A leak has given us our first look at what we might see from Intel’s upcoming 9th generation of desktop CPUs, and unfortunately it looks like these might not be the models to finally make the jump to a 10nm fabrication process.
These jumps matter because making the chip’s components smaller allows more to be packed into the same space, and hence leads to big performance increases.
Intel historically has worked with what it’s called a ‘tick-tock’ model. The first generational leap would see a ‘die shrink’ (aka a shrinking of the process technology), before the second followed with a ‘tock’ or a smaller update to the microarchitecture.
However recently this tick-tock process has slowed. Intel ‘ticked’ down to its 14nm Broadwell with the 5th generation of its CPUs, and it’s been stuck at 14nm ever since.
There were hopes that the 9th generation of its CPUs might finally see it ‘tick’ down to 10nm, but this leak (via RockPaperShotgun) seems to suggest they’ll be produced using the existing 14nm ‘Coffee Lake’ architecture.
Specifically we’re looking at the following CPUs:
- Intel Core i5-9600K (6 cores, 6 threads, 3.7GHz / 4.5GHz Turbo, 95W TDP)
- Intel Core i5-9600 (6 cores, 6 threads, 3.1GHz / 4.3GHz Turbo, 65W TDP)
- Intel Core i5-9500 (6 cores, 6 threads, 3.0GHz / 4.1GHz Turbo, 65W TDP)
- Intel Core i5-9400 (6 cores, 6 threads, 2.9GHz / 4.1GHz Turbo, 65W TDP)
- Intel Core i3-9100 (4 cores, 4 threads, 3.7GHz, 65W TDP)
- Intel Core i3-9000 (4 cores, 4 threads, 3.7GHz, 65W TDP)
If true, that means we’re looking at a clock-speed boost of only around 100-200MHz, which is unlikely to matter too much to today’s GPU-based games.
Meanwhile, AMD’s Ryzen chips are going from strength to strength. The latest Ryzen 2 CPUs (such as the Ryzen 7 2700X and Ryzen 5 2400G) were a big step up, but their single-threaded performance means Intel still has the gaming advantage for now. If Intel’s 9th generation of chips is as incremental as these rumours suggest, then AMD could be in a position to overtake the company sooner rather than later.
That said, with no mention of the specs of the high-end i7 line of CPUs, there’s always a chance that it’s here we might see the large increases in specs that we’d hope for.
So where’s Cannon Lake?
Cannon Lake is the codename Intel currently has earmarked for its first generation of 10nm CPUs, but recent rumours around this dye shrink have been confusing to say the very least.
In fact, the first Cannon Lake CPUs appear to already be out in the wild, with Ars Technica reporting that the Lenovo IdeaPad 330 (so far an exclusive to China) is the first recipient of the new chip.
Confusingly, the laptop’s chip is still labelled an 8th generation CPU though, which makes the entire situation even more confusing.
While leaks like these normally add up over time to build up a solid picture of what we should expect, almost the exact opposite is happening when it comes to Intel’s upcoming CPUs. We know that a 9th generation is coming at some point, but aside from that it’s all much more up in the air.