According to Intel, its sixth-generation Skylake CPU is the “most significant processor in a decade,” which is a pretty bold claim to make. The company attributes this big leap to improvements in the processor’s power efficiency and wireless capabilities.
For those up to speed on the latest tech news (namely about computer hardware) that statement likely has you salivating in anticipation. For everyone else, it probably just looks like a bunch of tech jargon and mumbo jumbo.
Does the Skylake CPU really give that much of a boost? Is it worth spending the money to upgrade to one right now? Let’s break it all down and take a look at what Intel is actually saying.
1. Increased Power Efficiency
Believe it or not, the performance of a CPU largely relies on the power management and power efficiency rating it has. This is especially important with multi-core processors because they must be able to power up extra cores during heavy workloads, and gate them off during idle periods.
If you have a processor running at max performance the entire time it’s in use, it’s going to significantly impact the life of that unit. This scenario is akin to leaving a car running for hours while it’s sitting in your garage. It’s not a good thing to do, because it causes more wear and tear and will eventually lead to disaster.
Naturally, this means that processors need a way to monitor performance requirements, and must dynamically react when workloads increase or decrease. When you start doing things that require more performance from the CPU, it should be able to boost power to various cores to match the needs of that particular situation.
When you’re done, that processor should also be able to power down areas – or cores – that are not in use.
Some processors, namely the newer generation models, are superior at managing their power levels. This is because, over time, the technology has improved and the companies building the processors (like Intel) have learned better and more efficient ways to utilize them.
Getting back to Skylake, Intel has equipped its newest processors with advanced power management features. Thanks to an adjustment in power delivery and frequency control, the processor offers much better performance during times of low power usage.
This does not mean that the previous generation, or those well before, do not offer similar power management features. It just means that Skylake does it better.
2. Wireless Capabilities
The Skylake CPU adopted the WiGig standard, which is a unique bit of technology that allows for Gigabit-speed communications via wireless connections. This technology is primarily used for wireless docking, magnetic resonance charging (AKA wireless charging), streaming video, and cable-free peripheral support.
In other words, this is one of the core points of the Skylake processor, and it means that wireless will be a big deal going forward.
Yes, wireless already has its place thanks to ubiquitous Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, but the wireless functionality that Intel is talking about is different.
For starters, WiGig is ridiculously fast: it can deliver speeds of up to 7 Gbps. More importantly, the band supports wireless charging technology, which means it’s possible to create a truly wireless PC or laptop. The computer can sit on top of — or nearby — a wireless charging dock and juice up. Say goodbye to that rat’s nest of wires you’ve built up behind your desk.
With Intel supporting this technology, it’s more likely that other manufacturers will adopt it as a standard, and that’s good for everyone.
3. Other Skylake Features
Of course, you can’t expect an entirely new generation of processors to debut with nothing more than a couple of new features, especially when they are purported to deliver such a significant upgrade.
Additional improvements in the Skylake processor:
Skylake brings DDR4 RAM support to the mainstream consumer market while still maintaining support for DDR3L.
Skylake improves security through Intel Software Guard Extensions (SGX) and Memory Protection Extensions (MPX), two technologies that work to prevent system infiltration.
Skylake offers a boost in onboard graphics performance, with support for DirectX 12, 16x MSAA, adaptive scalable texture compression, multiplane overlays and more.
Most of the new features and improvements will have a greater impact in the mobile space, for devices like smartphones, tablets, and low-power laptops (AKA ultrabooks). The embedded WiGig support will be remarkably useful on that front as well.
Should You Make the Upgrade?
If you own a Haswell processor and you’re looking to switch, you’d be better suited to grabbing a Haswell-E chipset. This is because Skylake, in its current state, won’t offer a huge performance gain, but Haswell-E certainly will.
On the other hand, if you’re running a Sandy or Ivy Bridge processor, then it’s definitely time to upgrade. You can expect to see a 30 to 45 percent increase in performance just by making the switch.
Sadly, there is no definitive answer. It really depends on what kind of processor you’re using currently and where your bottleneck lies. Be aware, however, that if you’re looking for a faster computer, there are better upgrades to make first.