Fourth-gen Core i-series "Haswell" CPUs promise big leaps in performance and battery life.
Dan AckermanEditorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications.
"Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
ExpertiseI've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever.Credentials
Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
In what has become an annual ritual, the higher-end segment of Intel's new generation of processors has been launched at the Computex trade show in Taipei. This includes the quad-core versions of what Intel calls the fourth-generation Core i-series, which was until recently known by the code name Haswell, and was extensively previewed at CES 2013.
Quad-core CPUs are generally found in higher-end desktops and laptops, and are part of Intel's i7 CPU line. Most mainstream PCs use Core i3 and i5 dual-core CPUs -- the Haswell versions of those are coming later.
For laptop and desktop shoppers, this means some PCs you buy over this summer and beyond will include the fourth-gen chips, although the new parts retain the same Core i3/i5/i7 series names as the previous generations. Adding to the potential confusion, current-gen (and even last-gen) Intel CPUs are more than powerful enough for everyday use, such as Web surfing, HD video playback, social networking, office tasks, and e-mail -- so you're right to ask what the motivation to upgrade is.
Besides faster application performance, Intel is touting better battery life, much-improved integrated graphics, and special features such as Wireless Display, all of which may be more important to the typical PC shopper than basic application performance. Intel claims that fourth-gen laptops can possibly run for 50 percent longer than third-gen Core i-series systems, jumping from 6 hours to 9.1 hours in one Intel-reported Core i7-versus-Core i7 test.
Our first Haswell/fourth-gen Core i-series hardware comes in the form of a small-form-factor FragBox gaming desktop from Falcon Northwest and Razer's new Blade 14 gaming laptop. That means these tests won't tell us much about Intel's new integrated graphics, in some systems to be called HD 5000 (the current gen is HD 4000), and in higher-end laptops called Iris. Current HD 4000 graphics still can't run many new or popular games well, and being able to do that without the need for a separate graphics card is something a lot of laptop shoppers have been seeking for a long time.
Instead, this high-end desktop gives us a chance to run our CNET Labs benchmarks on new quad-core Intel Core i7-4770K and i7-4702HQ CPUs. As an added bonus, the FragBox system also includes the very latest new Nvidia GPU, the GeForce GTX780.
In the charts below, we compare the Falcon Northwest FragBox with a high-end gaming desktop from the previous Intel/Nvidia generation, and the Razer Blade 14 with a recent Toshiba Qosmio X875 gaming laptop. Note that the two desktops referred to here were both originally overclocked for faster performance. For the results below, we've run them at their stock clock speeds. In a full review of the FragBox, we'll return to the overclocked performance scores.
Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds) (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Of course, the newer, faster processor and newer, faster graphics card are going to turn in better performance than the previous generation -- hopefully that's not a surprise. The degree is notable, but realistically, we're at a point where few people need more CPU power than they already have.
It's also worth noting that we're testing complete retail systems in the above comparisons, not individual components, so a lot of factors are in play in determining performance. Additionally, the gaming tests are hugely influenced by the included GPUs. That said, these are reasonable generation-over-generation comparisons, and show you what enthusiast shoppers have to look forward to over the summer and into the holiday season.
Especially for the gaming tests, we'd be very interested in the new integrated graphics, but again, with the high-end hardware more often found in combination with quad-core CPUs -- in this case the Nvidia GeForce 780 -- you're not actually taking advantage of any improvements in Intel's built-in integrated graphics. To really get a feel for the HD 5000 and Iris, we'll have to wait for near-future dual-core Haswell systems, such as ultrabooks, that won't have Nvidia or AMD graphics cards.
Battery life, however, is one area where quad-core laptops could use some real help. The just-announced Razer Blade 14, a gaming laptop with the new Intel i7-4702 and an Nvidia 675 GPU, is so far running very impressively in the CNET Labs. We're still running our battery life benchmarks on that system and will update this story with final numbers when we have them. Our similarly configured gaming laptop from the previous Intel generation, the the Toshiba Qosmio X875, with a third-gen Core i7-3630QM and Nvidia GTX670, ran for only 1:39 in earlier tests -- but keep in mind that's a huge 17-inch desktop replacement laptop not designed for portable use.
Also remember that these are all enthusiast-level systems with enthusiast-level parts. What Intel is most interested in pushing is thin ultrabooks and funky laptop-tablet hybrids. No doubt the mainstream and low-voltage fourth-generation Core i-series CPUs, expected early next week at the Computex trade show, will offer a lot more in terms of features, power efficiency, and mainstream pricing (the Razer Blade 14 is $1,799, while the FragBox as configured is more than $3,000).
For now, Intel is leading with its high-end quad-core chips, so look for full reviews of several quad-core fourth-generation Core i-series desktops and laptops in the coming weeks.