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Intel Skylake: Analysts say what's good and what's not

Posted: 20 Aug 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Intel  Skylake  image processor  sensor  smartphone 

Skylake has been officially released and now analysts are expressing their opinions regarding Intel's next-generation 14nm SoC. They highlighted several improvements but noted only a few performance metrics have emerged to date for the architecture.

At a high level, Skylake looks a lot like a Qualcomm Snapdragon or Apple A-series SoC. It's Intel's first SoC to integrate an image processor and a sensor hub, blocks that have long been staples of smartphone SoCs. Skylake also supports mobile friendly peripherals such as eMMC and UFS memory, and as with its mobile competitors, power efficiency was a top design concern.

Among its differentiators, Skylake includes two new security enhancements. The SoC controls via hardware its power states, a move multiple analysts praised. It also is Intel's first chip to use eDRAM as a flexible side cache outside the coherent memory domain.

Skylake is Intel's first chip to include separate x86 client and server cores. The design will span the waterfront from 4W tablets to 90W servers. Intel has yet to reveal details of the server versions including some unique execution units they will use and why they apparently no longer support 130W systems.

Skylake

Intel's Skylake follows in the footsteps of smartphone SoCs with its image processor, sensor hub and mobile peripheral support.

In terms of performance, the chip can load as many as six instructions per cycle. Overclocking enhancements have driven early quad-core versions of Skylake to 6.8GHz using liquid nitrogen. Most Skylake products won't ship until later this year, so specs and benchmarks are scarce.

"We haven't seen the double-digit performance we would expect from a new architecture so far from what I've seen, not across the board from all the benchmarks," said Jim McGregor, principal of Tirias Research. "I don't think this is enough to drive gamers to a new platform," he said.

Nevertheless, Intel did run Skylake in several high-performance demos in a keynote here and on the show floor. One showed it driving an arcade-style racing simulator with three displays, four motion actuators in a chair and a RealSense camera adjusting displays based on real-time 3D head tracking.

Skylake's high-end configuration should deliver a 50 per cent improvement in graphics over the current top of the line, said David Blythe, director of graphics architecture at Intel. Theoretically the block delivers up to 1,152 GFlops compared to 768 GFlops for today's Broadwell graphics, he said.

The graphics block also includes additional hardware support for decode and encode that will help lower power for media processing. In addition, it has new features for graphics computing and can tackle some processing jobs on raw camera data.

Julius Mandelblat

Lead Skylake designer Julius Mandelblat answered questions at IDF.

In its five-year development cycle, "this product passed through at least two revolutions" to now cover products with a 20-fold span in power consumption and a four-fold range in system form factors, said Julius Mandelblat, senior principal engineer on Skylake.

"I don't think any of us would have believed it if we were told that five years ago," he said.

Ironically, the client version seems best suited for a high-end tablet such as a Microsoft Surface Pro, said analyst David Kanter of Real World Technologies. That's a market that was super-hot five years ago but is in decline today.

In the more evergreen area of security, new instructions will let users open trusted memory regions called enclaves that can include data, code or both. The feature can be used with Windows or a hypervisor. Other instructions will help prevent buffer memory overflows, a long common attack technique.

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