by Bill Snyder

What Intel’s new sixth-gen ‘Skylake’ chips mean for PC users

Jan 13, 2016
Computers and PeripheralsConsumer ElectronicsCPUs and Processors

New Windows laptops with sixth-generation Intel processors offer significant advantages over older systems, including better battery life, but most of them don't come cheap.

intel logo
Credit: REUTERS/Beawiharta Beawiharta

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could watch two, or even three, full-length movies on your laptop during a long flight without worrying about running out of battery? What if your laptop could display graphics well enough to play the most resource-intensive online games while you’re on the go?

Thanks to the latest crop of Windows laptops, powered by a new generation of Intel processors, both scenarios are now possible. The new Intel chips, called “sixth generation” processors, significantly increase laptop battery life, noticeably improve graphics, and add processing power, according to Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst of Insight 64 and a longtime chip industry observer.

When those new chips were under development, Intel referred to them as “Skylake” processors, but the majority of PC ads simply call them sixth generation chips. And they come in three flavors: Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7. The larger the number, the more powerful — and more expensive — the PC.

Major manufacturers including Lenovo, HP, Dell, Toshiba, and Asus all currently sell PCs with Intel’s sixth-generation Skylake chips, and last week’s CES 2016 saw many additional Skylake machines unveiled.

For most consumers, PCs with Intel i3 or i5 chips are just fine. However, if you’re a serious gamer or regularly use demanding applications, such as video editing software, you might want to consider a machine with an i7 chip.

Intel sixth-gen Skylake chips vs. previous generations and ‘Core M’

Unfortunately, older generations of Intel chips also carry the Core i3, i5 and i7 designations, which can make it difficult to determine if a PC has the latest chip. When you look at a PC ad, or check out a machine at a retail location, make sure it specifies that the chip is an Intel 6th-generation processor.

Many PCs equipped with fourth- and fifth-generation Core chips are still available. There’s nothing wrong with these older PCs, and they’re generally cheaper, though you obviously don’t get the benefits of Skylake. Unless you’re really on a budget, or plan to use the PC for only very basic tasks, I wouldn’t buy anything with a chip that’s older than fourth-gen Intel, because all of the technology inside that PC — not just the processor — will be getting long in the tooth.

Skylake also supports wireless charging, which can be valuable and convenient. However, wireless charging stations won’t be widely deployed for a while, and you may need to add some components to make sure your laptop is compatible. Some extremely intensive applications used by mathematicians and professional can reportedly cause Skylake-based PCs to freeze, but the issue shouldn’t affect many consumers, and Intel developed a fix.

Intel also offers another processor lineup, called “Core M.” The chips are not as powerful as the standardCore i3, i5 or i7 offerings, but they provide terrific battery life and are so small that they’re used in some of the thinnest and lightest PCs on the market, according to Brookwood.