Intel Unveils Full Lineup of Skylake Processors for Notebooks and Desktops, Early 2016 Likely for Most Macs
Intel has released detailed information about its upcoming Skylake processors for notebooks and desktops ahead of IFA 2015 in Berlin (via Ars Technica). The sixth-generation chips will deliver CPU and GPU performance improvements and longer battery life, and are likely to power future MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and iMac models released over the next year.
Intel's new lineup of Core M processors appropriate for the 12-inch Retina MacBook will provide up to 10 hours of battery life, between 10%-20% faster CPU performance and up to 40% faster graphics compared to equivalent Broadwell chips.
CPU World accurately shared Core m3, Core m5 and Core m7 specifications last week, with all three families of chips including Intel HD 515 graphics, 4MB of L3 cache and 4.5 watt thermal design power (TDP).
The low-end Core m3 6Y30 replaces the Core M-5Y31 and is likely suited for the base model 12-inch MacBook sold for $1,299. The mid-tier Core m5 6Y54 and Core m5 6Y57 replace the Core M-5Y51 on the high-end 12-inch MacBook sold for $1,599, while the high-end Core m7 6Y75 replaces the Core M-5Y71 for top-of-the-line 12-inch MacBook custom configurations.
Core M processors have configurable TDPs, allowing for performance and heat output to be adjusted. Core m3, m5 and m7 chips can be run at 3.5-3.8 watts or be increased to 7 watts to allow for higher CPU clock speeds. For the current 12-inch MacBook, Apple boosted the 900 MHz 5Y31 chip to 1.1 GHz, 1.1 GHz 5Y51 chip to 1.2 GHz and 1.2 GHz 5Y71 chip to 1.3 GHz.
Ars Technica notes that Core M processors should be available to Apple and other PC makers now, meaning that Core m3, m5 and m7-powered notebooks could begin shipping within the next few months. However, given that the 12-inch MacBook just launched in April, it remains uncertain if Apple is willing to release updated models this soon or hold off until 2016.
Intel's new 15-watt Core i5 and i7 chips appropriate for the MacBook Air feature dual-core 1.8 GHz to 2.2 GHz processors with Turbo Boost up to 2.7 GHz - 3.2 GHz, Intel Iris Graphics 540, integrated GPUs with dedicated eDRAM, 4MB of L3 cache and 1866 MHz LPDDR3 memory speed.
Intel's Core i5-6260U or i5-6360U chips are suitable for the low-end 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air, while the Core i7-6560U or i7-6650U are appropriate for the high-end 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air. Current generation MacBook Airs are powered by Intel's Core i5-5250U and i5-5650U chips.
In July, a leaked Intel slide deck revealed that Skylake "U-Series" processors will deliver up to 10% faster CPU performance, up to 34% faster Intel HD graphics and up to 1.4 hours longer battery life compared to equivalent Broadwell chips.
Intel says that Skylake "U-Series" processors with integrated Iris 540 graphics will not begin shipping until early 2016, making the MacBook Air an unlikely candidate for a refresh through at least the remainder of the year.
13" Retina MacBook Pro
Intel's new 28-watt Core i5 and i7 chips appropriate for the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro feature dual-core 2.9 GHz to 3.3 GHz processors with Turbo Boost up to 3.1 GHz - 3.4 GHz, Intel Iris Graphics 550, integrated GPUs with dedicated eDRAM, 4MB of L3 cache and 1866 MHz LPDDR3 memory speed.
Intel's Core i5-6267U chip is suitable for the low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro, while the Core i5-6287U is appropriate for the mid-range 13-inch MacBook Pro and the Core i7-6567U is suited for the high-end 13-inch MacBook Pro. Current generation 13-inch MacBook Pros are powered by Intel's Core i5-5257U, i5-5287U and i7-5557U chips.
Intel Skylake "U-Series" processors with integrated Iris 550 graphics, the successor to Intel Iris 6100 graphics, will not begin shipping until early 2016, meaning the 13-inch MacBook Pro is unlikely to be refreshed through at least the remainder of the year. Early 2016 appears to be a more likely target.
15" Retina MacBook Pro
Intel announced a number of new 45-watt "H-Series" processors, but none with the higher-end Iris Pro graphics Apple uses in the 15" Retina MacBook Pro. Skylake H-Series chips with Iris Pro graphics are not expected to launch until early 2016, and Intel has yet to release detailed specs on these chips.
Apple does have another option for a 15" MacBook Pro update, however, as Intel announced Broadwell chips appropriate for the lineup back in early June, just weeks after Apple refreshed the family without upgrading the processors from the previous generation's Haswell chips. But given that it has only been a few months since the last update, Apple may elect to skip a Broadwell refresh of the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro and wait for Skylake early next year.
While Apple's notebooks receive most of the attention, Ars Technica also highlights some new Skylake desktop chips that could make their way into future iMacs. This batch of Skylake desktop chips includes three at the Core i5 level: a 2.7 GHz 6400, a 3.2 GHz 6500, and a 3.3 GHz 6600. At the high end is a new Core i7-6700 running at 3.4 GHz.
Apple's iMac lineup is currently a hodgepodge of Haswell chips due to Intel's numerous delays with Broadwell, with Apple having limped along by introducing some speed-bumped Haswell chips on certain models and starting to introduce Retina displays on higher-end 27-inch models. Most of Apple's iMac models use discrete graphics chips, and those machines could suffice with Intel's latest Skylake chips. But some lower-end models currently rely on Iris Pro integrated graphics and Intel has yet to announce any such chips for Skylake.
Ars Technica notes the company currently has no plans to release any socketed Skylake desktop chips with Iris or Iris Pro graphics, but that doesn't preclude the possibility of a special soldered version as Apple used on the original low-end Haswell iMac in the current generation.
Intel will reportedly be making all of its new Skylake desktop chips available by the end of the year, but it is unclear whether Apple will be able to populate its full range of iMacs with the chips announced today, even if it can simplify its lineup somewhat as it moves away from Haswell. Rumors have suggested an iMac update is coming soon, but it remains to be seen what the exact specs of those machines are.
Mac mini and Mac Pro
Apple typically uses the same chips in the Mac mini as it does in the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, so today's Skylake announcement does offer some new options for the Mac mini. But with the current Mac mini having yet to adopt the Broadwell chips that appeared in the MacBook Pro earlier this year and Apple's recent pattern of lengthening Mac mini product cycles amid a declining desktop market, it is unclear when and with what processors the Mac mini will be updated.
With the Mac Pro using high-end chips that generally lag behind their mainstream counterparts by many months, the Mac Pro is often on a different product cycle than other Macs, and that remains the case with Skylake as Intel has yet to announce a full set of Xeon processors appropriate for the Mac Pro. An update is possible, however, as it has been nearly two years since Apple released the radically redesigned Mac Pro. It's been nearly a year since Intel released "Haswell-EP" chips as successors to the processors used in the 2013 Mac Pro, but Apple did not elect to release updated Mac Pros as those new Haswell chips became available and it is unclear if Apple considers them a viable option as this point in their product cycle.
Apple frequently holds an October media event to focus on iPads and Macs, and many are hoping a similar event is in store for this year, perhaps centered around the "iPad Pro," some Mac updates, and a final look at OS X El Capitan before its public release. But with most of the Skylake chips needed for updated Macs not arriving until early 2016, we may only see a few Mac families updated before the holidays.
Eric Slivka contributed to this report.