As first hinted at by Intel back in late April, Intel is embarking on a journey to redefine its client processor branding, the biggest such shift in the previous 15 years of the company. Having already made waves by altering its retail packaging on premium desktop chips such as the Core i9-11900K and Core i9-12900K, the tech giant aims to introduce a new naming scheme across its client processors, signaling a transformative phase in its client roadmap.

This shift is due to begin in the second half of the year, when Intel will launch their highly anticipated Meteor Lake CPUs. Meteor Lake represents a significant leap forward for the company in regards to manufacturing, architecture, and design – and, it would seem, is prompting the need for a fresh product naming convention.

The most important changes include dropping the 'i' from the naming scheme and opting for a more straightforward Core 3, 5, and 7 branding structure for Intel's mainstream processors. The other notable inclusion, which is now officially confirmed, is that Intel will bifurcate the Core brand a bit and place its premium client products in their own category, using the new Ultra moniker. Ultra chips will signify a higher performance tier and target market for the parts, and will be the only place Intel uses their top-end Core 9 (previously i9) branding.

Intel: A Brief History of the Core i Series

The Core i series debuted in 2008, around 15 years ago, marking the end of the first Core/Core 2 era and signaling a new dawn for Intel's client product lines. This change happened alongside the release of its 45 nm manufacturing process through the Nehalem architecture and covered products such as Celeron, Pentium Core, and the Xeon brands. More recently, in 2020, Intel initiated a more comprehensive overhaul of its corporate identity to modernize the messaging from a 50 year old company, the effects of which are still winding through the company today.

This revamp of Intel's  branding has involved the introduction of new trademarks and logos characterized by cleaner typography and simplistic geometric backgrounds with a lighter blue color scheme. As part of this process, Intel has previously bid farewell to its long-established budget CPU brands, Pentium and Celeron. These branding changes were undoubtedly intended to convey a willingness to change, transcend, and solidify their position in an emerging market.

Going from the older Core Duo branding to the Core i3 series marked the dawn of Intel's modern low-end processor branding, with the quantitative markup of their other lineups into the Core i5 (mid-range) and the Core i7 series – which at the time, was reserved for Intel's flagship processors.

Going Forward: Deemphasizing Generational Branding

The latest branding change, as previously mentioned, is the biggest in the last 15 years of Intel. While some naming schemes can be confusing and cluttered (ahem, Xeons), Intel is aiming for something that's still reasonably clear for the client processors. Which is great timing, because the hardware underpinning them is about to get fairly complex with the transition chiplet-based Meteor Lake and its mix-and-match of dies built on the Intel 4 process and built over at rival-supplier TSMC.

First and foremost, under their new branding system Intel is doing away with leading generational branding. For the last decade plus, we've seen Intel slowly increment through their Core generations, such as 4th Gen Core, 9th Gen Core, 13th Gen Core, etc. Often, this was placed in front of the processor description (especially on OEM devices), giving us descriptions such as "Intel 11th Generation Core i3".

Under Intel's new branding change, the processor generation is being deemphasized – but not eliminated entirely. The processor model numbers themselves will still start with the generation as they do today, but that will be the only place where the generation will be consistently denoted. Generation as a leading indicator will be going away.

At this point, we don't know where Intel will start their latest numbering system from. While Intel could very well continue on from where they've left off, making the next parts the 14th Generation (and thus 14xxx model numbers), more likely Intel is going to use this as a chance to reset their generation count. The benchmark data leaks that caused Intel to initially comment on this matter back in April included mention of a 1003H chip, for what that's worth.

Intel Core 3, Core 5, and Core 7 for Mainstream: Dropping the Iconic 'i'

As part of the new rebranding, Intel is dropping the 'i' from their processor tiering system for client processors, starting with Meteor Lake and other products on the roadmap beyond this. This means that the Core i3, i5, and i7 naming structure becomes Core 3, 5, and 7, effectively dropping the 'i' moniker of the naming structure.

This means chips such as the Core i5 13600 would be named something like Core 5 13600 under the new naming convention. This doesn't constitute a massive change in the naming, but is significant as the 'i' has been an iconic moniker for its processors over the last 15 years.

Notably here, this tier of Core branding is what Intel considers their "mainstream" processors. It doesn't cover Core 9 in any way – that tier is reserved for Intel's premium "Ultra" brand.

Intel Core Ultra: Reserved For Premium Chips - Core Ultra 5, Ultra 7, and Ultra 9

Intel is also officially splitting off its premium client chips into their own sub-brand of sorts, giving them the new Ultra label. Intel's Core Ultra branding is reserved for their "premium" processors, which the company isn't strictly defining what that means in advance. So how this will fit into the Meteor Lake generation of processors remains to be seen. Though on the desktop, we wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see this replace (or go hand-in-hand with) Intel's traditional K/KS series SKUs. 

Reading between the lines here, it's interesting to note that, unlike Intel's slide for mainstream processors, which says "Beginning with Meteor Lake", Intel's Ultra changes are "Beginning 2H 2023". There is still a lot of cloudiness within Intel's client chip roadmap when it comes to their desktop processor plans for the next year, and how Meteor Lake may (or may not) fit into those. So this slight distinction on when the branding begins may be a sign that Intel isn't intending to launch high-end Meteor Lake desktop processors – opening the door to a Raptor Lake refresh or the like.

Finally, following Intel's intended processor numbering scheme in the future, for both mainstream and Ultra chips, the processor model number will be after the word "processor". Intel's example is "Intel Core Ultra 7 processor [model number]" which isn't too much dissimilar to the current structure, albeit with the word 'Ultra' thrown in for good measure. This is to signify the target market of the processor, similar to how Intel used the Extreme moniker for their Core X-series processors.

Intel's Meteor Lake Cometh In H2'2023

The shift to the new branding and effectual removal of the 'i' from the said branding is interesting. While processor sales have declined over the last few years, the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and a general economic downturn have worsened matters. It remains to be seen whether or not these new changes are designed to promote an uptick in sales, e.g., selling more chips, or whether or not they represent making a change due to the massive generational shift in how Intel will be fabbing its processors – both with regards to chiplets and the EUV-enabled Intel 4 process.

With Meteor Lake not expected to splash down from the skies until later in 2023 for mobile and perhaps later on (if at all) in 2024 for desktop chips, Intel's latest Intel 4 process represents a massive shift in Intel's processor technologies. Meteor Lake is the first in Intel's arsenal to use EUV lithography in the manufacturing process, including using a similar approach to using both performance (P) and efficiency (E) cores, much like we've seen from both Alder Lake (12th Gen) and the current Raptor Lake (13th Gen) processors. 

Without diving much too into the meat of Meteor Lake and the advancements of what Intel 4 and TSMC's own processes bring to the table, our detailed coverage of Intel's upcoming Meteor Lake processors can be found below:

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  • PeachNCream - Monday, June 19, 2023 - link

    That's an easy question to answer - Buy a non-ultra chip and do whatever you do with your computer without losing sleep over owning the best/fastest/overclocking-est widget from the assembly line.

    You can enjoy your computer without that hassle and expense and the amount of time it provides you in terms of amusement is equally good. Presumably, you'll also be able to use cheaper and more modest cooling and power systems as well which will save you money on initial entry, money on a motherboard that doesn't require overclocking features, money on standards-beating RAM, and money on feeding it power (and possibly more power by reducing the need to remove waste heat from your home). Then you win pretty much everything across the board and none of this matters because you're no longer petty enough to fall prey to unsophisticated PC parts marketing efforts. Someday, you might even graduate out of desktop junk altogether and use a very low wattage and very affordable laptop with an iGPU in a 15W chip.
  • - Tuesday, June 20, 2023 - link

    Do we even care about naming convention?
  • evilpaul666 - Wednesday, June 21, 2023 - link

    I wish we still got those extremely weird overclocker friendly mobile on desktop with overclocking turned on/power limits turned off.
  • Uncle Raja - Thursday, June 22, 2023 - link

    Way to major loss royalty customers. Many people may choose AMD rather.
  • naoesquece - Saturday, July 22, 2023 - link

    Here is a summary of the key points about Intel's branding changes and the Ultra processors:
    - Intel is dropping the "i" from its Core i3, i5, i7 branding for mainstream processors. They will become Core 3, Core 5, and Core 7.
    - Intel is introducing a new "Ultra" brand for its premium/high-end processors. This will likely replace the Core i9 branding.
    - Ultra processors will come in Core Ultra 5, Core Ultra 7, and Core Ultra 9 models.
    - The Ultra branding signifies higher performance parts aimed at enthusiasts and demanding workloads.
    - Mainstream Core 3/5/7 branding is for more general consumer processors.
    - Intel is de-emphasizing generational branding like "10th Gen". The generation will still be denoted in model numbers but not as prominently.
    - These changes start with the upcoming Meteor Lake processors, which will be Intel's first consumer chips on their Intel 4 process and using a chiplet architecture.
    - Meteor Lake represents a major inflection point for Intel, prompting the branding changes to signify the new era of their processors.
    - Key Ultra processor features will likely be higher core counts, clock speeds, cache, and IPC compared to mainstream parts. More segmentation between premium and mainstream.
    In summary, Ultra is the new premium brand for high-end Intel chips, while they are simplifying the mainstream Core branding and dropping the iconic "i" naming. This coincides with major manufacturing and architectural shifts for their next-gen Meteor Lake processors.

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