Technology Brief: Intel's Haswell
In early June 2013 Intel revealed significant details of its next generation microarchitecture codenamed "Haswell". These dual and quad core processors are the fourth generation Intel Core processors. For desktops, notebooks, and tablets, Haswell brings slightly improved computing performance and the option of significantly better video along with hardware support for Direct3D 11.1 and OpenGL 4.0. Notebooks and tablets also will benefit from substantially lower power consumption.
Haswell is being released in many phases. High-end quad-core and dual-core chips in the Core i7 and Core i5 families (including low-voltage chips for Ultrabooks and tablets) were announced in June. Core i3 chips were introduced in September - some processors have yet to be released.
The focus on saving power at varying power states is the most meaningful improvement from the previous generation Ivy Bridge microarchitecture. Like Ivy Bridge, Haswell processors have both graphics and memory controller integrated directly onto the chip with a general aim to lower the power consumption while giving better integrated graphics performance.
The other significant new feature for power savings, introduced in Haswell's notebook and tablet variants (but not desktop variants), is the presence of "S0ix". This is a new "active idle" state that allows some minor processing with the same power usage as S3 sleep but with significantly faster transition times to S0, likely 1-3 ms. This theoretically will enable both 1) smartphone-like operation of Haswell-based notebooks and tablets, with brief bursts of activity and quick transitions between sleep and active states, and 2) the placement of Haswell processors in devices in which an Atom processor previously would have been the only choice from Intel. These possibilities may hint at the direction in which Intel is aiming with its processors: ubiquity of a single product line across all devices.
Haswell systems also transition from HD 2500 or HD 4000 integrated graphics to a substantial array of HD, HD 4200, HD 4400, HD 4600, HD 5000, Iris 5100, or Iris Pro 5200 integrated graphics options. The Iris options offer improvements over and above any previous Intel integrated graphics solutions and, in some cases, offer comparable performance to some discrete graphics solutions for desktops and notebooks. The other numbered HD options also offer improved performance over the previous HD 4000 generation.
ISC's desktop graphics recommendation for four year Haswell-based systems is for a discrete video card or Intel integrated graphics (HD 4200 and above). This recommendation does not include the lowest-end integrated graphics (designated merely as "HD"), which are insufficient for University use.
Haswell will be important for many reasons, but a few stand out. First, the new power efficiencies will allow Intel to move further down the device size market, realistically competing with ARM-based devices with 8 to 10 inch screens but allowing high performance when needed. It also has the potential to significantly improve notebook battery life or allow for reduction of the battery watt-hour (WHr) requirement, which allows thinner and lighter devices.
Second, the availability of integrated graphics with substantial capability will place notebooks with discrete graphics into true niche markets. This will allow mid-weight "desktop-equivalent" systems (and even mobile workstations) to approach the thinness and lightness of Ultrabooks.
Notebook and desktop hardware with Haswell
ISC expects the bulk of Haswell announcements to be in the second half of 2013 with some falling in early 2014. The time delta between announcement and actual availability will be wider than usual for some systems.
Apple announced Haswell-based MacBook Air systems at their World Wide Developers Conference and these were shipping as of mid June. More recently, Haswell-based iMacs were announced in late September while Haswell-based MacBook Pros were announced in late October.
Dell announced a few Haswell-based products in early June. The OptiPlex 9020 desktop and the Latitude E6540 15.6-inch notebook were both orderable as of mid June. The Latitude 7000 12.5-inch and 14-inch notebooks were orderable in late August. The XPS 11 11.6-inch convertible notebook is expected to arrive in November 2013.
Lenovo has announced revisions to some of their ThinkPad (notebook) and ThinkCentre (desktop) product lines for Haswell. The ThinkPad T440 14-inch notebook, ThinkPad T440s lightweight 14-inch notebook, and ThinkPad X240 12.5-inch notebook were announced in early September. The ThinkCentre M93p desktops (including the ultra-small form factor "Tiny") were orderable in mid August.
Intel Core i7 picture courtesy of Intel
--John Mulhern III, Michael McLaughlin, and Michael Heath, ISC Technology Support Services (revised November 20, 2013)