This may seem like an odd time to announce a new processor, but it's smack in the middle of the giant Computex conference taking place in Taipei, Taiwan. There's no "post-PC" talk at that show, Computex is all about the PC, and that's where Intel took almost all of the wraps off Haswell, its next generation of Core branded CPUs.
All told the company is introducing 12 desktop and 10 notebook high-end quad-core chips in the Core i7 and Core i5 families. The differentiations are mostly along target platforms and clock speeds, as these are all quad-core CPUs with HyperThreading. The price is around the $300 range, which is in line with typical upper-end CPUs. There will be a second announcement as relates to ultrabooks, the Core i3, Pentium and Celeron lines in a few days.
The actual CPU side of Haswell isn't all that exciting. In fact, nowhere in any of Intel's briefing materials is talk about CPU performance except for a comparison of a five-year-old desktop to a modern all-in-one PC. They are making some hay about new all-in-one designs where the whole device folds down into a very large tablet, but desktops aren't Haswell's focus, it's ultrabooks.
The CPU story isn't being played up in part because there isn't a lot to boast of. According to benchmarks published by Tom's Guide, Haswell is only slightly faster than the Ivy Bridge generation for performance. Benchmarks from X-Bit Labs mirror this. The Core i7-3930, Intel's current top of the line aimed at the extreme gamers, still outperforms Haswell.
The conclusion from Tom's and X-Bit is that unless you are upgrading from a PC that's at least two or three generations old, it's just not worth it. Mind you, that's the CPU story and that's from the perspective of gaming enthusiasts. They are comparing the Core i7 4770, which is the upper end of the new Haswell line to the Extreme 3930. That chip used to sell for $999 and was the fastest thing Intel had on the market, purely for performance-obsessed gamers.
So even though the 4770 isn't leaving the 3700 line of Ivy Bridge chips in the dust, it's still the fastest non-Extreme GPU out there and will sell for around $300.
The GPU portion of things is the overwhelming story here. Haswell comes with a total of five GPU cores on the CU die, up from three on Ivy Bridge. The big deal is Iris, a separate GPU that will co-exist with the HD graphics that currently ships with Ivy Bridge.
Intel promises a two-fold improvement in graphics performance over prior generations thanks to Iris. The technology is formally known as Intel Iris Pro graphics 5200, Intel Iris graphics 5100 and Intel HD graphics 5000. Below that is the HD graphics 4600/4400/4200 line. Iris will be found across the product line, but its emphasis is on ultrabooks.
Another graphic feature is QuickSync, which will improve MPEG video encoding and decoding as well as video playback. A Haswell-based laptop could get as much as nine hours of HD video playback.
Haswell also introduces WiDi 4.1, an upgrade to Intel's wireless video transmission protocol. Intel now has Broadcom as a licensee and there will be more HDTVs from LG and Toshiba and devices from vendors like Lenovo, Netgear Actiontec and QVOC.
It may seem disappointing that there is so little of a CPU story, but Intel went where the market is going: low power and high performance graphics. That's what matters right now and Intel wisely chased it. Now it has to live up to the promises.