Black Friday is rapidly approaching, Microsoft and Apple have just shown off their laptop collections for the year, and there’s more nighttime in the winter to Netflix in bed. Ordinarily, this would be the perfect time to go get a new laptop. But not in 2016.
See, although Intel announced its new line of Kaby Lake processors back in August, we won’t see a lot of the new processors in laptops until next year. The new processors promise all sorts of improvements over the current Skylake versions, but even if you don’t care about better 4K video playback, you probably do care about saving money. Which is why you should slowly back away from the Amazon cart, set down the 1-click order button, and wait.
Kaby Lake is the seventh generation of Intel’s Core processors. On paper, it’s not that much of an upgrade over the Skylake chips that came before. It runs on the same-sized 14nm process, using a mostly-similar architecture to the Skylake chips, so there aren’t any giant improvements in battery life or processing power for general-use applications.
But where the new chips should be much better is for specific things like 4K video playback or VR. Intel has started to tailor its silicon to the kinds of intensive tasks that currently tax the processor. It’s the same thing that processor manufacturers have been doing for the last few years for smartphones: rather than just increase overall processing power, Qualcomm, Samsung and Apple have customized their chips so that they’re much better at a specific task.
Intel is claiming that you’ll get nearly double the battery life when streaming 4K video off YouTube, which is a huge improvement. Other battery-intensive tasks, like general web browsing, also get a double-digit efficiency boost. So, for the same-size laptop with the same battery, you’ll be getting hours more battery life if you wait for a Kaby Lake chip.
Gaming is another good example. The beefy quad-core Kaby Lake processors, which won’t launch until early next year, will have the latest version of Intel’s Iris graphics. We don’t know a ton about it, but we’ve seen demos of thin-and-light laptops running graphically intensive games like Overwatch at a decent FPS. The big question is if the best Iris graphics will be able to handle basic AR or VR tasks. If they can pull that off, it will mean serious graphics performance in a thin laptop with low power draw.
So when will be a good time to buy a laptop? The basic, low-power Kaby Lake chips are already out, but we’ll have to wait until sometime early next year for the high-power, quad-core laptop processors that you find in the MacBook Pro or Surface Book. You can expect all the big-name laptop manufacturers to debut laptops packing Kaby Lake, so a few demos at the Consumer Electronics Show in January is a good guess.
Even if you don’t care about any of the graphics or efficiency improvements, it’s probably worth waiting until the new year to buy a new laptop. With Kaby Lake computers coming out, the perfectly capable Skylake PCs will be going on sale anyway. Couple those sales with the post-Christmas discounts, and you could be picking up serious PCs for a lot less money than right now. All you have to do is wait.