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Leaked benchmarks portend shift in Windows 8 'PC' design

How fast will Windows 8 'Haswell' PCs be? That's probably the wrong question.

Intel's future Haswell chip will engender more devices like Microsoft's Surface Pro.
Intel's future Haswell chip will engender more devices like Microsoft's Surface Pro. Microsoft

The first benchmarks of Intel's upcoming "Haswell" Fourth-Generation Core processors have leaked. But asking how fast future Windows 8 PCs will be is probably the wrong question.

The Haswell chip that Tom's Hardware got a hold of and tested showed only modest central processing unit, or CPU, performance improvements over the latest hardware.

This would seem to indicate the future of Windows PCs -- which in this case means newfangled devices like Microsoft Surface and HP's Envy x2 -- isn't about the desktop anymore.

"The mobile space is where Intel's efforts should become more apparent," said Tom's. And that's probably the biggest takeaway from the leaked benchmarks.

Intel's next chip, which will undoubtedly land in most of the world's new PCs, has been designed first and foremost for better power efficiency.

Just ask Intel CEO Paul Otellini. "Haswell [is] the single largest generation-to-generation battery life improvement in Intel history," he said in January, as he waxed eloquent about all of the new mobile designs Haswell will engender.

That's not to say Intel will skimp completely on boosting performance. But that is expected to occur mostly in the graphics processing unit or GPU.

"Processors with Intel's [upcoming] HD Graphics 4600 engine should offer notably better 3D performance than today's HD Graphics 4000," Tom's said. The GT3 version of the graphics chip is expected to pack 40 execution units or specialized processors, compared to 16 today.

And that should boost performance on smaller mobile devices that rely exclusively on Intel's graphics hardware and don't have room for higher-performance "discrete" GPUs from Nvidia and AMD.

Did somebody mention Surface Pro 2?