Intel officials at the Computex 2013 show introduced the much-anticipated next-generation Core “Haswell” chips that they hope will give the PC market a jolt, and a number of OEMs followed with various systems powered by the processors.
The 22-nanometer Haswell chips—now called the fourth-generation Core processors—promise greater performance and power efficiency, and significantly improved graphics, than the current Ivy Bridge offerings. The first of the chips are aimed not only at traditional notebooks, but also the growing number of new form factors, including Ultrabooks as well as convertibles and hybrids, which can be used as either laptops or tablets.
The processors, part of a larger wave of offerings Intel is planning for this year and early 2014, are designed to give the giant chip maker greater traction in a mobile device space that currently is dominated by ARM and its partners, including Samsung, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. Intel chips are found in most PCs, but global sales of traditional computers are declining, and the vendor for the past several years has been driving down the power consumption of its chips while increasing the performance, with the goal of getting into the mobile device space.
There are more than two dozen mobile devices—smartphones and tablets—that run on Intel chips, though most are sold overseas. Intel got a significant boost this week when Samsung confirmed that it will use Intel’s Atom systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) for its upcoming Galaxy Tab 3 tablet.
Intel officials have said they expect the new Haswell chips to find their way into a range of designs, including tablets. They have said graphics capabilities and battery life could improve by 50 percent, with performance increasing as much as 15 percent.
The new chips promise to bridge the gap between traditional notebooks (with larger displays, traditional keyboards and mice, full-featured applications and strong graphics performance) and tablets (which offer portability, instant-on, long battery life and a modest base price of between $400 and $600), according to Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Research.
“With its new 4th gen Core processors, Intel has delivered both a stunning leap in energy efficiency and significant enhancements in overall performance, including graphics,” King wrote in a June 4 research note. “Intel’s Haswell promises to make features critical to quality mobile computing—superb battery life, speedy waking, enhanced compute and graphics performance, as well as touch enablement and in-system voice recognition—integrated into affordable solutions of virtually every kind.”
Most important, Haswell’s capabilities mean Intel and its OEM partners “finally have a set of weapons that should effectively level a playing field long dominated by Apple. That doesn’t mean Haswell-based solutions will be immediately, let alone automatically, successful. But the past couple of years have shown that when vendors have access to powerful, innovative tools, like Google’s Android OS, for instance, they can take on Apple head-to-head and even surpass the company in many markets.”
Top-tier PC makers quickly followed Intel’s official announcement of the fourth-generation Core chips with a range of new systems powered by the Haswell products. The world’s three largest PC vendors—Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Dell, all are rolling out systems run on Intel’s new chips. Other systems makers that are unveiling Haswell-based systems include Sony, Toshiba and Gigabyte.
Intel Haswell Chips Power Systems From HP, Dell, Lenovo, Others
At Computex, Intel officials said the fourth-generation Core chips were the first built from the ground up for Ultrabooks—ultra-thin and light notebooks championed by Intel. They also will support Intel vPro security and management technology.
The chips will consume as low as 6 watts of power, enabling systems makers to create a wider range of thinner, lighter, cooler and fanless designs, according to Intel officials.
“Fourth-generation Intel Core processors offer the most significant gain in battery life enabling ever achieved by Intel, up to double the graphics and significant CPU performance improvements that are delivering exciting new consumer experiences,” Kirk Skaugen, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s PC Client Group, said in a statement. “Today’s announcement accelerates a new category of two-in-one computing devices delivering the best of a notebook and a tablet in amazing new form factors.”
Systems with the quad-core versions of the Haswell chips are available now, with two-in-ones, Ultrabooks and other systems planned for the summer. Products with the chips that support vPro will come later this year.
Pund-IT’s King said that there are some issues that Intel will have to overcome for the fourth-generation Core chips to be successful. One of those is Microsoft. He said the software giant “seems to have set a new bar for product design/launch bumbling” with the new OS, which was launched in October 2012. “But if rumors of a Windows 8 redesign (with a return of the Start button and relegation of the Metro interface to a toolbar option) are true, a refreshed Microsoft OS could significantly bolster sales of Haswell-based products,” King wrote.
Another challenge is whether systems powered by the Haswell chips will include the kinds of apps and widgets found on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play online store.
“Tens of millions of users have become accustomed to and enthusiastic about apps, resulting in billions of dollars in revenues for developers and vendors,” he said. “But with Microsoft’s Windows-based app efforts lagging so far behind other players, it would behoove Intel to consider ways to integrate and support alternative app platforms and developers in the Core ecosystem.”
Intel’s low-power Atom platform is already optimized to run Google’s Android mobile operating system.