Intel Starts Shipping Seventh-Generation Kaby Lake Processors

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich Wednesday said the company has started shipping its seventh-generation Core microprocessor, dubbed Kaby Lake, to device manufacturer partners.

The CEO told investors during the company’s second-quarter earnings call Wednesday that Intel has ’already started’ to ship Kaby Lake to these partners. The chip, like its predecessor, Skylake, is manufactured on the 14-nanometer transistor process and gives a ’nice performance boost at a good cost structure,’ Krzanich said.

’We're seeing meaningful performance across all of the various SKUs of Kaby Lake relative to [the sixth-generation] Skylake,’ he said on the call. ’One of the things we've learned on 14 nanometers is how to make meaningful performance improvements both in the silicon and then with the silicon combined with the architecture. ... We're able to get the performance and feature enhancements with relatively small silicon increases but good improvement on the raw silicon technology itself.’

[Related: Intel's Mixed Q2 Financials Show Data Center Growth, PC Contraction]

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Kraznich did not disclose any other news about Kaby Lake’s architecture or performance specs on the call, including when it will appear on the market. Intel, however, previously revealed that its seventh-generation chip would improve performance in 3-D graphics and 4K video playback.

Intel also has said that Kaby Lake will add native support for USB 3.1, which is significantly faster than previous versions of USB. Skylake motherboards require a third-party add-on chip to provide USB 3.1 ports.

In addition, Windows 10 will be the only supported Windows platform for Kaby Lake processors, according to Intel.

One Intel system builder partner said he is hopeful that the chip's enhanced performance will help spur PC system upgrades for consumer, enterprise and enthusiast customers.

"Generally, consumers are still waiting for their current PC to [go] out of date, so every advancement gives more users a reason to upgrade to the latest available products ... it's always a win,’ said Randy Copeland, president and CEO of Velocity Micro, a system builder and Intel partner based in Richmond, Va.

Another system builder partner, however, said he was not certain Kaby Lake would have a huge impact on the market at this time.

Jon Bach, president of Puget Systems, a Kent, Wash.-based Intel system builder partner, said he does not yet have access to Kaby Lake chips but doesn’t think the chips will provide any immediate boost to the PC market.

’[Intel has] only launched the low-power mobile end [of Kaby Lake], so it won't be affecting the desktop or enthusiast segments for quite a while,’ Puget Systems' Bach said.

Intel has been shifting its focus to other segments, like data center and the Internet of Things, as the PC market continues to struggle. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company’s Client Computing Group, which addresses the PC market, saw a 3 percent decline in revenue in the second quarter.

Krzanich on the call said he was ’relatively cautious’ about PC market growth in the second half of 2016, as Windows 10 and new processors take time to ’kick in’ and jump-start upgrade cycles.

The CEO forecast high-single-digit growth for the company overall in 2016, with laptops, mobile PCs, 2-in-1s and enthusiast systems being key segments.

’2-in-1 devices specifically are doing very well and continue to grow in double digits,’ he said. And … [for] enthusiast gaming, you saw us also announce the X SKU, which is our new 10-core system that has been selling much, much better than what even we anticipated. And so yes, gaming and enthusiast continues to grow at a double-digit rate.’

Kaby Lake will have the same design as Skylake , representing a break in Intel's "tick-tock" schedule; while the "tick" symbolizes a reproduction in node size, "tock" represents a new architecture.

Although Intel has been utilizing its "tick-tock" schedule since 2007, delays occurred last year as its 14-nanometer Broadwell chips were pushed behind schedule, as chips become smaller and more difficult to manufacture in a hyper-competitive semiconductor industry.