Different chips for different devices
The first thing to understand is that Haswell is the name given to a family of chips designed for different uses — quad-core processors for desktops, dual-core processors for notebooks and two sets of low-power processors for ultrabooks and tablets — but all designed around the same architecture to offer the same types of benefits in different form factors.
What’s in a name?
The second thing to remember is that “Haswell” is just Intel’s codename. Devices carrying the new processors will be labelled as having fourth-generation Intel processors when the first examples start arriving in stores towards the end of this year.
Facilitate design changes
The way Haswell chips consume power means that a portable device’s battery can be smaller and slimmer. This in turn means that laptops and ultrabooks that are already slimline can be made thinner still. It also means that devices can retain their existing shape in order to hold bigger batteries that could promise whole-day use between charges, if nine hours aren’t enough. This power efficiency also means that two chips with different levels of performance can be paired in a single device with a single battery, enabling interesting hybrid and two-in one designs, such as notebooks with detachable tablet screens.
The fourth-generation desktop chip can handle up to 14 USB ports on a single device including 6 USB 3.0 ports. So new devices will be easier to expand and connect to peripherals without draining processor performance.
With graphics processing built into the chipset itself, users of new devices of all types should experience a noticeable improvement in performance and rendering for gaming and design packages and these upgrades in performance shouldn’t kill the battery. However, the improved graphics performance in its quad-core desktop chips is claimed to be very impressive.
Microsoft’s latest operating system is optimized for touch as well as keyboard input and when the next generation of its Kinect For Windows visual sensor rolls out, computers hooked up to it should respond to voice and gestures too. Intel has built the chip architecture from the ground up to support these innovations so that as more operating system features roll out, Haswell-chip devices will be able to take the strain. What’s more, Intel owns the rights to the term ultrabook and to its definition. So for a computer running a Haswell chip to be sold as an ultrabook, it must have a touch screen.
The way the latest generation of chips draw power means that they don’t run ‘hot enough’ to require a fan. Internal baffles and other heat-sinking features built into the chassis should be enough to disperse any temperature increases in notebooks and convertibles. Bottom line? Devices without fans are quieter — perfect for consumers that like typing documents in a library or on a flight or train and they’re theoretically cheaper. Every electronic or mechanical item that can be removed from a computer’s construction can potentially result in both a weight and cost saving.
The chips that offer this type of energy-efficient performance in compact devices don’t come cheap, and the costs that manufacturers will have to pay Intel will no doubt be passed on to consumers. So expect the thinnest, most powerful portable computers to also be among the most expensive. However, for desktops and all-in-one PCs expect models with fourth-generation processors to cost the same as the third-generation model they’re replacing.
When will they launch?
Intel may have officially announced the processors, but that doesn’t mean that the first devices are already in shops. Haswell devices are expected to start rolling out in the second half of this year. By mid-2014 all new Intel-powered devices are expected to feature a fourth-generation processor.