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Intel's new Kaby Lake chips for PC: Here's the company's vision

Agam Shah | Aug. 31, 2016
The Kaby Lake chips, targeted at PCs, could also be used in VR and AR headsets

New chips can be a reason to upgrade PCs. But does Intel's latest 7th Generation Core chip, code-named Kaby Lake, have enough bite to trigger replacements of old PCs?

Intel hopes so. The company is framing Kaby Lake PCs as go-to devices for productivity, virtual reality, and 4K gaming and video.

So far, Kaby Lake is off to a good start. About 100 laptops, 2-in-1s, and tablets with Kaby Lake installed will be available from PC makers by the end of this year.

On paper, Kaby Lake's launch comes at an inopportune time. PC shipments areslumping, the replacement cycle has slowed to six years, and consumers are instead using smartphones and phablets for computing. Many older PCs are powerful enough to run Windows 10.

Intel can't escape the overall decline in PC shipments, so it is focusing on the growing segments of 2-in-1s, gaming PCs, and virtual reality. It's also betting that Kaby Lake will aid in the revival of the PC, with the sudden emergence of VR.

Kaby Lake is faster and more power-efficient than its predecessor, called Skylake. It is also the first Intel PC chip with native 4K graphics support, and that feature is especially important to the company's fast-emerging virtual reality and mixed reality plans.

Intel may also have some surprises up its sleeve with Kaby Lake. There's a good chance that the Core processors make their way into an odd VR headset or two that need 4K graphics.

For potential buyers, it may be worth upgrading to a sleek hybrid laptop-tablet PC with Kaby Lake if your current laptop feels slow. The Kaby Lake CPUs are 12 to 19 percent faster than Skylake. Applications will run better, and battery life of laptops will improve.

Kaby Lake's graphics features stand out, with laptops able to play 4K video without the need for a discrete graphics card. Laptops will run continuously for 9.25 hours when running 4K video, said Chris Walker, vice president of Intel's Client Computing Group and general manager of Mobility Client Platforms.

You'll be able to stream 4K video from the internet, and casual 4K games will run smoothly. The 4K support will be included on chips from the lowest-powered 2-in-1 Core chips drawing 4.5 watts to the 15-watt chips for mainstream PCs.

The first batch of Kaby Lake chips will be targeted at Windows 10 PCs. There will be no Windows 7 PCs with Kaby Lake, Walker said.

For Windows 10 laptops, Intel is hyping the "Windows Hello" features, in which biometric authentication techniques can be used to log into PCs. 

In January, Intel will release a new batch of heavy-hitting Kaby Lake PC chips that will service VR headsets like Oculus Rift, which are attached to high-end PCs. Those chips will also be targeted at gaming PCs.


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