Kaby, Coffee, Whiskey, Comet? Decoding Intel’s “Lake” Architectures

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Iteration after iteration of Intel processors since 2015, starting with its 6th Generation Core "Skylake" CPUs, have brought us a slew of "lake"-based code names for new CPUs. The latest in this line is the recently leaked Comet Lake Intel processors, expected to arrive later this year.

At a high-level, the order of release (or at least the order of expected release) was Skylake-->Kaby Lake-->Coffee Lake-->Cannon Lake-->Whiskey/Amber Lake, and Comet Lake (unreleased) each effectively based on the Skylake microarchitecture. It isn't an easy task wrapping your head around what's what on the microarchitecture end with all these similar code names, but we're here to help clear that up.

First, let's take a look at some of the details in table form for some clarity, then we'll dive deeper in into Intel's various lakes.

 Base/Turbo Clocks (GHz)
TDP
(Max)
Core/Thread Count (Max inc. HEDT)
Process Node
Appx # of CPUs
(all types)
Year Released
Comet Lake??????10c /20t14++nm
???Later 2019
Whiskey Lake1.6 / 4.625W4c / 8t14++nm58/2018
Amber Lake1.1 / 4.28W2c / 4t14++nm48/2018
Cannon Lake2.2 / 3.215W2c / 4t10nm15/2018
Coffee Lake1.7 / 5.095W6c / 12t14++nm60+10/2017
Kaby Lake1.0 / 4.5112W4c / 8t14+nm80+8/2016
Skylake0.9 / 4.2165W18c / 36t14nm100++8/2015

Skylake


Back in 2015, Intel released their Skylake architecture that succeeded the short run of Broadwell-based CPUs. Skylake was the "tick" in Intel's now-obsolete "Tick-Tock" production model, marking a brand-new architecture change (versus the "tock," which was traditionally a die-shrink of an existing architecture). Skylake CPU's were based on the then-fresh 14nm fabrication process, using familiar i3/i5/i7-6-series branding for the Core models, G45x for Pentium models, and G39x for Celeron CPUs. Core and thread counts ranged from 2-core/2-threads on the Celerons to 4-core/8-threads on the higher-performing SKUs, with clock speeds ranging from 2.2 GHz base clock to 4.2 GHz Turbo. 

A slew of mobile processors under the 6-series naming was also released and defined by the suffix on the end of the model. We saw the flagship mobile processor as an i7-6970HQ with 4-core/8-threads, down to 2-core/2-threads again with Celeron-based processors. Since these are designed for mobile purposes, their TDP and boost speeds are lower than chips from the desktop family. 

On the High-End Desktop (HEDT) platform, first generation Skylake-X chips were branded with Core i7/i9 7-series parts (i9-7980XE was the flagship) with core and thread counts ranging from 6-core/12-threads to 18 cores/36 threads. The Skylake-X platform was updated late in 2018 and bumped up to the i7/i9 9xxx series (the i9-9980XE is the current flagship) with improved base and boost clocks and efficiencies.

Kaby Lake

Kaby Lake was announced in 2016, with its desktop CPUs launched in January of 2017, while OEM/mobile launched earlier in 2016. Kaby Lake is produced using the same 14nm manufacturing process, which broke Intel's tick-tock production model. Architectural changes included increased clock speeds, faster clock speed changes, an improved graphics core, 16 lanes of PCIe 3.0 from the CPU and 24 lanes of PCIe 3.0 from the CPU. This was also the first set of processors to bring with it support for Intel's Optane Memory.

Kaby Lake processors hit the scene using the i3/i5/i7-7xxx naming schemes with the Pentiums now using G46xx and Celeron G39xx. Core counts remained unchanged in this generational bump, though clock speeds ranged from 2.4 GHz to 4.5 GHz. These are increases of 200 Mhz base clock and 300 Mhz for single-core turbo, while fitting into the same 91W TDP. The integrated GPU was also improved and uses the HD 6-series naming offering better performance than the previous 5-series. 

Kaby Lake mobile CPUs made their appearance early in 2017 as well, with their naming scheme now using the i3/i5/i7 7xxx series CPUs along with a couple of Pentium 44xx (the "G" naming was removed) and Celeron and Celeron 3xxx series CPUs. Core counts also remained the same on the mobile side.

For the HEDT platform, Intel surprisingly released the i7-7740X and i7-7640X CPUs, which of course fit in the LGA 2066 socket like its Skylake-X predecessors. Curiously, these CPUs' respective 4-core/8-thread and 4-core/4-thread designs, more akin to mainstream chips, made them an odd choice for "HEDT" which had more recently started at 6-core/12-thread configurations. It seems the market also found these chips less than appealing, and Intel discontinued its Kaby Lake X parts after a little over a year on the market.

Coffee Lake

Coffee Lake CPUs, now i3/i5/i7 8-series based on the 14nm++ (refinement), have been available to the public since Q3 2017. They mate with 300-series chipsets (and are not officially compatible with 100/200 series). These new processors broke form (likely under pressure from AMD's successful Ryzen lineup), with i5 and i7 CPUs now having six cores. The Core i3 CPUs were now four-core CPUs without hyperthreading.

A later Coffee Lake refresh confused things a bit more, with Core i7 competing with AMD Ryzen, going up to 8 cores without Hyperthreading. The Pentium Gold CPUs now sport a 2-core/4-thread setup, with the Celeron filling in the 2-core/2-thread space. Continuing down the rabbit hole, i9 CPUs were introduced on the mainstream platform, bring 8 cores and hyperthreading. There were a lot of changes in the Coffee Lake refresh in regards to established naming conventions. Clock speeds ranged from 1.7 GHz to the sought-after 5 GHz for single-core turbo. While largely the same as previous-gen, the integrated GPU on these chips received a speed bump of 50 Mhz and a rebrand to UHD 630.

Mobile processors under the Coffee Lake family received core count and clock speed boosts as well. The mobile segment also took on the 8-series naming and i3/i5/i7 identifiers, and also added an i9. All core i7 and i9 CPUs here have six cores and 12 threads, save for the Core i7-8559U, a 4-core/6-thread chip with Iris Plus graphics. The i5 mobile side features a mix of 6-core/6-thread models and 4-core/8-thread CPUs. Core i3 mobile drops the dual-core limitation and now uses 2-core/4-thread and 4-core/4-thread designs. 

There's nothing here yet on the HEDT side. 

But Wait, There's More Coffee Lake!

Coffee Lake received a small update on the desktop side in late 2018 when Intel released the 9-series processors. These processors included hardware mitigations against some Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities and included the first mainstream consumer processor to support 128 GB of RAM. The 9 series brings back some sanity to the naming schemes and cores counts too with the i3 delivering 4 cores and 4 threads, i5 stepping up to 6 cores and threads, the i7 toting 8 cores and threads, with the i9 bringing on hyper-threading with 16 threads and 8 cores. Intel also introduced the KF series processors in early 2019, which do not have a functioning integrated GPU. Clock speed ranges for these latest Coffee Lake chips start from 2.9 GHz base to 5 GHz dual core turbo on the i9-99xx CPUs.

Cannon Lake

The Cannon Lake microarchitecture, is a die shrink of Kaby Lake and first on the much-troubled and delayed 10 nm process. This release includes (at the time of this writing) a single CPU SKU, the lonely Core i3-8121U. A mobile processor with a 15W TDP, it's a two core CPU (no hyper-threading) with a base clock of 2.2 GHz and a top clock of 3.2 GHz. The latest word is that large-scale production of Cannon Lake is delayed again, but most signs point to Intel moving forward to other Lakes instead of bringing new Cannon Lake processors to market.

Whiskey Lake

Whiskey Lake processors are the third iteration of the 14nm process, the same as Coffee Lake's 14++nm. These low power mobile processors have increased turbo clocks over Kaby Lake, native USB 3.1 Gen 2 support, as well as integrated 802.11ac 160 Mhz Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 (although the board still requires extra hardware to work). These five SKUs range from dual-core, dual-thread with the Celeron 4205U, dual-core, four-thread in Pentium Gold (5405U) and i3 CPUs, up to four-core, eight-thread chips. Clockspeeds on Whiskey Lake processors range from 1.6 GHz to 4.6 GHz Turbo Boost.

Comet Lake

Comet Lake leaks have hit the web recently in the form of some code/updates to Intel's Linex DRM kernel drive and coreboot, which we covered here. Not a lot of details have been revealed yet, but some scrapings of code suggest it is based off Coffee Lake and is yet another Skylake refresh using the 14nm manufacturing process. Comet Lake-U processors, commonly found in laptops look to have up to 6 cores, while the Comet Lake H/S variants will feature up to 10 cores. Not much else is known about clock speeds or TDPs at this time, but it seems Comet Lake will use the existing Gen9 graphics chip with mentions of both GT1 and GT2 configurations.

As we learn more about Comet Lake as 2019 progresses, you'll of course see more coverage on the subject on these pages, and we'll update this story.