Intel's Core i3, i5, and i7 branding has been around for well over a decade now, starting with the release of Nehalem chips back in 2009. It's been through a few iterations since then, namely the introduction of a higher Core i9 tier back in 2017, but its biggest shake-up might be on the way with next-gen Meteor Lake chips.
Intel might be ditching the 'i' from Core i3, Core i5, etc., and in some cases replacing it with the word "Ultra".
The rumours first started when an Ashes of the Singularity benchmark showed up with a Meteor Lake chip in testing called the Core Ultra 5 1003H (via Videocardz). That's a bit of a weird name even without the Ultra stuffed in there, but this isn't a desktop chip. It's likely a mobile processor from the specs listed in a SiSoft benchmark database entry spotted by BenchLeaks.
The chip is running at 45W with 18 cores and 18 threads listed, which would be an oddity for a chip built around Intel's new hybrid architecture. Now AotS could be throwing out a red herring here, but it would be pretty weird to have a CPU with six Performance-cores (P-Cores) and six Efficient-cores (E-Cores) as Intel currently groups E-Cores into four-core clusters. It's been supposed that it's just four E-Cores and the extra two threads come from two tiled SoC cores. That's possible because Meteor Lake will be the first Intel design to use disaggregated designs, i.e. chiplets (or tiles) rather than a single chip, but it's also possible that the way Intel is divvying up E-Cores has changed with the coming generation.
But as to the new naming, I had first thought this to be just internal Intel parlance. But that doesn't seem to be the case.
One of Intel's own, Bernard Fernandes, director of global comms at Intel, has confirmed that there will be some changes to CPU naming conventions with the coming Meteor Lake generation. They just haven't said what they are yet.
Yes, we are making brand changes as we’re at an inflection point in our client roadmap in preparation for the upcoming launch of our #MeteorLake processors. We will provide more details regarding these exciting changes in the coming weeks! #IntelMay 1, 2023
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It's very likely then that what we've seen in those early benchmarks will end up being the new naming convention for Intel's coming Meteor Lake CPUs. That should mean we'll see the 'i' dropped when Meteor Lake lands.
Notably, the 'Core' bit and the numbering system appears to be remaining the same.
With AMD also using the same numbering system for its Ryzen CPUs, it'd be odd for Intel to entirely rip up the rulebook and start again. With this new nomenclature, it's looking more like Intel's naming will directly align with that of AMD's Ryzen CPUs, with a Core 7 an easy point of comparison for a Ryzen 7.
Meteor Lake is set for release in the second-half of this year, and Intel's CEO Pat Gelsinger has confirmed that these chips are already in production. But don't get your hopes up for these chips powering your gaming PC this year, or ever. Meteor Lake is expected to launch mobile-first with possibly a small number of low-end desktop chips to round off the generation. For gamers, it's the rumoured Raptor Lake Refresh that's set to land that's of most interest.