Intel’s mobile CPU line is set to get a lot more confusing in the coming weeks. Where Intel earlier had a distinct line of mobile CPUs with easy to understand model numbers, the 2019 lineup almost makes no sense.
See, Intel’s earlier line consisted of the following families of chips:
Y series: Ultra-low-power CPUs designed for fan-less systems. Think 12-inch MacBook.
U-series: Mid to low power CPUs for mainstream laptops and Ultrabooks. These include devices like the MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 13.
H-series: High-performance chips that run faster and hotter and are designed for gaming laptops and heavy work like video editing and 3D rendering.
HK-series: The top of the performance pile, these CPUs are even more powerful than the H series and are also overclockable (they can be manually sped up).
Simple, right? Well, not anymore.
Comet Lake is a significant upgrade, it’s just not as exciting as Ice Lake
First, Intel launched its 10th gen Ice Lake CPUs a few weeks ago. These are mobile CPUs that are easily a generational leap over anything Intel has done in the last several years.
These CPUs feature a vastly improved graphics engine (though we’ve seen some variants of these chips in MacBook Pros since 2016), AI acceleration (DLBoost) and faster connectivity via Thunderbolt 3 and WiFi 6. Intel also switched to a cooler, faster, more efficient 10 nm node for the design.
These CPUs will be powering some of the best upcoming Ultrabooks, including the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, in the coming months.
On 21 August, Intel launched Comet Lake. This is also labelled as a 10th gen CPU, but comparing Ice Lake to Comet Lake brings us to that age-old apple vs oranges argument.
Comet Lake is a 10th Gen CPU (according to Intel), but it’s not built on a 10 nm process, does not have AI acceleration and does not get the newer, faster integrated GPUs.
As far as we can tell, Comet Lake is what Intel’s more traditional CPU upgrade would have looked like in the absence of Ice Lake.
Don’t get me wrong, Comet Lake is a significant upgrade over the 8th and 9th gen mobile CPUs it replaces, it’s just that it’s so far removed from the other 10th gen CPU line, Ice Lake, that we’re wondering why they’re both called 10th gen to begin with.
Comet Lake is a little bit faster than the line it replaces, it features support for WiFi 6 and more Thunderbolt 3 lanes, it supports faster RAM and it offers a 6-core, 12-thread CPU option in the U series power band. The Y series Comet Lake chips also consume less power than Y series Ice Lake chips.
Oh, they also feature support for Intel Adaptix tech, which should help intelligently boost performance and responsiveness in real-world scenarios.
Performance: Take with a heavy pinch of salt
Intel claims a 16 percent performance bump over previous-gen Intel U series CPUs, but until we see some real-world benchmarks by independent, unaffiliated-to-Intel reviewers, we can’t trust the numbers. Intel’s own test pits a 6C/12T 25 W Comet Lake CPU against 4C/8T 15 W 8th gen CPU. While performing battery life tests, the Comet Lake chip was dialled back down to 15 W. Given that there were 28 W U-series chips with Iris Plus graphics in the previous gen, there’s no way we can accept these figures at face value.
The lack of Iris Plus graphics in Comet Lake is also a downer. This means that without a power-hungry GPU to go with the chips, we’re looking at about the same graphics performance as we’ve seen since 6th gen Intel mobile CPUs came out.
WiFi 6 and Thunderbolt 3 are nice to have, but their use-case for now is very limited and they’re more a future-looking standard than something that users can immediately benefit from.
Our guess is that Ice Lake will feature only on premium products while Comet Lake will cater to more mainstream and gaming laptops.