Worth The Wait - Intel's Haswell Just Getting Warmed-Up In Notebooks
It’s back-t0-school shopping season and though you might be tempted to splurge on a new notebook for junior or yourself (because hey, you deserve it), it could pay dividends to exercise restraint. What’s that? I think I just heard the faint sound of an OEM product manager groan. Cheer-up bunky, you know there’s a silver lining in that cloud on the horizon, at least in terms of Intel INTC -0.55%-powered machines. But I digress. One word says it all when it comes to notebooks this Q4 buying season – Haswell.
Intel’s 4th generation Core series processors, formerly known by the code name “Haswell,” were officially launched in June but the full force of Intel’s new technology hasn’t hit the channel yet. With the not-so small exception of Apple AAPL +0.89%‘s MacBook Air and MacBook Pro line, the majority of notebooks you’ll find in retail right now are based on Intel’s last-generation Ivy Bridge platform. That may not be a bad thing per se but Haswell is the future and in notebooks, Intel’s future is again rather bright. The primary advantages of Intel’s Haswell Core architecture, as Forbes contributor Pat Moorehead pointed out, are graphics and multimedia performance, as well as power consumption.
Pat was dead-on with this summation and I’ve had a chance to kick the tires personally on Apple’s 2013 MacBook Air, which handled exceptionally well for an ultralight in the benchmarks, thanks in-part to Haswell. From a graphics standpoint I observed anywhere from a 35 percent to 40 percent performance gain over Ivy Bridge HD 4000 graphics, depending on the application, whether it was a synthetic benchmark, 3D rendering application or an actual game engine. Haswell’s performance gain was significant and easily observable in practical use, not just some sterile benchmark metric. What’s more interesting is that the 2013 Apple MacBook Air only sports Intel’s HD Graphics 5000 core, under the hood of its Core i5 4250U processor. Intel’s Iris Graphics and Iris Pro Graphics with embedded DRAM promise to offer two times the performance of Intel’s previous generation Ivy Bridge graphics. That’s where things get really interesting.
With Haswell’s HD 5000 graphics core, we’re already seeing performance that approaches entry-level discrete graphics, with effortless HD video playback, very fast video transcode and frame rates in games that are actually playable at modest resolutions and image quality settings. Intel’s Iris Graphics option in Haswell should take that up a notch and then some, such that gaming at full HD resolution is a reality for the first time on Intel integrated graphics. The operative word is “should” here. Until I get some extensive hands-on time with product, I won’t make any guarantees.
Word from Intel’s mobile CPU team suggests Iris Graphics-enabled ultrabooks and notebooks will hit the market in Q4 but it will likely take “a few sales cycles” before we see a wide breath of systems on the market with Iris on board. Higher-end Iris Pro Graphics will options will be available in more premium notebook designs but again, Q4 is the time frame.
What’s perhaps more impressive for many of you will be the battery life advantages of Haswell in this new crop of notebooks. If the performance of Apple’s MacBook Air is any indication, we’re in for a real shot in the arm for untethered up-time. I was personally able to squeeze over 12 hours out of the 2013 MacBook Air in our web browsing test at HotHardware and over 9 hours streaming HD video. That, my friends, is a beautiful thing for any notebook and it left last year’s MacBook Air in the dust. Of course, the new MacBook Air’s battery is just a touch bigger than last year’s, but not enough to affect things at the level of performance delta I was able to observe. Regardless, when you consider how thin and light the Air is, that kind of battery life is impressive.
The key is going to be how quickly manufacturers transition over to the new Haswell platform and integrate Intel’s latest mobile CPU into new and innovate designs. That’s taking longer than I expected, given that September is quickly upon us. Big name manufacturers like ASUS, Acer , Dell DELL +0.84% and Lenovo have all announced new premium products with Haswell on board. The build-up is happening now and I’d say it will be well worth the wait.