For the past few months, CPU aficionados have had a small puzzle to solve with regard to Intel’s 10nm. Intel has, at various points, confirmed that its 10nm is shipping to customers, but that it wasn’t ready to talk about commercial launches or products yet. The company has not been willing to elaborate further on where one might find a Core i7/i5/i3 CPU built on 10nm tech — and, of course, with the entire family now delayed into 2019, it hasn’t been clear if these chips were in-market at all. It’s entirely possible, for example, that Intel might be shipping chips to customers for early validation and bring-up, without actually shipping them for revenue. In fact, this is so normal in the semiconductor industry, it’s guaranteed that Intel is or will be doing this at some point in its 10nm ramp, no matter what.
The Core i3-8121 powers the system, and it’s a bit of an odd chip to tip up in this market. Like the other 8th Generation mobile Core i3s Intel has launched, it’s a dual-core, four-thread CPU (two cores + Hyper-Threading). The low clock rate of 2.2GHz is supposedly paired with a higher boost clock of 3.1GHz (WikiChip states a 3.2GHz boost clock, but presumably the 3.1GHz figure is accurate).
The only comparison given in the image is against the Intel Core i3-6006U, also a 15W chip built on 14nm at a flat clock of 2GHz, no Turbo, and 3MB of L3 cache instead of the 4MB on the 8th Generation Core. These gains deliver a 1.26x overall CPU performance improvement in an affordable system (the Lenovo IdeaPad 330 is priced at 420 Euros), with an AMD RX 540 GPU with its own 2GB of RAM (the IdeaPad includes 4GB of DDR4).
As low-cost systems go, this isn’t necessarily bad, but the chip specs are low compared with the usual suspects in this price range, and the CPU has no integrated graphics. That’s unusual for Intel, which has fielded integrated GPUs in all its chips almost without fail for the past few years. The general conclusion would be that yields on its 10nm chips may be too low to allow it to enable the capability, or that it’s simply doing some die recovery and tossing some parts out the door to regain some revenue on an otherwise currently underperforming product line.
As of this writing, it’s not clear if the Core i3-8121 is an unusual one-off or a sign that a few more SKUs might pop up here and there before the product line launches in wider volume. We’re in uncharted waters at this point. This is the first time we’ve seen Intel delayed so badly on a major product line, and the ramifications for overall development aren’t known. The Core i3-8121 isn’t a particularly impressive specimen, but given that we already know Intel’s 10nm development is troubled, it’s not fair to treat the CPU as a final verdict on Intel’s 10nm, either.
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