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At some point later this year, Intel will launch their Kaby Lake family of processors. The full specifications of these chips haven’t been released yet.

What we do know is a result of the few meager announcements made by Intel, plus some internal documents that have surreptitiously found their way into the waiting arms of the technology press. We don’t know the full details of Kaby Lake, yet people are already talking about it.

Why? Because it’s an aberration. On one hand, very little has changed from the Skylake family of chips that proceeded it. However, it also has some radical differences that will get people foaming at the mouth. So, what makes Kaby Lake different? And should you upgrade? It depends.

1. It Won’t Support Windows 7

Microsoft is scared.

Windows 7 has the potential to be another one of their products that is so beloved that its users refuse to let it die. It still has a die-hard following of users who refuse to upgrade, despite Microsoft dangling a carrot in their faces in the form of a free upgrade to Windows 10.

It’s not just home users, either. Business users depend on Windows 7 and are reluctant to leave it behind, especially as many custom-made and business-oriented applications can’t run on newer versions of Windows.

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Sounds familiar? It should.

Windows7 (2)

Windows XP was finally discontinued in 2014, long after it was first released, and after repeated tries from Microsoft to discontinue it. Ironically, Microsoft was essentially a victim of its own success. They built a product that was so beloved, people refused to upgrade.

Worse, users expected Microsoft to continue to support it with patches, service packs, and updates even long after it stopped making Microsoft money.

Rather than repeat history, Microsoft is expediting things a little bit. They’ve already discontinued sales of Windows 7 Microsoft Retires Windows 7: This Is How You Can Still Get A Copy Microsoft Retires Windows 7: This Is How You Can Still Get A Copy Windows 7 Home and Ultimate editions have been retired. If you want to get a computer without Windows 8.1, your options are limited. We have compiled them for you. Read More , have ended support for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 on current generation hardware, and the next generation of Intel processors will refuse to run it entirely Why Windows 7 Won't Work On Intel's Current & Next Gen CPUs Why Windows 7 Won't Work On Intel's Current & Next Gen CPUs Microsoft doesn't want you to use old Windows versions on new hardware. Users on Intel Skylake processors won't receive updates for Windows 7 after July 2017. And next generation processors will be Windows 10 only. Read More .

By 2017, Microsoft will cease to issue performance and security updates for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 on Skylake — and this is way before Microsoft officially discontinues Windows 7 in 2020.

Upgrade-to-Windows-10-now

If you’ve got a non-Skylake processor, don’t worry. You won’t be affected by this. However, you might want to think about accepting that free Windows 10 upgrade Is It Time to Upgrade to Windows 10, Yet? Is It Time to Upgrade to Windows 10, Yet? Microsoft really wants to you upgrade to Windows 10. But should you? To help you make up your mind, we argue both the pro and the contra, and offer careful advice. How will you decide? Read More while you still can.

Kaby Lake goes a step further than Skylake and will refuse to allow older versions of Windows to run on them. If, by some miracle, you’re able to install Windows 7 on a system with Kaby Lake, you can be assured that it won’t receive security updates, leaving it open to all sorts of malware and hacking threats.

This will undoubtedly be a deeply unpopular move. But before you craft an angry email to Intel, you should probably know that Intel is not the one pushing the change. Microsoft is. Also, Qualcomm’s next-generation Snapdragon 8996 SOC and AMD’s upcoming Bristol Ridge APU will also not work with Windows 7.

2. It Has Some Brand New Features

Kaby Lake is more than just an incremental improvement on an existing design. It comes with a whole lot more features than currently available. So, what’s changed?

For starters, it comes with native support for USB 3.1, which is significantly faster than previous versions USB Flash Drive Guide: 5 Things to Know When Buying One USB Flash Drive Guide: 5 Things to Know When Buying One USB flash drives might seem mundane and straightforward, but there are a few tips and quirks that you should know before you buy your next one. Read More of the USB standard. Previously, if you wanted to use USB 3.1, you had to have a third-party add-on chip installed.

USBTypeC

It also comes with support for HDCP 2.2 (High-Bandwidth Digital Copy Protection). This is a DRM package used to ensure that digital content isn’t intercepted between the source and the display. Although DRM remains hugely unpopular, HDCP is required to rent movies on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video, among other sites.

Kaby Lake will also support Intel’s new and exciting Optane storage technology, which looks poised to utterly revolutionize the world of solid state drives. Although it doesn’t offer that much in terms of increased storage — SSDs are still much smaller than HDDs 5 Things You Should Consider When Buying An SSD 5 Things You Should Consider When Buying An SSD The world of home computing is moving towards solid state drives for storage. Should you buy one? Read More  — it does come with some significant performance advantages.

It also promises to be much more durable. That’s great news given that SSDs are notorious for eventually deteriorating with usage, and being vulnerable to damage from power spikes.

That’s to say nothing about the inevitable performance upgrades and increased power efficiency. I think we’ll see much of this in terms of its ability to handle graphics intensive applications. Ever since the heady days of the first Intel Core 2 processor, Intel has dedicated more and more space on their chips to graphics processing. Kaby Lake promises to be no exception.

Overall, we can expect these new chips to shine when Ultra HD 4K becomes mainstream. As early as 2014, Intel was promising that these chips would come with native support for decoding HVEC content, which is especially exciting when you consider that Kaby Lake also supports Thunderbolt 3, which can power as many as two 4K displays simultaneously Getting A 4K Monitor? Which Browser Should You Use? Getting A 4K Monitor? Which Browser Should You Use? Running Windows on a 4K monitor can be a huge boon to productivity. The large, pixel-dense space provides plenty of room to open windows. But will browser content scale well on your Ultra HD monitor? Read More .

3. It’s Smaller, Faster & Power-Efficient

There’s this truism that we’ve all kind of accepted, which says that bigger is always better. Semiconductor technology laughs at that.

Let’s talk about how processors work. They each contain something called a “die”, which is essentially a big slice of silicon that contains hundreds of millions of transistors. Often, this count runs into the billions. Intel’s 18-core Xeon Haswell CPU has an utterly insane 5.5 billion transistors.

Each transistor is essentially a tiny switch which turns on-and-off when an electrical current passes through it. Although it sounds basic, this is at the very core of what makes a computer’s CPU.

SiliconWafer

Over time, transistors have shrunk in size. The Intel 8008’s transistors were about 10 micrometers (also called microns). This is roughly half the diameter of a single strand of human hair. The transistors on Intel’s Kaby Lake CPU are 14 nanometers. That’s smaller than a ribosome, one of the components of a human cell.

And that’s a good thing. Chips with smaller transistors tend to be faster because you can fit more of them on each piece of silicon. They’re much more power efficient, too.

The fact that Intel’s consumer-level Broadwell, Skylake, and Kaby Lake chips use 14-nanometer transistors is nothing short of an engineering marvel. Skylake’s amazing battery life and improved performance, which Kaby Lake will undoubtedly share, is a testament to that.

transistors

But the next generation of chips, called Cannonlake and due to be released in 2017, will be even better and will use a 10-nanometer manufacturing process. Intel has a roadmap to eventually transition to a 7-nanometer manufacturing process 7nm IBM Chip Doubles Performance, Proves Moore's Law Through 2018 7nm IBM Chip Doubles Performance, Proves Moore's Law Through 2018 A number of fundamental physical limits are converging to put a stop to the progress of traditional silicon computer chips. A radical new breakthrough could help to stretch the limits a bit more. Read More , at which point they’ll probably have to transition away from silicon as a base material.

The bad news (for Intel) is that they won’t be the first chipmaker to hit the 10-nanometer mark. Taiwan-based TSMC expect to release a 10-nanometer SoC (system on chip) later this year. This is unusual, as Intel is seldom beaten to the punch when it comes to advances in semiconductor technology.

4. It’s an Anomaly in Intel’s Strategy

In 2006, Intel released its first generation of Core and Pentium Dual Core processors. Since then, they’ve adopted a model for how they develop new chips, which is known as their “Tick-Tock” strategy.

Every eighteen months, or thereabouts, they release a new CPU. This can either be categorized as a tick, where the fabrication process shrinks, or a tock, where a new microarchitecture is released.

ChupBru

Broadwell, which was released in 2014, was a “tick” as the size of the transistors shrunk from 22 nanometers to 14 nanometers. Skylake was a “tock” as it introduced an entirely new microarchitecture. Simple, right?

Kaby Lake is neither. At the very best, it’s a refresh of Skylake and acts as a hold-over until Cannonlake is released in 2017. It is, in short, an anomaly.

Should You Upgrade to Kaby Lake?

Now that you have the whole story, let’s get to the bit you’re most interested in: Is Kaby Lake compelling enough that you should purchase a new CPU or computer?

I don’t think so. There’s not a huge amount to distinguish between Skylake and Kaby Lake. The manufacturing process is the same, as is the microarchitecture. Plus, it severely limits your ability to choose the right version of Windows for you, at least at this time.

The improved graphics performance is welcome, as is the ability to better handle 4K video. Its native support for USB 3.1 is a huge bonus, as will be the support for Intel Optane SSDs when they finally hit the market later this year. But is that enough of a reason to upgrade? I’m not sure. Probably not.

What do you think? Will you be upgrading your computer to one running Kaby Lake? If so, why? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Image Credits: USB Type C (Intel Free Press), Chip (Fritzchens Fritz), Intel Celeron CPU (Uwe Hermann), Etched Silicon Wafer (Michael Hicks)

  1. CatsPaw
    October 14, 2016 at 11:37 am

    Microsoft just single handed diminished sales for Intel, AMD and snapdragon.

  2. Yanta
    October 8, 2016 at 10:26 am

    If it wont run Windows 7, then not a chance.

  3. danwat1234
    September 15, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    @Matthew Hughes, "Ever since the heady days of the first Intel Core 2 processor, Intel has dedicated more and more space on their chips to graphics processing."
    No, the Core 2 Duo did not have a GPU on the CPU package. The first was Westmere, the die shrink (tick) of Nehalem, and then Sandybridge (tock) onwards.

    "They’ve already discontinued sales of Windows 7, have ended support for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 on current generation hardware, and the next generation of Intel processors will refuse to run it entirely."
    I doubt that very much. Kaby Lake is still x86. Windows will install just fine. You won't get the same power efficiency as using Windows 10 and no updates, but 7, 8, 8.1 will most likely install just fine. Which i would do.
    Don't lie.

  4. Pro
    September 9, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    If developers actually develop for the potential of the desktop, making use of new instruction sets for algorithmic performance boost, then yes sure.

    If they stubbornly neglect the desktop market which is more or less left with archaic apps from 2000-2005, then no.
    The republishing of old desktop apps for the mobile is awesome, but desktop pcs are left playing old tunes. It's a pity seeing devices at least an order of magnitude more powerful,
    sitting idle playing artificially exalted apps such as office and restricted games that have mostly to do with moving a camera(viewpoint) around.
    Plus a huge issue is the graphics card , usually beastly pieces of silicon sitting idle and only useful for the half baked modern games. We are talking about several teraflops of computing power going wasted , because some nutjobs decided there's nothing remarkable to come out of this. Whilst , the teeney weeny mobile socs with cpus that can't master more than a handful of gigaflops have suddenly become the quintessence of the IT industry. Saying that it is just hilarious , is being very kind.
    Make programs worthy of the potential of these machines. Don't artificially restrict their computing potential and then you will see a flood of users begging to buy them regardless of the OS. You have to offer sth new and useful if you want the users to buy it. Why buy the newest chip(no matter how powerful theoretically), when they can do their jobs just as well with the old ones?

  5. Marc
    August 21, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Here's more info about Intel's microarchitectural change cycle:

    "In March 2016 in a Form 10-K report, Intel announced that it had deprecated the Tick-Tock cycle in favor of a three-step "process-architecture-optimization" model, under which three generations of processors will be produced with a single manufacturing process, adding an extra phase for each with a focus on optimization."

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tick-Tock_model

  6. Bram
    August 20, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    Does it come with AVX-512?

  7. Nigel Wright
    August 2, 2016 at 1:13 am

    I upgraded from a 4790K to Skylake 6700K and didn't see much improvement in performance.
    So I wont be upgrading to Kaby Lake.

    My best upgrade was from an AMD processor to the 4790K as it was twice as fast.
    Improvements between Intel processors see something like 5% improvement each time which isn't much.

  8. Paul M
    June 25, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    Just upgrade in May 2016 from SB to Skylake, and the speed difference is not a deal breaker or appreciated at least for basic office use, web surfing or streaming video, I don't do hard core gaming, the only big difference is native Sata III headers and USB 3.0 on the motherboard that make the SSD and external drives shine.
    No way I will go for a new upgrade for Kaby or Canon soon, maybe I will wait until late 2018 or early 2019 for whats then.
    One extra word, I use dual boot linux lite 2.8 and Win10 pro, but I miss a lot my Win7 Ultimate it uses to work a lot better at least for me, I really hate every day upgrades!!!

    I still use an old Lenovo C2D E8500 with Linux and works as good as my new Skylake for my intended use if you ask me!

    i3 6100
    8Gb 2x4 DDR4@2400
    SSD Adata SP550 120Gb
    HDD 1TB 7200 rpm Segate Barracuda

  9. Robert
    May 29, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    Asus H87 Mini-ITX mobo, Core i3-4330, 8gb DDR3 Crucial Ballistix Sport VLP, EVGA GTX 750 SC, Crucial M500 240gb SSD, and a Hitachi 640gb 2.5" HDD in a Corsair 250D. OS is Linux Mint 17.3. Used as a basic desktop and should serve as such for a few years so no upgrade for me. Seems like Cannonlake in late '17 is the one to wait for if you're on Haswell and looking to upgrade on the near future.

  10. fred
    May 29, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Sure. I am looking to upgrade our HTPC next year and am looking forward to the Optane SSD hugely improving response time of the app that manages our 2.2TB of music.

    (currently use OCZ Agility 3 SSD with a i5 2500K)

  11. lostn
    May 8, 2016 at 1:08 am

    "But is that enough of a reason to upgrade?"

    It really depends on what you're upgrading from exactly. Skylake? Hell no. Sandy Bridge? Sure.

    • Ed
      June 6, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      I'm even finding it difficult to justify upgrading from Sandy B tbh.

    • Drew
      September 5, 2016 at 4:16 am

      I will be upgrading from sandy bridge to kaby. Going from an i5 to i7 will help a lot but the performance increase is 20-35% just from i5 to i5. A 7700k will be a substantial upgrade from a 2500k. I've also read mouse clicks register faster with kaby which is cool. Those things with the few other feature upgrades makes it worthy.

  12. Dave
    March 19, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    "Kaby Lake goes a step further than Skylake and will refuse to allow older versions of Windows to run on them. If, by some miracle, you’re able to install Windows 7 on a system with Kaby Lake..."

    Not true. Microsoft simply is not updating Windows 7 to support Kaby processors, but that doesn't mean that Windows 7 won't run on Kaby processors. It likely will install and run just fine, but Windows 7 won't get support for new features which Kaby processors offer.

    'Not supported' simply means the Microsoft is not putting in any additional effort to cater to new CPUs in their old OSes. But a new CPU should still run everything back to DOS just fine.

  13. Hapkiman
    March 14, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    Just built a Skylake rig three months ago. Can't see me swapping my i7 6700k for Kaby Lake. No real benefit and I don't have money to burn.

  14. memory_leak
    March 12, 2016 at 3:36 am

    For the Christ dudes, stop bitching about Microsoft and data collecting and install Linux! Only way to be sure you are not sharing your data with corporations and state agencies is to go open source and FSF. You are not getting neither Windows or anything else from companies like Google, Apple and Facebook for free, you are paying it one way or another. If you all of us invested just $10 into open source software and you started to use Linux instead of Windows and Apple's shitty OSX, you would user experience unprecedented to anything Microsoft or Apple would ever give you.

  15. Beta Cyth
    February 15, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Holy shit guys. Get over the Microsoft Win 10 and on shit. It's a solid business idea. Once you buy Windows there is no more paying for it. They stop making money. If everyone switches to Win 10 then Microsoft can data mine just like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Which will bring in money long after the transition of 10. Your smart phone sends more personal data to your app devs, phone manufacturer, and OS devs than you would like to think. The only thing you can do at this point is watch who you share your info with. Read the permissions of apps, limit the info you put on social media, and learn about packet blocking to stop it outright.

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 29, 2016 at 9:34 pm

      Oh yeah. Even though Microsoft has literally given millions of installs away for free, they're going to make a huge amount of money from Windows 10.

      But is it not a decent compromise for what is, essentially, the most refined and experience-oriented Windows yet?

      • bob
        March 11, 2016 at 1:06 pm

        uir kidding right? microsoft arent giving windows 10 away, they are forcing adoption. ur also getting an OEM license if i'm not mistaken when u upgrade for free, which means any hardware updates and ur license is toast.
        not to mention MS Wants to move to a subscription based model with w10, which would be harder to pirate and net them a lot more money.

        • Jake
          March 27, 2016 at 4:57 pm

          You also get a licence key to activate Win 10, in case you change your hardware too much, but I agree that Win 10 sucks. I upgraded then went running back to 7 because the UI sucked, data mining, changes in where everything was unnecessarily which was confusing af.

  16. clint
    February 14, 2016 at 1:05 am

    not sure it was mentioned but there is also this: "Intel's upcoming Skylake desktop chip with Iris Pro (henceforth referred to as "Skylake 4+4e") will not work on the motherboards that support the Skylake processors currently in the market. Indeed, these chips will require next generation boards designed specifically for the company's upcoming Kaby Lake family of processors. Interestingly enough, those Kaby Lake chips will apparently work just fine on current generation Skylake boards."

    To me this is nothing but a desperate ploy to squeeze more $$ out of consumers.

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 29, 2016 at 9:33 pm

      I missed that! Thanks Clint.

    • Eugene
      July 17, 2016 at 11:30 am

      so if i today purchase TOP motherboard for the SkyLake with SLI support + and gtx 1070 video card + i5-6600K which can handle gtx 1070 (but not i7-6700K which cannot handle 2 SLI of the gtx 1070)

      later i can just change CPU to the KabyLake i7, purchase additional gtx 1070 and without change of motherboard i can receive good performance from SLI ? i got it correct ?

      i CAN use kabyLake on current skylake motherboards ?

      • Ken G
        November 27, 2016 at 10:31 pm

        correct, but not the extra features of the 200 series boards.

  17. Kannon Yamada
    February 10, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    that was a really helpful article, thanks for writing it. I get the sense that Intel's new incremental processor design will follow a tick, tock, trip cadence. Every third processor is going to be a trip.

  18. Ruturaj
    February 5, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    I have haswell machine and don't need a powerful machine right now, but will be upgrading when school starts in August, if kaby lake is out then I am going for it over skylake. Hope 2nd iteration of XPS 15 comes out by that time and have better keyboard and newer graphics (AMD polaris/Nvidia Pascal).

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 29, 2016 at 9:33 pm

      Oh, keyboards are super important. Pity there aren't many machines with integrated mechanical keyboards!

      • RUTURAJ
        March 1, 2016 at 8:30 pm

        I don't need a mechanical keyboard, but keyboard like the one on thinkpads t series would be awesome.

  19. Kristijonas
    February 5, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    So basically nothing new for end users. Guess we have to wait for performance benchmarks.

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 29, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      I don't know. The Windows 10 exclusivity is pretty big.

      • Kristijonas Jankauskas
        February 29, 2016 at 9:35 pm

        I meant nothing new in terms of new functions, features or "gamechanging" performance increases.

  20. -rob-
    February 5, 2016 at 11:10 am

    How much is Intel receiving from Mricrosoft to do this? I think it is ridiculous to restrict people freedom to choose what OS to install on their hardware.
    I personally will consider moving to AMD (again).

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 5, 2016 at 11:14 am

      It's not just Intel doing it. AMD and Qualcomm are going to be the same way.

  21. Peter Hood
    February 4, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    This is a miscalculation. AMD will happily support Windows 7, and they need the business. It will also drive people to Linux. I've been considering various flavours of Linux since about 2001. This will push me.

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 5, 2016 at 11:14 am

      Read it again. AMDs new Bristol Lake APUs will be the same.

      • Kannon Yamada
        February 10, 2016 at 8:36 pm

        It looks like some kind of backroom deal with Microsoft.

    • Michael Weldon
      February 7, 2016 at 9:58 pm

      Well, it's a move that many people have made. I stuck with XP till EOL in April 2014, then switched, literally overnight, to Linux. I cut the ties with Windows just like that.

      I currently run 'Puppy' Linux on two machines; a 2005 Compaq Presario PC with a dual-core Athlon 64 X2 3800+ (Puppy runs like lightning on this, and will give Win 10 a good run for its money in terms of outright performance), and an even older 2002 Dell Inspiron 1100 laptop, upgraded from a Celeron 2.2 GHz to a P4 @ 2.6 GHz. Even this runs considerably faster than it did with XP.....and the old Dell is still leading a productive life.

      I'm not a 'gamer' (I'm mid-50's, and my main usage is for graphic design), so outright performance is not a deciding factor for me.

      • BEn
        February 12, 2016 at 10:10 am

        What software are you using for graphic design on linux?

        • Michael Weldon
          February 13, 2016 at 12:01 pm

          Well, I use three items.....okay, two of them are Windows apps, but I've been using them for so many years, that they've kinda got co-opted into use again, and they run perfectly under WINE (and I mean PERFECTLY.....LIKE 100%). A graphics/photo editor called PhotoScape:-

          http://www.photoscape.org/ps/main/index.php

          ...and I also run Adobe's Photoshop CS2. It's an old version, but still extremely capable; both of the above require at least WINE 1.7.51 or later, and in the case of Photoshop, it needs setting up using WineTricks, as there's a few other M$ bit's & bobs that are required (mainly Zenity, and CabExtract). PhotoScape, thankfully, installs straight off under the above-mentioned version of WINE.

          And on the Linux side, I use the GIMP, and another one called mtPaint.....which is a vector/raster editor (and will do a few little tricks the others can't manage.

        • Michael Weldon
          February 15, 2016 at 11:03 am

          A couple of Windows apps; a photo/graphics editor called PhotoScape, and Adobe's CS2 Photoshop. I've been using these for ages, and got very used to them. These both run perfectly under WINE (1.7.51).

          And on the Linux side, the GIMP, and a vector/raster graphics editor called mtPaint. Unlike some people, I DIDN'T find the GIMP hard to get used to, after using Photoshop. The two are very similar, after you get used to some minor differences.

  22. freedom
    February 4, 2016 at 6:20 am

    We must stop microsofts monopoly. It's time for antitrust lawsuits against this company so that we may gain our privacy and freedom back from this NSA backed door company!!!!

  23. Joe
    February 4, 2016 at 5:24 am

    Pair it with a nvidia 10XX and put it in an Asus Zenbook pro and you've got yourself a sale.

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 5, 2016 at 11:13 am

      I can totally see it finding its way to some high-end laptops, certainly.

    • danwat1234
      September 15, 2016 at 8:32 pm

      @Matthew Hughes, "Ever since the heady days of the first Intel Core 2 processor, Intel has dedicated more and more space on their chips to graphics processing."
      No, the Core 2 Duo did not have a GPU on the CPU package. The first was Westmere, the die shrink (tick) of Nehalem, and then Sandybridge (tock) onwards.

      "They’ve already discontinued sales of Windows 7, have ended support for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 on current generation hardware, and the next generation of Intel processors will refuse to run it entirely."
      I doubt that very much. Kaby Lake is still x86. Windows will install just fine. You won't get the same power efficiency as using Windows 10, but 7, 8, 8.1 will most likely install just fine.
      Don't lie.

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