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A day on Intel's Skylake improves memory, graphics and more

With its built-in hyper-threading, overclocking and DDR4 RAM, among other new features, Intel's Skylake processor microarchitecture can improve a company's processing power.

Intel's Skylake, the sixth generation of Intel's processor microarchitecture, is now available on a wide range of Intel products. It works with the Intel Core and Xeon brands, as well as the Pentium and Celeron lines.

Skylake is the 6th Generation Intel Core processor for desktop and mobile client systems. It offers a greater degree of processing power and promises better CPU, graphics and memory performance across the full spectrum of Intel products.

The processor also promises better power efficiency, especially for laptop and mobile devices. Skylake also bolsters security with some key new features.

Intel Skylake performance

Skylake improves performance over previous Intel processors in a number of ways. For example, Skylake includes built-in hyper-threading capabilities, which make it possible to deliver two operating system commands per physical core. This allows highly threaded applications to carry out parallel operations quickly and efficiently.

The Skylake processor also supports the PCI Express 3.0 interface, an industry bus standard known for achieving higher throughputs and better performance scaling. As a result, Skylake provides faster access to peripheral devices and network resources.

In addition, the processor utilizes Intel's Turbo Boost technology to dynamically increase its clock rate -- the frequency a central processing unit or other chip runs at -- when needed. It uses thermal and power resources to boost performance.

The overclocking feature -- available in the K versions of Skylake -- lets admins set the processor to run CPU, graphics and memory at above-normal frequencies. Skylake's overclocking provides more granular control than previous chips, making it easier for manufacturers and hardware enthusiasts to push their systems' performance limits in a controlled manner.

Memory and graphics

Intel's Skylake supports double data rate fourth-generation (DDR4) RAM memory, which boosts performance. DDR4 supports higher transfer speeds at lower power than DDR3. DDR4 integration also uses prefetching algorithms to further improve read/write memory operations. All Skylake processors support up to 64 GB of memory.

With Skylake, Intel also enhanced the embedded DRAM (eDRAM), a type of cache memory embedded directly into the processor. Intel's eDRAM has been around since the Haswell processor as a way to improve memory bandwidth and GPU performance. Skylake takes it up a notch by adding the CPU to the mix, improving performance for a much wider range of operations.

Skylake also ups the ante on graphics with built-in support for the High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) standard, or H.265. HEVC, a video compression technology, is the successor to Advanced Video Coding (AVC), or H.264, and delivers the same quality as AVC, but with far better compression, making it possible to handle data-intensive loads, including 4K video.

In fact, much of the hype around Skylake is focused on its HD and 4K capabilities; it supports up to 4096x2304 resolution displays. The processor can even drive multiple 4K displays simultaneously. Skylake includes video syncing and acceleration capabilities and supports technologies such as OpenCL 2.0 for cross-platform programming.

Power management and security

Skylake introduces several optimizations to help reduce power consumption, most notably on battery-driven systems such as laptop computers and mobile devices. Speed Shift, for example, lets the processor quickly switch between power modes.

Skylake also powers down instruction sets when applications are not using them. For example, some applications might never use Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX), an instruction set for performing intensive floating point calculations. In such cases, Skylake powers down AVX. In addition, Intel's Skylake provides Power Optimizer & Processor C-States, a service that increases the periods of sleep across components such as the CPU and chipset.

Skylake security is also better than its predecessor, the Broadwell microarchitecture. For example, the processor now supports Software Guard Extensions (SGX), which application developers can use to prevent unauthorized access or modifications to specific code or data. SGX provides instructions and software developers can use to enclose the code or data in protected execution areas known as enclaves.

Skylake also provides BIOS Guard to protect against BIOS recovery attacks, Boot Guard to protect a system during the boot process and OS Guard to protect the operating system kernel. In addition, Skylake secures online transactions with the Identity Protection service.

Another important security feature in Skylake is the Intel instruction set Advanced Encryption Standard New Instructions (AES-NI), which provides hardware-accelerated data encryption and decryption. AES-NI can work in conjunction with Secure Key, a hardware-based random number generator that creates the cryptographic keys used to encrypt and decrypt the data.

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