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1-min read

Intel Can Revive the Fate of Ultrabooks with 10th Gen Processors and Project Athena

The new, 10nm Ice Lake processors have packed in a whole lot of firepower, even with its low-power range of CPUs. Here’s what might make them tick.

Shouvik Das | News18.com

Updated:May 30, 2019, 11:34 PM IST
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Intel Can Revive the Fate of Ultrabooks with 10th Gen Processors and Project Athena
The new, 10nm Ice Lake processors have packed in a whole lot of firepower, even with its low-power range of CPUs. Here’s what might make them tick.
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Back when ultrabooks were first introduced at the turn of this decade, Intel was at the core of building these supposedly premium and uber-desirable laptops. In essence, Intel succeeded at its primary objectives — ever since they were introduced, ultrabooks were premium laptops that presented top-notch performance in increasingly slim laptop bodies and highly premium designs. However, what they failed at was in the ultimate objective of every product — sales.

At the centre of this conundrum were the very philosophy of these devices. In order to build premium laptops that were super slim and good performers, Intel needed to improve the processor fabrication node, which in turn cost a fair amount of money. On top of this, high performance processors inside super slim laptops could not use the standard cooling technique of fans. Instead, they had to use alternate cooling techniques such as heat dissipation pipes or thermal gel, which further drove up costs.

Then came the specially designed chassis, higher resolution displays, high precision trackpads and brand collaborations to present high quality audio. In essence, ultrabooks were simply too expensive to make, and the processor was at the centre of it all. Now, however, Intel has made an interesting move with its 10th Gen Core processors, previously known as ‘Ice Lake’.

Project Athena

Some time ago, Intel laid out some guidelines about what an ultrabook should be made of. Think of these as guidelines for OEMs to make the new crop of ultrabooks on. The minimum requirement for an ultrabook to qualify for Project Athena certification include Core i5 processor, 1080p display measuring between 12” to 15.6”, narrow-bezel design, ultra-thin chassis, 2-in-1 or convertible form factor (optional), 8GB+ RAM, 256GB+ SSD storage, <1s boot time, +9h battery life, Thunderbolt 3, Wi-Fi 6 and LTE (optional) connectivity.

It is this very combination, coupled with Intel’s certification plan, that gives ultrabooks a second shot at commercial success. While most of the components mentioned in Project Athena would be found in premium, upmarket laptops, it is the more frequent use and standardisation of the technology that raises the possibility of bringing down the eventual cost of these laptops.

Ice Lake

To understand this, it is important to understand what Intel’s 10th Gen Core processors bring to the table. Interestingly, Intel’s first 10th gen processors fall in the ‘U’ lineup, which stand for processors that are used in low-power, high efficiency laptops. These processors use the new Sunny Cove core architecture — Intel’s latest 10nm process that will power the next generation of mainstream processors. With 18 percent higher instructions per cycle (IPC) and larger level 1 and level 2 caches, these cores are far superior than Intel’s previous generation architecture.

Then come the feature set, headlined by Intel’s first decent-performing integrated GPU — the 11th gen Iris Plus. This is the first Intel GPU that produces over 1 TFLOPs of graphics performance. This means playing CS:Go at 70fps, native support for adaptive sync display, HEVC video encoding, 4K/60p and 8K/30p video playback support, and a dedicated image processing unit (IPU) that enables up to 1080p/120fps direct video transcoding.

Throw in support for up to 64GB DDR4 RAM, Thunderbolt 3, Wi-Fi 6 and a dedicated AI co-processor, and the 10th gen Intel Core processors pack are literally designed to help OEMs make the cut for ultrabooks. It lays the core foundation, and offers it all up even in Core i5 variants. For still cheaper laptops, there are Core i3 variants, too.

Affordability is Key

At the end of the day, the commercial success of a product is dependent on how affordable it is, and the value for money that it represents. Intel’s Ice Lake laptop lineup is designed with value in mind, and it is an outright masterstroke to introduce the ‘U’ lineup in notebooks, before proceeding through the rest of the rank.

OEMs engaged in ultrabooks can make use of a ready platform, without needing their own optimisations, or even a dedicated GPU, to present a slim, light, fanless laptop that can be an internet-connected workhorse, and can even pull off gigs for content creators. And, given that Intel has squarely aimed at making OEMs see the value proposition amid premium performance, ultrabooks finally do stand a chance to make it big in the mainstream space.

In hindsight, it may need a slight push from Microsoft’s end as well, but given that rumours about Microsoft’s ‘modern OS’ venture turn out to be true, Intel may very well credit itself with being the messiah of revival for ultrabooks in the near future.

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