Intel's Ice Lake processors for laptops show jump in graphics performance

Intel's 10nm Ice Lake processors for laptops should appear by end of year in several new machines. (Intel)

Intel has taken a lot of grief for delays in releasing its latest 10 nm chip, but several early reviews of its Ice Lake processors for laptops show an impressive jump in graphics performance.

Intel is about a year late in Ice Lake shipments, with laptops now set to appear by the end of year using the 10nm chips. The company, which leads in laptop chips, hasn’t discussed any desktop or server processor equivalents so far. Intel has said already that the Acer Swift 5, Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, HP Envy 13-inch Wood Series and Lenovo Yoga S940 will have the new 10nm CPUs, and there could be as many 34 laptop designs with Ice Lake in coming months, according to reports.

“The one area where Ice Lake excels is in graphics,” wrote Ian Cutress in an extensive Anandtech review.   He noted that Intel has moved from 24 execution units (EUs) in current GPU chips to 64 EUs, with an increase in memory bandwidth to more than 50 Gbps. Ice Lake marks the premiere of Intel’s Gen11 graphics capability with the 64 EUs.

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“But don’t expect to be tackling AAA games at high resolutions,” Cutress added. “Despite Ice Lake being focused on the ultra-premium >1080p resolution market, you will still be gaming at 720p or 1080p at best here.”

Cutress and other reviewers spent about eight hours testing the processors on whitebox laptops (which appeared to be Lenovo devices) that Intel provided, so there was no evaluation of battery efficiency with the new chips. Cutress praised Intel for allowing reviewers to test a reference system in advance of launch, “not something that Intel has done often in the past.” 

The new chips will run at 9 W to 28 W, compared to 35 W for current 14nm chips, which should contribute to greater battery life.

Ice Lake improvements include an 18% increase in instructions per cycle (IPC) due to a new Sunny Cove microarchitecture. But Andrew Freedman wrote in Tom’s Hardware that “unfortunately, those improvements come along with lower frequencies than previous-gen chips, which limits the actual performance gains.”

PC Magazine’s reviewer John Burek notably said the CPU performance numbers are “solid” but “are nothing to stoke a burning desire to go out and buy a new laptop.” He noted it is still “very, very early days” for Ice Lake.

Freedman ran a series of performance tests and found improvements in both the 15 W and 25 W versions of the chips except when compared to some top graphics chips. 

The 10 nm chips tested by reviewers were labeled as the Intel Core i7 CPU (1065G7) in both a 15 W and 25 W version. The GPU is labeled as Intel Iris Plus Graphics. The testing platform included 8 GB of RAM and the OS used was Windows 10 1903. The new chips support Intel Wi-Fi 6.

“This first peek into the new silicon looks like a net positive for Intel,” Burek concluded. “The wall of 10 has been breached, and it looks like these new 10nm chips should open a new front in mobile processors.”

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