Intel amps up horsepower, battery life with Haswell chip

The chipmaker hopes its Haswell processor will help hybrid PC-tablet designs reinvigorate an increasingly lifeless PC market.

Intel pitches itself as the sponsor of tomorrow, but it could lose that position if it doesn't break into mobile, and also kick some life into the PC market. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Intel's next-generation chips have officially arrived.

Developed under the codename "Haswell," the new line of chips has been engineered to enable thinner and lighter designs and longer lasting computers, and the company hopes it will reinvigorate a market that's in the doldrums.

The processor, the fourth generation of Intel's Core line, boasts double the graphics performance of the previous generation and a 15 percent raw computing boost, according to the company. That means the computer speed should be snappier, and users can perform more graphics-intensive tasks without always needing a discrete graphics chip.

Intel also says the fourth-generation Core chip marks the biggest increase in battery life it has ever accomplished, with notebooks in active use expected to last 50 percent longer than PCs with the third-generation chip. That means notebooks could have about nine hours of battery life compared with five to six hours in older PCs, Kirk Skaugen, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's PC business, told CNET.

The improvements are vital as Intel tries to push "two-in-ones" -- hybrid notebooks that convert to tablets -- to address the recent weakness in the traditional computing market. The first quarter of 2013 marked the worst pullback in PC shipments in years and the fourth straight period of year-over-year shipment declines. Intel has counted on devices using its fourth-generation Core chip to turn the market around and boost consumer PC purchases.

"We think personal computing is being redefined," Skauken said. "That's good for Intel and good for our partners.... There has been more innovation with personal computing in the last year than in the last 10 years."

Despite the company's hopes, it's unclear just how much the fourth-generation Core chip will help jump-start the industry. Intel has spent oodles of money over the past couple of years on marketing thin and light laptops, dubbed ultrabooks, but the efforts so far have fallen flat. Consumers are still opting for shiny new smartphones and tablets instead of PCs. Intel says the fourth-generation Core chip is the first processor "designed from the ground up" for ultrabooks and other thin and light PCs, but pricing, and not performance, likely will be a big factor in whether the new machines take off.

Intel's fourth-generation Core processor includes better battery life than previous chips. Intel
Systems that use Intel's fourth-generation Core processor will be available starting this month and roll out through the year. Companies should release more than 50 of the hybrid PCs by the holidays, with some priced as low as $400, Skaugen said. And computers using Intel's newest Atom mobile processor, code-named Bay Trail, could sell for as little as $200. With touch screens, the Bay Trail-powered devices would cost about $300.

"There are 500 million consumer or business PCs that are four years or older," Skaugen said. "An overwhelming percentage of those people want to refresh their notebooks. The question has been when. Do I buy a tablet or refresh my notebook? Our view is with the 50 different [hybrid PC] designs out by holiday down as low as $400, people don't have to make that choice.... They can get the best of both worlds in one device."

Along with the fourth-generation Core processor, Intel plans to disclose more details about Bay Trail during a presentation Tuesday at the Computex trade show in Taiwan.

The company also plans to launch a new fund for technologies related to "perceptual computing," such as gesture and voice recognition, Skaugen said. Intel Capital, the company's venture arm, is one of the biggest funds in the country, and it has provided capital for companies working in areas such as mobility and cloud computing. In 2011, it launched the $300 million Ultrabook Fund to invest in companies building hardware and software to improve ultrabooks. And late last year, Intel launched its $1 million "perceptual computing challenge" developer contest.

Intel's fourth-generation Core chip, code-named Haswell, has 9.1 hours of battery life, the company says. Intel
Skaugen also said Intel is adding voice recognition support to PCs through a relationship with Nuance. It will include nine languages in 27 countries, and computers will feature dual-array microphones so users can talk to their PCs without needing headsets.

And Intel plans to unveil a partnership with Creative to sell a 3D camera that can attach to computers, and it plans to integrate new 3D camera technology into the bezels of PCs next year. That will let users do advanced gesture recognition on their computers beyond what current technology allows. For example, a game could recognize that a user moving one finger means something different then moving two, and users can do things like reach out in a game, turn a doorknob, and pull the door open toward them.

"This is a great evolution of what's in the gaming industry," like the Microsoft Xbox Kinect, Skaugen said.

 

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