What Does Kaby Lake Mean for Next Year’s Macs?

Intel’s next generation CPU architecture, replacing the Skylake chips in most current Macs, is known as Kaby Lake. This 7th generation Intel Core i design provides up to 8 MB of Level 3 cache and is already being used in some PCs. We should see it in Macs in 2017.

Compared to Skylake, Kaby Lake will offer higher CPU speeds, higher Turbo Boost speeds, and improved graphics architecture with better support for 4K video, 3D graphics, and 10-bit color. It will also have built-in support for H.264 video, which is an industry standard.

Except for the Mac Pro, Apple uses mobile processors in all of its Macs. That’s fine on the low end, because the mobile Kaby Lake processors are energy efficient dual-core designs with lots of Turbo Boost overhead. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Core m3, 1.0 GHz nominal, 2.6 GHz Turbo Boost, 4 MB SmartCache
  • Core i3, 2.4 GHz nominal, 3 MB SmartCache
  • Core i5, 1.2 GHz nominal, 3.2 GHz Turbo Boost, 4 MB SmartCache
  • Core i5, 2.5 GHz nominal, 3.1 GHz Turbo Boost, 3 MB SmartCache
  • Core i7, 1.3 GHz nominal, 3.6 GHz Turbo Boost, 4 MB SmartCache
  • Core i7, 2.7 GHz nominal, 3.5 GHz Turbo Boost, 4 MB SmartCache, only one to support 32 GB of memory

Anticipating 2017 Consumer Macs

12 inch MacBookI can see the 1.2 GHz Core i5 making its way into the 2017 12″ MacBook, MacBook Air, and Mac mini, assuming Apple doesn’t ditch the Air as redundant. And maybe the 2017 MacBook will add a second USB-C port while Apple is updating it. Battery life should be excellent.

The 2.5 GHz Core i5 has three times the power draw, which could rule it out from 12″ MacBooks, considering how much emphasis Apple puts on battery life. That said, it could be a good choice for the Mac mini and smaller iMac. I would anticipate this being the base chip in the MacBook Pro line, at least the 13-incher.

The 1.3 GHz Core i7 would make a great processor for the MacBook, 13″ MacBook Pro, top-end Mac mini, and 21.5″ iMac. It provides lots of overhead thanks to Turb oBoost. The 2.7 GHz Core i7 has the same power draw issue as the 2.5 GHz Core i5, which would probably rule it out from use in the 12″ MacBook.

The 15″ MacBook Pro Conundrum

Apple has been using quad-core CPUs in 15″ and 17″ MacBook Pros since the Early 2011 models came out, but Intel is not (yet) offering a quad-core mobile Kaby Lake processor. While some PC laptops are using desktop CPUs to get around that, base power draw ranges up from 35W vs. 4.5W for the slower mobile CPUs (1.0-1.3 GHz nominal) and 15W (2.5-2.7 GHz nominal).

Is Apple willing to step back to a dual-core CPU for the MacBook Pro so it can offer 32 GB of memory? That seems to be robbing Peter to pay Paul – offering the memory some users need while taking away two of the processor’s four cores. This does not seem like a reasonable choice on the 15″ MacBook Pro, although it could definitely be offered as a top-end configuration for the 13″ MacBook Pro.

Apple may want to wait until the second half of 2017, when the 8th generation Intel Core i chips, known as Cannonlake, are expected to come to market. The 15″ MacBook Pro really demands a quad-core CPU and support for at least 32 GB of RAM.

The iMac

Apple has divided the iMac into two lines – the consumer-oriented 21.5″ model and the more pro-oriented 27″ model. I see this continuing, with the 21.5″ iMac being primarily a dual-core machine and the 27-incher a quad-core powerhouse. The 21.5″ iMac will probably continue to use mobile processors exclusively, although perhaps Apple will offer a 4-core 4K video version.

The desktop Kaby Lake Core i7 will be a quad-core processor running 8 threads (the i5 only supports 4 threads) with nominal speeds or 2.9, 3.6, and 4.2 GHz. No data yet on Turbo Boost speed. The desktop Kaby Lake chips are expected in early 2017.

The Mac Pro

Apple has often had a powerhouse desktop computer that could give all but the most expensive PCs a run for the money. The Mac II, IIci, IIfx. The Quadra 700, 900, 950. The Power Mac 8100, 9500, 9600. The Power Mac G3, G4, and dual-processor G4. The dual processor Power Mac G5 and the Power Mac G5 Quad.

2013 Mac ProEach version of the Mac Pro was also lustworthy when it was introduced, but it’s been over three years since Apple updated the Mac Pro. It’s overdue for an upgrade, and Apple needs a flagship model not only for pros, but for media coverage. Every PC magazine and website will talk about it, providing Apple with great PR – unless they botch the design. (Let’s not even talk about the 2013 Mac Pro in a can.)

Intel has said almost nothing about the Kaby Lake Xeon processor, except that it will have a nominal clock speed of 3.0 GHz. Looking at the current Skylake offerings, we have 4-core, 8-threaded CPUs ranging from 2.1 to 3.7 GHz nominal and Turbo Boost topping out in the 3.2 to 4.0 GHz range. An 8 MB Level 3 cache is standard, and power draw is lower than on comparable Core i7 CPUs – as low as 25W for the 2.1 GHz chip, which could make for a great Mac mini server!

These are the CPUs that support up to 64 GB of memory, and we can expect the Kaby Lake Xeon to support at least 64 GB – if not 128 GB.

Since introducing the 2013 Mac Pro, Apple has been further pushing the envelope on SSD speed, so the 2017 Mac Pro should offer pretty amazing throughput using SSD and RAID.

In terms of hardware design, Apple can stick with the Darth Vader Black but needs to include Lightning 3, USB 3.1 at 20 Mbps, USB-C ports, and room for at least one internal hard drive – if only for backup and database use. Nothing kills an SSD faster than a busy database, one of the few tasks that begs for a fast hard drive with a large buffer.

The clutter of cables that Apple did away with when it introduced the iMac in 1998 came back with the 2013 Mac Pro. Shame on you, Apple!

2017 Predictions

Kaby Lake mobile processors are going to make it into Macs starting in January 2017. I expect a new 12″ MacBook, Mac mini, and iMac in January, all but using Kaby Lake CPUs. The 27″ iMac will use the desktop chip when it becomes available.

Expect Apple to release the 2017 Mac Pro in the March-April range, possibly with Skylake chips if the Kaby Lake version doesn’t provide what Apple is looking for. Until Intel officially announces the Kaby Lake Xeon line, it’s all a guess.

We could see the 13″ MacBook Pro updated to Kaby Lake at any time, but I think May-June is most likely, as it was just updated. As for the 15″ MacBook Pro, don’t expect a Kaby Lake version unless Intel releases a quad-core chip. If not, wait until Cannonlake quad-core mobile CPUs begin shipping – that’s when the 15″ MacBook Pro is most likely to receive its next update.

Keywords: #kabylake #skylake

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