Intel Core M

Intel has today announced the Core M family of processors, aimed at tablets and hybrids running full Windows. Here we explain Intel Core M specs, Intel Core M details and what kind of products to expect running Intel Core M chips. (See also: Intel turns its attention to desktop performance, unveils 8-core Haswell-E processor.)

What is Intel Core M?

The Core M family of processors are some of Intel's all new Broadwell chips, aimed at ultra-thin-and-light portable computing devices such as ultraportable laptops, tablets and hybrid devices. Core M chips will be the first 14nm processors available to the public (Intel's previous portability processors were manufactured on a 22nm process). The primary benefit of reducing the size in this way is portability: Intel wants to get to smaller chip sizes, and lower power requirements to create smaller, thinner devices that can last for longer away from the mains. Core M processors are, like their predecessors, SoC chips: they contain all of the computational and graphical power needed to run a full Windows PC, without requiring a discrete graphics card.

Intel says that compared to previous generation Intel processors Core M should offer up to 50 percent faster CPU and 40 percent better graphics performance. (See also: AMD vs Intel: which processor is best?)

Intel Core M: products

Thus Core M processors are aimed principally at tablets and hybrid devices. Intel wants to see fanless computers, with sub-9mm thick chassis. This is critical because a PC without a fan feels much more like an iPad or smartphone in use. And in terms of portable computers you can never be too thin.

Intel says that Core M chips offer the optimal blend of performance and mobility for fanless detachables, small screen thin convertibles, and ultra-thin clamshells. If it is thin and light and expensive, there's a Core M chip for that. The challenge for Intel and OEMs in the Windows world will be persuading customers that there is a benefit in having a tablet or convertible that can replace their laptop - especially when that device will likely cost a lot more than a basic laptop and the iPad or Android they already have.

(And it is the Windows world, by the way. Core M chips are certified for Windows and Linux. There's no reason why Android systems couldn't run on Core M, but it hasn't got the stamp of approval.)

Intel and Lenovo today announced the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 in 1 with the Intel Core M processor. This is a 9.6mm convertble laptop/tablet device, with a 11.6in touchscreen that has a resolution of 1920x1080. Intel says this device - which has 802.11ac Wi-Fi, an SSD and USB 3.0 connectivity - weighs just 800g. What it won't say is how much it will cost. Watch this space.

(See our Surface Pro 3 UK review for a taste of what the previous generation of Wintel could do in terms of portable and powerful.)

Surface Pro 3 review

Intel Core M: UK release date

Intel is today announcing the Intel Core M processor at IFA in Berli. It says it is tracking more than 20 designs based on Intel Core M processor from a broad range of systems manufacturers. Intel says that devices from five of those OEMs will be available this year, starting in October 2014. But expect a range of Core M portables in early 2015.

Intel Core M: power draw

In order to realise this vision of fanless computing, Intel claims that Core M processors require less than 6W of power draw to operate. This reduces the amount of heat generated, which of course reduces the need for a fan to keep things cool. According to Intel's own tests - which we will be delighted to replicate - an 11in system that is 8mm thick would require only less than 4.5W to operate. Indeed, Intel is claiming a 60 percent reduction in total power draw over its own previous best Haswell chips.

Intel Core M: smaller footprint

The other major contribution to portability required of a processor is that it be a small size. Intel says that an Intel Core M processor measures only 30x16.5x1.05mm, and having held one I can confirm that it is very small indeed. Fourth-gen Intel Core processors measured a comparitively large 40x24x1.5mm. (See also: The 28 best tablets of 2014 UK.)

Intel Core M: performance

Until we can properly test these results, we have to take Intel's own claims. Intel compared performance with a system running on a new Intel Core M-5Y70 Processor (up to 2.60GHz, 4T/2C, 4M Cache), against a four-year-old-PC with a Intel Core i5-520UM chip. That system had an 18W power draw, as against the Core M's 4.5W.

Again, these are Intel's own figures, but it is claiming that office productivity was 2.1x better on the Core M device, and 3D graphics 7.1x better. Converting a document to PDF was 1.7x faster, Intel says, photo editing 1.9x faster, and video conversion a whopping 7.6x faster.  

Intel says that Core M users should expect full Windows performance:mutiple windows simultaneously open, multi-file format and storage to hold, plus the ability to play games and run mobile apps.

Intel Core M: battery life

Using the example of the Lenovo 2-in-1 outlined above, Intel says that users should expect working battery life to be greater than eight hours. And when compared to devices running Intel processors of a previous generation Intel says the Core M chips offer up to 1.7 hours longer battery life.

Intel Core M: graphics

Embedded on the Core M chips is Intel HD Graphics 5300. This latest built-in GPU offers DirectX 11.2, OpenGL 4.2, and OpenCL 2.0. Intel promises a maximum graphics frequency of up to 850MHz. This should mean devised with up to Ultra HD (3840x2160) resolution displays. Other features include Intel Quick Sync Video, Intel Clear Video HD Technology, and Intel Wireless Display.

Intel says that this allows you to play popular PC games up to 40 percent better than with the prior generation of Intel chips. It also says that on portable devices users will be able to create and edit videos up to 80 percent faster. (See also: The 25 best Android tablets of 2014.)