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Should you upgrade to Intel's upcoming Kaby Lake processors?

Kaby Lake is Intel's new family of processors that will hit retailers in the coming months. It's the successor to Skylake, the current (6th) generation of processors that are widely adopted today. Interestingly, little has changed between Skylake and Kaby Lake, though Intel has managed to employ an improved 14 nm process, which means Kaby Lake CPUs feature increased clock speeds, faster clock speed alterations, and higher turbo frequencies.

On top of the processing improvements, Kaby Lake paves way for native USB 3.1 support, and a new graphics architecture to improve performance in 3D graphics and 4K video. Support for Optane storage technology is also boasted to be on offer, which should help with getting the most out of SSD solutions.

The improved 14 nm process also means the chips will be more energy efficient and should require less cooling, which is always a bonus when it comes to computing, especially in laptops. But should you upgrade? Are these enhancements enough to warrant further investment in upgrading your desktop? It depends on what you use the desktop for, are unable to overclock the current installed CPU and whether you have a tight budget or not.

Intel Kaby Lake

Microsoft is trying to kill off Windows 7 and get as many people on Windows 10 as possible. You've seen the previous marketing tricks it has tried to pull, including automatically downloading the latest OS on older systems without alerting the user, but now the company is outright closing down support on new CPUs. Kaby Lake processors won't actually work with Windows 7, or any older versions of Windows. So if you're not a fan of Windows 10, you're pretty stumped.

If you're not a fan of Windows 10, you're pretty stumped.

Don't look at Intel for this change as it's all on Microsoft. And don't think you'll be able to switch teams either. The upcoming AMD Zen processors will also be locked to Windows 10 only. For Intel fans, at least the new family of processors still use the same socket as Skylake, 1151. You'll be able to continue using that shiny gaming motherboard you spent $200 on.

So do we recommend you to upgrade from Skylake? We don't really recommend upgrading at all really, not unless you're using old components and would benefit from the incremental improvements Intel has made to its processor architecture. Intel's new chips are expected to be available for purchase in the coming months. We'll be sure to hit you all up with pricing and availability details once everything has been confirmed.

AMD Zen

We're also holding out for AMD, as we're sure Intel are too. Intel's competitor is set to launch the new Zen line-up of processors that should hopefully bring AMD back into the CPU race and provide much needed competition for Intel.

Rich Edmonds
Rich Edmonds

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

50 Comments
  • Horrible move there, great way to alienate users. This is an Apple-esque move, locking users into a particular OS and locking them out of one, killing any choice the user had. Thankfully for me, even Sandy Bridge CPUs work perfectly well, and I'm sure using SkyLake will still be quite viable for someone 5-6 years from now.
  • You're still welcome to use any OS you like with these new chips, so long as it's the latest Windows version if you're wanting Windows or the latest Linux kernel version if you're wanting Linux.
  • You can use your PC with the new software. When you by new hardware you can buy the necessary software and processor you like. From 2017 no one want windows 7 and all old things, bring it on the museum, or just sit and use old thing if you need them.
  • hahaha, no reason for using W7?
    Oh come on dude, W10 "calls home" 3000 (variable) per day - if you have a bad internet connection or you use a limited one than W10 is a bad decision. Privacy is another fact but I wont open this thread because we are on a "microsfot positive" site so FACTs are not welcome here :))
  • If you're in a socio-economic position/region where your net connection's so bad, that it's going to be saturated much of the time with W10x, you're likely not going to be having the latest/greatest hw, either. Makes little-to-no sense, be happy with your 1yr or older hw + W7/8x, it's going to suit your needs for a long time to come, or until connectivity in your region becomes more accessible, &/or affordable to you. The privacy thing is an issue* on all the major platforms now (& some minor ones), it's actually arguable that some of the others are worse, but that's beyond the scope of this thread, way beyond, & has been done to death. P.S. I didn't DV you bra :) *oddly, some folk focus almost purely on the downsides (while rooted in some reality -they're overdone), & completely forget (or don't understand) the truly epic upsides, esp. LT
  • I think you need to show your facts regarding these 3000 calls home
  • you're assuming that there are 'facts' to be shown
  • It's a great move. There is zero reason why anyone would still use W7. W8.1 is more efficient, faster and reliable than W7. And W10 is even more awesome.
  • Here we go, more moron WIndows 10 fanboy stuff.... Windows 7 is needed in a lot of places, In fact the company I work for we tried Windows 10 and even 8, the applcations that are critical to our business do not work under Windows 10, no matter what you do and the comany just says "Not supported". Yea, and the next comment from you will is, find a new vendor....bull crap, as they are the leader in what they do and the best that they do, there is only one option, stick with WIndows 7...it works. Dont get me wrong but, Windows 10 is pretty good, after about 10 more major updates, it will be at the level of stablness of Windows 7 but, for what it is, it is good. Not everone can use it even if it was free still (there is still a back door for free) Even at home, I need to DUAL boot because of applcations I need (not native 8.1/10 apps), do not run correctly or crash under Windows 10. Never Mind DRM based content from Media player was damaged after the Annversery update (they remoted the old DRM that was NEEDED for some programs), People who make this comment does not understand how the world works on computers....Just their little world that they think everyone needs to go by.
  • If i were your company, i would probably stick with w7 for a long time. Win 10, is too much of a privacy invador. Too much!
  • That's not really a valid comparison. Nothing is breaking. And it's pretty rare to upgrade the host hardware and then reinstall and transfer the OS license to the new hardware. I'm sure it happens, but it's an unusual use case. This only affects people who build their own systems and even then, the typical upgrade paths are either just an OS upgrade on the same hardware, or, if buying a whole new motherboard and CPU, also upgrade the OS and everything else. The only thing different here is that Microsoft will not "support" installing your existing OS on newer hardware. The article implies that anything older than Windows 10 won't run. From what I've read elsewhere, I don't believe that's correct, older OS's just won't be formally supported by Microsoft if on the newer CPUs and won't be able to take advantage of the latest features. If there is anything official to the contrary, please correct me.
  • Finally, someone who understands the article and what is happening. I agree that Win 7 may well boot on a Kaby Lake system, just that there won't be any driver support and some things may not work as intended. (clean installing Win 7 on a Kaby system is an unknown at the moment)
  • Yeah not a great move. If my woes w/10 are any indication they've haven't put much support in the OS for older hardware right from the get-go, IMO it's terrible compared to previous OSs being just as inconsistent as the mobile version.
  • I have 3rd gen Core i7 and its corresponding hardware and I have zero issues.
  • I had a 2007 vintage laptop that ran it fine too even in its beta stage, yet a 2 year old ends up getting terminal cancer from it. The majority of my equipment has either an i5 or i7 and at least 8GB ram... So out of a total of 11 computers, only two ended up problem free for the most part, the others have anything from minor to major issues that appear unresolvable w/o a clean install, even MSs rollback plan failed each and every time which wasn't a surprise.
  • I have some issues with it and some minor very specific things I prefered in Windows 7 or 8.1, but overall compared to everything before, especially since the Anniversary Update, I think Windows 10 is hands down the best Windows and best overall OS ever released.
  • It "could" be the best but IMO it was sloppily implimented and as mentioned before, way too inconsistent. Yes the hardware varies greatly but it did back then too.
  • So what will happen exactly when I install Windows 7 on a Kaby Lake PC?
  • Won't boot or it will run very slowly at best due to basic Microsoft fallback drivers
  • Probably it will run just like it would on any other CPU, without the OS tie-ins of Windows 10 that support new features in the newest chips. In other words, not much point in upgrading to Kaby Lake -- buy a cheaper Skylake at the same frequency and you'll probably get about the same performance experience. Key differences (I speculate): you MIGHT have to manually install drivers during install, instead of the OS just dropping them in, but you might not even need to do that. The main thing is that you won't be able to call Microsoft for support. But how many of us who build our own systems call MS for support with Windows? And do any of us system builders ever trust the drivers that install with Windows anyway? I always check the websites of all the components I buy and get the latest drivers direct from them anyway.
  • It would be an interesting thing if Intel made drivers for WIndows 7 and 8 to use modern CPUs.....they would be at an advanage to do it as they will sell more CPUs...
  • @DavidinCT, I couldn't argue that it would be a positive, but to what magnitude? I think the number of people who want to buy a new CPU and then install an old OS is very small. Not zero, but very small. And of those who do need to do both, most will be doing it to run a legacy application that only runs on the older OS, in which case squeezing those extra few percent of performance out of the new chips is highly unlikely to be a key factor, which would be the only benefit to newer drivers. I just don't see that this is an issue, other than demonstrating the sociological phenomenon that people are easily agitated to express outrage over anything.
  • It probably won't install.. Doesn't Windows 8+ check your system for requirements before it even starts the install?
  • I would be surprised if it doesn't install or doesn't boot, considering this is a 2009 operating system that came out way before intel and Microsoft strike that restriction. Most probably it's one of the windows updates that will identify the cpu and trigger the action, so if we figure out which one it's and isolate it we should be fine.
  • I guess that's possible, but maybe if you only had an older ISO before that change was made (at least with W10) to install from. I am only guessing however, so i am probably wrong.
  • I wonder if I'd be able to install Windows Vista on a Kaby Lake system...
  • I purchased an 860 i7 (2.8GHz) quad core w/HT in December of 2009 and for everyday tasks it suits my needs just fine. I upgraded slightly with SSD and GPU since initial build. SSD and W10 has helped lengthen the life of my PC for another 5 years or more. If I had the time and money, it might benifit me to upgrade. Since we had twin boys last year, time and money are low. I cannot fit a CPU, mobo and RAM into my monthy budget at this point in time.
  • I'm still running an i5 4690K on my desktop at it's original clock speed, so I still have plenty of room to overclock - The thing about desktop processors is how reliable the performance is - Unless you have problems with cooling then you are going to get constant top performance, where as my Surface Pro 3 will throttle back at times. Upgrading the CPU, unless you have something particularly old isn't IMO required that often - Like you say changing to SSD and upgrading your GPU are often going to have the biggest impact
  • Exactly I have a i7 5820k... and plenty to over clock on this one too... No need for a upgrade anytime soon... My CPU still sells for over $400 so all good (paid less for it 8 months ago)
  • I'm happy with 6200U i5 at least for next 3-5 years :)
  • Kabylake is great for tablets and laptops. But for classic PCs there are no reasons to upgrade from skylake. I still don't get why MS is not using kabylake on the Surface studio and the "new" Surface Book.
    Let's see what AMD is doing and what intel is doing after kabylake for PCs.
  • The CPU is still new, released just a couple months ago. If they upgraded and had problems like they did with power management on Sandy Bridge, then people would be complaining. The fab plants have not fully ramped up yet and producing Kaby Lake so supply is not there yet. Today Apple is supposed to announce new laptops, and they are going to have the older CPU (and knowing how slow they are to update, it will be a while before they get it). The only machine I know of that has it is the XPS 13, and it is shipping in limited quantities.
  • IIRC, Kaby Lake desktop quad-core processors are not even out yet. Only the dual-core versions are available which the XPS13 might be using.
  • Great euphemism: "...Intel has managed to employ an improved 14 nm process..." == "... Intel *did not* manage to employ 10 nm process...". Thanks for brighting up my day :)
  • Kaby lake adds support for hardware encode/decode of HEVC 10 bit main profile. This is the spec HDR blu-ray and future streaming will use. That for me would be the biggest reason to get a kaby lake over a sky lake if you are makign a new purchase and you want it to stand the test of time. If you already own a skylake it would be hard to justify an upgrade though but who upgrades that often anymore.
  • My super old i7 920 runs windows 10 so responsively and smooth as silk. No diff in OS performance between that and my newer system running the extreme series 6 core i7 5820k. The only time I notice a diff is under intense number crunching tasks like rendering 4k video. But for general use, you can build one sweet, sweet, sweet machine with components that are like 8 years old.
  • "You've seen the previous marketing tricks it has tried to pull, including automatically downloading the latest OS on older systems without alerting the user, but now the company is outright closing down support on new CPUs. Kaby Lake processors won't actually work with Windows 7, or any older versions of Windows." First off, they put in a way to update your system. Other OS makers do the same thing. This morning I turned on my iPad Mini to read this site, and as I have for months, dismissed the modal pop up telling me to update. It can't be gotten rid of other than updating. Twice a day, every day, stop what you are doing because we are going to interrupt you. And given Apple's tendency to break things with their updates, I don't update. As for not allowing upgraded CPUs, there is a site called WindowsCentral.com. You should read it because they ran a story a long time ago where Microsoft back tracked on that. i stopped reading there.
  • It's called planned obsolescence my friend.   I'm pretty sure that's why the largest software vendors are scared chitless of the IoT (Internet of Things) project boards market and the evolution of 3D printers.  We all rightfully harp on Chinese manufacturers for taking our jobs, but they're the only gutless bastards brave enough to fabricate modular computing components and release it to consumers who will eventually force companies like Apple and Microsoft to cut this crappola.  The only major obstacle is breaking through protected patents so consumers have access to faster chips to embed in their Kickstarter IoT projects.
  • A while ago Microsoft said that they would not write the drivers and other tools to let Win7 and older versions run on newer processors. It was not that it would not run, that they would not optimize older versions of Windows for the newer CPUs. Microsoft then said that they would do it for Win7 - not for XP or Vista since they have been EOLed. This site reported it. But this article is saying that they will not do it. I am just saying that you would think that a person writing for this site would actually read it, and know that what they wrote is not true.
  • >It's called planned obsolescence my friend.   But, it's about SUPPORT, End of life (meaning no longer supporting) Windows 7 is 2020 and Windows 8.1 is 2023... they NEED to support those OS's till that date. Sounds like time for a class action lawsuit.... You cant claim supporting past versions without supporting CPUS...
  • Someone who also cannot read. Microsoft has said that they will support newer CPUs for OSes that are still in support. XP and Vista are out of support, so they will not be getting updated drivers. Win 7 and 8.1 will be getting new drivers until they are out of support.
  • Not accurate. @DavidinCT - won't happen. They are supporting Win7 to 2020. They're just not providing Kaby Lake driver support for a 7 year old OS but that doesn't mean that existing hardware will suddenly have support cut premeturely. EOL dates still stand for existing hardware (in the same way that my old X38 Asus motherboard is still supported for my old Vista install but while Win10 works, I have to use old drivers and hope they work, use the generic Win10 drivers and hope they work or accept it's an unsupported configuration and sort it out myself). @nohone - Also wrong. Win7 / Win8.1 will not have driver support for Kaby lake or any new hardware. They tried to so that with Skylake and backed down but it's still very much the plan with any new hardware. So while Kaby Lake will hbe supported by Intel and Win 7 still has support from MS until 2020, using both on the same system is an unsupported configuration. Yes, Win 7 and 8.1 will get ongoing driver support for Intel hardware that's Skylake or older but not for Kaby Lake or any future hardware.
  • Microsoft talked about doing this pre-launch of Skylake CPU's, but ran into push back with Windows 10 adoption regarding privacy issues.  This should come as no surprise.   However, if this future QPI means IOPS increase significantly over conventional storage controllers vs expensive enterprise class PCIE add-in cards, then I'm totally on board.  You'll thank them later when RAM latency caps out and PCIE co-processors can efficiently interface directed IO between non-volatile storage interfaces.  In theory, I'm hoping maybe that's how NVLink and Intel/AMD's equivalent architecture will tap into advance co-processor utilization.
  • BTW, if Oracle's free virtual box host SW still works, you'll most likely still be able to run a Windows 7 virtual machine using legacy CPU instructions.   (I.e. How do you think hackintosh images are virtualized?  Mac OS X only previously supported Ivy Bridge CPU's, so folks on the Haswell chips had to tweak the virtual box host to run VM's on legacy chipset instructions)
  • I'm sure VMware workstation/player will offer the same option....
  • True, but as it seems, VMware has also proved themselves to be very much impartial to Microsoft for making sure certain OS installation images/bootloaders don't even run when Windows is hosting the VT-x software. As far as Intel's VT-d/Directed IO (I.e. Giving VM guests direct paths to Raid Controllers, GPU's, NIC's, CPU optimizations, etc..), my bets are on VMware working directly with Microsoft to make sure these resources are unavailable to guest OS's when the host hardware ID's don't match up.  Although, I'm not sure virtual box is a viable solution for these resources either.  Just assuming it may not be as tightly managed as VMware when it comes to interoperability w/ Windows API's, but I could just be spouting out of my rear end.
  • True, but as it seems, VMware has also proved themselves to be very much impartial to Microsoft for making sure certain OS installation images/bootloaders don't even run when Windows is hosting the VT-x software. As far as Intel's VT-d/Directed IO (I.e. Giving VM guests direct paths to Raid Controllers, GPU's, NIC's, CPU optimizations, etc..), my bets are on VMware working directly with Microsoft to make sure these resources are unavailable to guest OS's when the host hardware ID's don't match up.  Although, I'm not sure virtual box is a viable solution for these resources either.  Just assuming it may not be as tightly managed as VMware when it comes to interoperability w/ Windows API's, but I could just be spouting out of my rear end.
  • So Haswell-E or these Kaby lakes?
  • Leave it to Microsoft to screw over loyal users. Yea, I use 10 but, I NEED to dual boot with Windows 7 because programs that I NEED wont run under 10. This has always worked fine but, now If I decide to upgrade my CPU, I am screwed. No matter how much of a Windows 10 fanboy you are there IS still need for older versions of Windows... I understand like XP that is offically no longer supported. End of life is 2020 for WIndows 7 and I believe 2023 for Windows 8.1... Microsoft should support current CPUs in their support path. Many companies are still on Windows 7 and would need support. This could lead to a major lawsuit. You cant claim your supporting the OS, if you will not support at the OS level for modern CPUS...
  • If it is essential. Isaiah Heart