Looking At Intel Kaby Lake Performance

We recently got our hands on the Dell XPS 13 9360 laptop with a 7th Generation Intel Core i7-7500U Kaby Lake processor that is the direct replacement for last years Dell XPS 13 9350 laptop with the 6th Generation Intel Core i7-6500U Skylake processor. Both laptops have 8GB of LPDDR3 1866MHz memory and 256GB PCIe NVMe SSDs, so it gave us a great opportunity to compare the performance of Kaby Lake versus Skylake on a laptop! Dell XPS 13 Notebook The Dell XPS 13 9360 as we have configured is $1,459.99 shipped while you can still buy last years Dell XPS 13 9350 as we have configured for $1,289.98 shipped.  We loaded up the latest drivers on both the Dell XPS 13 9360 (BIOS 1.2.3) and the Dell XPS 13 9350 (BIOS 1.4.10) and ran over 15 performance tests on them to see what the performance differences were.
Core i7-7500U Core i7-6500U
Intel Series 7th Generation 6th Generation
Architecture Kaby Lake Skylake
Process Tech 14nm+ 14nm
Cores/Threads 2/4 2/4
Base Clock 2.7 GHz 2.5 GHz
Max Turbo Clock 3.5 GHz 3.1 GHz
Cache 4MB 4MB
TDP 15 watt 15 watt
Max. Memory 32GB 32GB
Graphics HD Graphics 620 HD Graphics 520
Graphics Compute Units 24 24
Graphics Clocks 300 - 1050 MHz 300 - 1050 MHz
Tray Price $393 $393
The big difference between the on the Intel Core i7-7500U Kaby Lake processor and the Intel Core i7-6500U Skylake processor is that the new Kaby Lake processors are built using the improved 14nm+ FinFET process and that is critical as those process technology refinements have allowed Intel to get higher clock frequencies without increasing power. That has allowed Intel to gain 200MHz on the base clock and an impressive 400MHz max turbo frequency on the Core i7-7500U over the Core i7-6500U. Kaby Lake Media Engine The other big addition inside Intel's 7th Generation Core series processors is the addition of a new media engine for HEVC 10-bit (H.265) and VP9 hardware accelerated decoding for improved media performance. Having a dedicated media engine handling video decode is a big deal as it helps ensure media playback is smooth and will improve power efficiency for the latest video formats. Dell XPS 13 9350 Versus Dell XPS 13 9360 Since that is pretty much the only difference between the Dell XPS 13 9350 and the Dell XPS 13 9360 that we have in-house (other than the 802.11ac wireless card and SSD) it gives us the ability to look the performance differences between the two systems. This makes for a great apples to apples comparison of the processors. And for that reason in this article we'll be focusing on CPU performance and not the other subsystem components.

Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks

SiSoftware Sandra 2016 SP3 Memory Bandwidth: link

SiSoftware Sandra 2016 is a utility, which includes remote analysis, benchmarking and diagnostic features for PCs, servers, mobile devices and networks. This test has been popular for CPU and memory benchmarks for well over a decade and it is one of the easiest benchmarks out there to run.

AIDA64 5.80 Memory & Cache Benchmark: link

AIDA64 is an industry-leading system information tool, loved by PC enthusiasts around the world, which not only provides extremely detailed information about both hardware and installed software, but also helps users diagnose issues and offers benchmarks to measure the performance of the computer. Memory Bandwidth Results Summary: The Dell XPS 13 9350 and Dell XPS 13 9360 both feature 8GB of DDR3 1866MHz memory with 14-17-17-40 timings with a 1T command rate. Since both systems have identical memory solutions we didn't expect a big performance difference and didn't get one. The reason the Dell XPS 9360 was faster was due to the higher clock speeds on the Intel Core i7-7500U Kabylake processor.

Real World Benchmarks

Dolphin 5.0 x64 Emulator Benchmark: link

The long awaited Dolphin 5.0 release happened in 2016 and thanks to a major cleaning up of the codebase Dolphin has reached a new level of efficiency, powered by a revitalized dynamic recompiler. Dolphin is considered by many to be the best Nintendo Wii emulator for PC you can find. It also works for Gamecube. We are running the official Dolphin 5.0 benchmark as it offers closer mapping to real world Dolphin performance as the previous version was extremely floating point heavy. We feel this is a pretty good general CPU benchmark for real world performance as emulation workloads are something that most gamers will run at one point or another.  We benchmark the standard Wii homebrew application and run it with the speed limit set to 'unlimited' and the External Frame Buffer set to 'real' in case you wanted to run this on your personal system.

Agisoft Photoscan 1.2.6 x64 - 2D to 3D Image Manipulation Benchmark: link

Agisoft PhotoScan is a stand-alone software product that performs photogrammetric processing of 2D digital images and generates 3D spatial data to be used in GIS applications, cultural heritage documentation, and visual effects production as well as for indirect measurements of objects of various scales. We us the 50 images from the 'Building' sample data download page for our benchmark. We take the total time it takes to complete four steps: Align Photos, Build Dense Cloud, Build Model, Build Texture with all the default settings for each.

KeyShot 6.3 - 3D Rendering and Animation: link

KeyShot 3D rendering and animation software is one of the fastest, easiest way to create amazing, photographic visuals of your 3D data. We installed KeyShot 6.3 to do some benchmarking and real-world stress testing using the camera_benchmark.bip scene that is included with the application. This benchmark tests a 800x554 pixel image with a continuous sample rate and shows the Frames Per Second (FPS) that the scene is being rendered from. This scene has nearly 42,000 triangles and does a good job at using all available cores to render the scene.

Blender 2.78a Open Source 3D Creation Benchmark: link

Blender is the free and open source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, even video editing and game creation. We use the BMW CPU Benchmark (CCO, 3MB) created by Mike Pan for our testing. Real World Benchmark Results Summary: When it comes to our 'real world' benchmark tests we found between a 4.7% increase and 18.8% performance advantage for the Intel Core i7-7500U Kabylake processor in the latest Dell XPS 13 9360 laptop. The performance advantage for the Intel 7th Generation Core i7-7500U processor was 9.2% in Blender, 4.7% in Keyshot, 11.3% in Photoscan and a massive 18.8% performance increase in Dolphin!

Media Encoding & Encryption Benchmarks

HandBrake v0.10.5 - link

HandBrake is an open-source, GPL-licensed, multiplatform, multithreaded video transcoder, available for MacOS X, Linux and Windows. It is popular today as it allows you to transcode multiple input video formats to h.264 output format and is highly multithreaded. We used Big Buck Bunny as our input file, which has become one of the world standards for video benchmarks. For our benchmark scenario we used a standard 2D 4K (3840x2160) 60 FPS clip in the MP4 format and used Handbrake version 0.10.5 to shrink that down to 1920x1080 to reduce the file size. This is something people often do to save space to put movies onto mobile devices. We the workload is encoded into h.264 output format using the normal preset. The file started out at 642MB in size with a total bitrate of 8476kps and ended up being 342MB in size with a total bitrate of 4515kbps with these settings.

X264 HD Encoding - link

the x264 HD Benchmark is a reproducible measure of how fast your machine can encode a short HD-quality video clip into a high quality x264 video file. It’s nice because everyone running it will use the same video clip and software. The video encoder (x264.exe) reports a fairly accurate internal benchmark (in frames per second) for each pass of the video encode and it also uses multi-core processors very efficiently. All these factors make this an ideal benchmark to compare different processors and systems to each other. We are using x264 HD v5.0.1 for this test. Media Encoding Benchmark Results Summary: Our media tests showed that the Intel Core i7-7500U Kabylake processor was 3.3% faster in our handbrake test and then in x264 HD it was 14.0% faster on the first pass and a solid 6.6% faster in the second pass.  Not bad results here as this will shave minutes off transcoding entire movies.

VeraCrypt 1.19 - link

VeraCrypt is an open-source disk encryption software brought to you by IDRIX and is a fork based on the discontinued TrueCrypt 7.1a utility. The developers claim that weaknesses found in TrueCrypt have been resolved with the VeraCrypt project. This is a popular utility used by people that don't want to use Microsoft's built-in encyption tool for Windows 10 called Bitlocker. Encryption Benchmark Results Summary: This AES Encryption test shows that the Intel Core i7-7500U Kabylake processor was 16.7% faster than the Intel Core i7-6500U!

Web JavaScript & HTML5 Benchmarks

Mozilla Kraken 1.1: link

Kraken is a JavaScript performance benchmark created by Mozilla that measures the speed of several different test cases extracted from real-world applications and libraries. Kraken uses a test harness based on the SunSpider benchmark. Results are reported in milliseconds (lower is better).

Google Octane 2.0: link

Octane 2.0 is a benchmark created by Google that measures a JavaScript engine’s performance by running a suite of tests that is supposed to be representative of today’s complex and demanding web applications. Octane‘s goal is to measure the performance of JavaScript code found in large, real-world web applications, running on modern mobile and desktop browsers. The latest Octane 2.0 benchmark includes four new tests to measure new aspects of JavaScript performance, including garbage collection / compiler latency and asm.js-style JavaScript performance.

JetStream 1.1: link

JetStream combines a variety of JavaScript benchmarks, covering a variety of advanced workloads and programming techniques, and reports a single score that balances them using geometric mean. JetStream includes benchmarks from the SunSpider 1.0.2 and Octane 2 JavaScript benchmark suites. It also includes benchmarks from the LLVM compiler open source project, compiled to JavaScript using Emscripten 1.13. It also includes a benchmark based on the Apache Harmony open source project's HashMap and a port of the CDx benchmark, hand-translated to JavaScript.

WebXPRT 2015: link

WebXPRT 2015 uses scenarios created to mirror the tasks you do every day to compare the performance of almost any Web-enabled device. It contains six HTML5- and JavaScript-based workloads: Photo Enhancement, Organize Album, Stock Option Pricing, Local Notes, Sales Graphs, and Explore DNA Sequencing. Web JavaScript & HTML5 Benchmarks Results Summary: The Dell XPS 13 9360 with the Intel Core i7-7500U was between 9.8% to 18.7% faster than the Dell XPS 13 9350 with the Intel Core i7-6500U processor, which is pretty amazing! The Intel Core i7-7500U was 9.8% faster in WebXPRT, 12.4% faster in Kraken, 16.6% faster in JetStream and an impressive 18.7% faster in Octane. When it comes to online browsing it is clear that Kaby Lake is superior and should provide a noticeable performance increase over the last generation processors, so if you are upgrading a few your old system you'll be seeing huge gains on sites that are HTML5 and JavaScript heavy.

3DMark & Cinebench

Futuremark 3DMark 2.2.3509 - link

3DMark is a popular gaming performance benchmark that includes everything you need to benchmark your PC whether you're gaming on a desktop PC, laptop, notebook, or a tablet. 3DMark includes seven benchmark tests and we'll be running 'Sky Diver' that is aimed at gaming laptops and mid-range PCs.

Maxon Cinebench R15.038 - link 

CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer's performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software Cinema 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Iron Man 3, Oblivion, Life of Pi or Prometheus and many more. 3DMark and Cinebench Benchmarks Results Summary: The Dell XPS 13 9360 with the Intel Core i7-7500U was between 10.4% faster than the Dell XPS 13 9350 with the Intel Core i7-6500U processor, which is impressive again. The Intel Core i7-7500U was also 8.4% faster in the OpenGL graphics test found in Cinenbench, so there are solid gains in GPU heavy tasks as well. When you look at the CPU performance gains in Cinebench you are looking at 7.6% gains with all available cores and then an earth shattering 17% performance increase in single threaded performance. The Intel Core i7-7500U has a 400MHz clock speed advantage over the Core i7-6500U, but that is only a 12.9% advantage when it is max boosting! Impressive scores that we really weren't expecting.

HEVC/H.265 Video Decode Performance

One of the big new features of Kaby Lake is that there is now HEVC hardware encode/decode block in chip. This frees up the CPU and GPU workload and puts it on the new dedicated hardware that was designed to run it from the start. To test this new feature, we played Tears of Steel (4K, 24 FPS, 20mbps 10-bit HEVC (H.265) video file in full screen mode using the default Windows Movies & TV app that comes in Windows 10 Anniversary Edition. While this was playing we recorded what the CPU and GPU was doing during video playback and got some very interesting results. HEVC hardware encode/decode performance Here is a look at an 8 minute section of the overall CPU utilization that was being observed while the video was being played back. On the new Intel Core i7-7500U processor we averaged right around 11% CPU utilization and noted that the video was played back pretty smoothly. On last years Intel Core i7-6500U processor the CPU utilization averaged up around 44% and we noticed several placed where the video playback was not smooth. HEVC hardware encode/decode performance We also noticed that the GPU clock speed was much higher on the Intel Core i7-6500U than the Intel Core i7-7500U! The take home message here is that if HEVC/H.265 video encode/decode performance is a point of concern for you, then you'll want to go with an Intel 7th Gen Kaby Lake processor for the additional decode block that was added this generation. This is a big deal for mobile users as the lower CPU utilization and GPU clock speeds means that you'll have greatly improved battery life when watching videos. Kaby Lake also supports Google's upcoming VP9 video coding format, so Intel 7th Gen Core processors are clearly the way to go for H.265 and VP9 video codecs.

Power Consumption and Conclusion

The Dell XPS 13 has amazing battery life and it easily lasts over 12 hours with light web surfing, so we didn't take the time to do a full battery test to the death on each laptop due to time constraints. What we did do was measure the power at the wall during a handful of tasks to see how much power was being used and the results were pretty interesting. At idle the new Dell XPS 13 9360 with the Intel Core i7-7500U Kaby Lake processor used almost 16% less power, but that wasn't the most shocking result. During our Tears of Steel HEVC video playback test the Kaby Lake system used over 67% less power than the Dell XPS 13 system with the Intel Core i7-6500U Skylake processor! In Blender the Kaby Lake system was basically on par with the Skylake system and that is impressive since the Kaby Lake system was 9.2% faster in that benchmark. The Kaby Lake processor wasn't less in everything though as in the AIDA 64 Stress Test it used about 6% more power with everything maxed out. Very impressive results and you can see that battery life will greatly depend on what you are doing with the system. Dell XPS 13 9350 Versus Dell XPS 13 9360 Final Thoughts and Conclusions For months we've heard people talking about how Kaby Lake is going to suck and that there is no reason to upgrade to it since it's basically just an updated Skylake processor. We can understand that some people might look at the specifications and minor architecture changes and come to that conclusion, but the benchmark results speak for themselves. Intel was able to work their magic and the higher clock speeds at basically the same power consumption is impressive. The performance gains that Intel has gotten from their 7th Gen Intel Core Processor U-Series at 15W TDP is nothing short of impressive. The Intel Core i7-7500U might only be a dual-core processor with four threads, but thanks to being able to run at up to 3.5GHz those two cores are really responsive and can handle pretty much anything. The new video decoder block was also impressive and if you want full hardware decode for HEVC Main10 or playback a ton of videos, you'll want to get Kaby Lake over Skylake for the battery life alone. If someone out there found this article trying to decide between the Intel Core i7-6500U or the Intel Core i7-7500U in a new laptop we hope that you now feel better informed by what you'll get. The Dell XPS 13 9360 as we have configured is $1,459.99 shipped and you can still buy last years Dell XPS 13 9350 as we have configured for $1,289.98 shipped. There is a $170 price premium for the new model, but it also has an upgraded Killer Network wireless card. If you are a PC enthusiast we think we know what model you'll be going for. Let us know if you have any questions below and we really look forward to looking at Kabylake on the desktop in 2017 and to finally get our hands on AMD's upcoming Ryzen processors in 2017 as well. It looks like 2017 is going to be a great year for processors!