doubling the number of processing cores in the mainstream 15-watt parts is an advantage, especially as apps become more multi-threaded. It should translate to a smoother computing experience. We’ll have to wait and see regarding Intel’s battery life claims.

In the meantime, if you’re shopping for a new notebook and can wait a month or two, we’d advise you to do that. There’s always the possibility of finding a notebook with a 7th generation Core processor on sale, and if you took advantage, we wouldn’t blame you. The fact is, we’ve been in the age of “good enough” computing for several years now. The notebook we’re typing this on is half a decade old, and still works perfectly find for our basic workloads. When it comes to technology buying, however, you’re generally best served by buying the best that’s available at the time of purchase. Intel says there should be “up to 145 designs to choose from” starting in September, and that’s not far off.

If you’re looking for expert notebook buying advice, take a look at our feature: What to Look for When Buying a Notebook. And don’t forget to check out the NotebookReview forums!


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