Intel's Skylake CPUs Could Push You To Upgrade That Old PC

You can be forgiven if news of a new generation of processors doesn't exactly set the pulse racing. After all, the same selling points -- Faster clock speeds! Greater power efficiency! Improvements all around! -- get dutifully trotted out from one generation of chips to the next.

Indeed, you'll hear a lot of those same benefits as Intel takes the wraps off its 6th-generation Core processor family. Code-named Skylake, the new processors follow closely on the heels of Intel's Broadwell CPUs and promise an array of performance improvements. Intel says its latest chips will deliver better graphics, greater power efficiency and improved performance in everything from mobile devices to laptops to workstation-class desktops, as machines powered by Skylake processors begin to hit the market during the remainder of this year and into 2016.

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It may sound familiar, especially since we only started getting acquainted with Broadwell-based systems about nine months ago. But there are plenty of reasons to welcome Intel's 6th-generation processor family, especially if you play a lot of games, watch a lot of videos or turn to your desktop machine to handle any number of graphically intensive tasks.

Odds Are Your Computer Is Pretty Old: By Intel's math, more than 1 billion PCs in use these days are three years or older; half of those computers have been in use for five years or more. If your hardware is on the older side of that spectrum, you've likely noticed performance lags as apps, games and multimedia files have gotten more demanding.

"There's never been a more exciting time to buy a PC," Kirk Skaugen, senior vice president and GM of Intel's client computer group, said during a Skylake briefing at last month's Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. And while Intel executives have plenty of incentive to encourage you to buy a PC -- market research firms say the PC market is continuing to shrink -- more powerful processors like the ones that make up the Skylake family figure to give you one less reason to hold on to your older hardware.

Timing Is Everything: Skylake processors make their debut not long after Microsoft's Windows 10 hit the scene this summer. "It's only once in a decade where you get to work on a product like the 6th-generation Core for four years and align it with a major product like Windows 10," Skaugen said.

As a result, Intel's Skylake chips, much like the recently released Carrizo processors from rival AMD, are built with Windows 10 in mind. Skaugen said Intel worked closely with Microsoft when it was designing its 6th-generation Core CPUs, building in support for features like fast resume times of 500 ms or less as well as the Cortana voice assistant and Windows 10 unlocking technology.

Support for More Form Factors: Intel touts Skylake as the most flexible platform it's ever delivered, and for good reason: a growing number of devices are demanding more processing power. Take desktops, an area that Intel corporate vice president and general manager of desktop client platforms Gregory Bryant says has broadened to include everything from gaming towers and all-in-ones to mini PCs and Compute Sticks. To meet the demands of these different devices, Intel has split the 6th-Generation Core family into distinct series based on power consumption. In addition to the S Series powering traditional towers and all-in-ones, Intel also offers U Series CPUs for miniPCs and portable all-in-ones and Y Series chips for Compute Sticks.

All these factors should translate into an improved experience, particularly if you're upgrading from an older machine. Intel tested a new Core i5-6500-powered PC against one running on a five-year-old Core i5-650 processor. The new chip enjoyed a 60 percent improvement in the SySmark benchmark measuring overall speed and a six-times better speeds in 4K/UHD video transcoding using Handbrake with QSV. Graphics also saw an 11-times gain in 3DMark Cloud Gate scores over the five-year-old processor.

For gamers, the news surrounding Skylake looks equally promising. Intel's new Core i7-6700K processor can boost performance up to 80 percent over a five-year-old system, Bryant says. Even against a three-year-old PC, the new processor should still deliver a 30 percent gain in performance. The i7-6700K promises new levels of memory overclocking with finer grain tuning for optimized gaming performance.

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For creative professionals, Intel's 6th-generation Core processors promise faster DDR4 memory, PCI Express 3.0 storage for greater bandwidth, and dramatic graphic improvements over older systems. To illustrate how those improvements can boost performance, Intel's Bryant brought a mosaic program that incorporated 4K video. Render times on a desktop running a 4th-generation Core processor were about 10 hours; a Skylake machine pulled off the same rendering in half the time.

On the mini PC front, Intel says that more than 20 new designs are coming to market with 6th-generation Core chips inside. Bryant demoed a mini PC running on a Skylake chip that was able to run H.265-optimized content, streaming it to a mobile device. In addition, Intel's next-generation Compute Stick, set to arrive in the first quarter of 2016, will run on a Core M processor.

Bryant promised desktop users and gamers "compelling new user experiences that you couldn't do before." New product release always invite plenty of hype, but the promised improvements of Skylake processors should be of interest if you're still clinging to an aging PC.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.