Intel’s Ice Lake CPU Naming Needs a Manual

I’ve been hung up on Intel’s mobile naming conventions for quite awhile now, and I have bad news: the lineup of 10th Generation “Ice Lake” CPUs makes things even more confusing. Hell, you may even consider them hostile to average consumers.

There are a number of ways in which Intel has changed up its naming scheme this time around (a five digit number to include the “10” for 10th gen, for example), but two stand out as particularly bad: The difficulty of separating between U and Y series, and how hard it is to determine your exact graphics model.

Now, if you read Tom’s Hardware all the time, this may not be a big problem for you. We eat spec sheets for breakfast and save some more for lunch. But this is a big issue for the average person going and buying a new laptop. Intel should be making it more clear what you get, not less.

Credit: IntelCredit: Intel

Get a Decoder Ring

I reached out to ask Intel questions about its new naming convention. It started by supplying a graphic to help explain the new naming:

Credit: IntelCredit: Intel

It’s easy enough to understand the part before the hyphen. That hasn’t changed. And the 10 for “10th Gen” makes perfect sense. It’s after that where things get tricky.

Intel, Y are U changing things?

Intel is still classifying its mobile processors as U-series and Y-series. The former are in most ultraportables, while the latter are in tablets and extremely quiet fanless designs. The Y series often mean you’re getting lesser performance and a lower TDP in favor of near-silence. But the new names eliminate the letters altogether.

Here are two sample processor names. Pay close attention:

Intel Core i5-1035G7

Intel Core i5-1030G4

Do you see a U or a Y? I don’t. But the top CPU is a U series and the bottom is a Y-series. The big difference, it seems, is now the last letter before the “G” (we’ll get to the at G soon). A “5” means U-series and a “0” means Y-series. Of course, zeroes show up through both names, which could confuse some more casual buyers. Additionally, the 28W Core i7-1068G7 is also a U-series chip, breaking the pattern.

It’s likely that some laptop vendors won’t make this easier. After all, many simply market them as “Core i5” or “Core i7,” without any numerals on them after all. But where they are listed, and people can make a distinction, it should be crystal clear.

Changing Graphics Distinctions

Graphics have become perhaps more confusing than any other change. Previously, spec sheets would list the version of integrated graphics you were getting. For instance, the Whiskey Lake Intel Core i7-8565U used Intel UHD Graphics 620. With the specialty Coffee Lake-based Intel Core i7-8559U used in the 2018 Macbook Pro, you’d get Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655.

Those demarkations are gone. Now, you’ll know what graphics level you have by the number after the letter “G”. So if we pull those two processor names from before:

Intel Core i5-1035G7

Intel Core i5-1030G4

We know that the top processor has better graphics than the bottom processor. Seven is higher than four.  Technically, both of those have Intel Iris Plus graphics, and will likely be marketed as such. But G7 means it has 64 execution units while G4 means 48 EUs. And G1, with 32 EUs, now means Intel UHD graphics with no longer a number involved.

Again, if you’re a regular reader of Tom’s Hardware, you’ll likely find the spec sheets, know what this means, and get on with your life. But the majority of people will see “Iris Plus” and assume that they’re exactly the same.

In theory, this could be simple, like i3, i5, i7. Not everyone knows that that means, but they know higher numbers generally mean better performance. But with Iris Plus and UHD graphics sharing the same identifying letter.

Time To Get Educating

When you take the time to truly learn the new naming, there is some logic to it. But that logic assumes that customers know and understand spec sheets and will take the time to completely learn the new scheme. That’s unlikely at first.

Intel, in an attempt to simplify naming, has also complicated it. And that means it needs to find a way to educate consumers, possibly with new store signage, prominent space on its own and partner websites, and, hopefully, a lot of tech enthusiasts with patience willing to teach family and friends.

Note: As with all of our op-eds, the opinions expressed here belong to the writer alone and not Tom’s Hardware as a team.