Intel's 'Haswell' chip in focus: Heads up Nvidia

More details about Intel's future 'Haswell' chip were revealed in technical documentation published via an Intel software blog.

A technical document posted recently on an Intel software blog drops some hints about its "Haswell" chip due in 2013. The upshot, watch your back Nvidia.

Here's what we already know about Haswell, per a conversation I had last month with Intel marketing chief Tom Kilroy : The mobile version of Haswell will be Intel's first system-on-a-chip designed for the mainstream laptop market, according to Kilroy.

A system-on-a-chip, or SoC, is the de rigueur design for smartphones and tablets. All of the system's core processing silicon--typically comprised of two or more separate chips in a PC--is crammed onto one chip to accommodate the space constraints inside those devices. Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor would be a good example of a popular SoC today used in smartphones and tablets: Snapdragon is used in Windows Phone 7 devices and HP's TouchPad tablet, respectively. Of course, Apple's A5 chip, used in the iPad, would also fall into that category.

Fast forward to 2013. By then, a significant chunk of the mainstream laptop market will likely consist of "Ultrabooks," according to Intel. These are ultraslim, ultralight laptops, as well as hybrid designs. The best examples today of an Ultrabook are the upcoming Asus UX21 and Apple's MacBook Air.

The difference between now and 2013 is that by then Haswell-based Ultrabooks will be cheap, according to Intel's Kilroy, who cited a likely price of $599. And, if Intel has its druthers, those Ultrabooks will not require any extra graphics silicon from companies like Nvidia: Intel's built-in graphics will do just fine, thank you.

Intel's future Haswell chip will likely go into Designs along the lines of the Asus UX21.
Intel's future Haswell chip will likely go into Designs along the lines of the Asus UX21. Philip Wong/CNET Asia

And what kind of processing power can we expect? Well, Intel, of course, has not announced Haswell. But one of the juiciest hints comes via a recent posting on a relatively arcane Intel Software Network blog. Titled "Haswell New Instruction Descriptions Now Available!" the post gives an overview of "a full specification for the Haswell (2013) new instructions."

The post goes on to describe the "public details on the next generation of the x86 architecture...the new instructions accelerate a broad category of applications and usage models."

Much of the emphasis is on Intel's Advanced Vector Extensions, or AVX. Here's how Intel describes AVX in the context of the Haswell blog: "Intel AVX addresses the continued need for vector floating-point performance in mainstream scientific and engineering numerical applications, visual processing, recognition, data-mining/synthesis, gaming, physics, cryptography and other areas of applications. Intel AVX is designed to facilitate efficient implementation by wide spectrum of software architectures of varying degrees of thread parallelism, and data vector lengths."

Translation: Intel chips will be a lot better at handling the kinds of tasks that Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices target today with their graphics silicon, including video, audio, and, of course, gaming.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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