Haswell CPUs are a poor choice for desktop gamers. Here's why.
Intel’s 4th Generation Core architecture, known to you and I as Haswell, has finally landed and with it the new processor for your next gaming PC has surely arrived. Hasn’t it? Well, if your next gaming PC is going to be a laptop then that’s probably a rather effusive yes. If you’re a desktop gamer looking for more processing grunt and some hefty overclocking prowess from this new architecture, however, you’re probably going to be rather disappointed.
If you’re already rocking a decent quad-core CPU from either the last couple generations then there is very little reason to spend the money upgrading to one of the new range of Haswell processors, especially as you’re going to be looking at picking up a whole new motherboard too.
Yes, it's new socket time. The new set-up chops out five pins from the LGA 1155 socket and shuts down backwards compatibility in the process.
Haswell is all about power-saving and improved integrated graphics. In other words, the 4th Generation Core architecture is built for mobile computing, not the humble ol’ desktop where we wont see the funky new Iris Pro graphics except in BGA trim.
On the desktop things haven’t really moved on since Sandy Bridge arrived on the scene many moons ago. And to be honest if you’re sat on an i5 or i7 Sandy Bridge chip then you’re arguably better off sticking with your current CPU/mobo configuration and spending the cash on something like the Nvidia GTX 770 if you’re after a gaming boost.
We’re still talking about a maximum of four cores, with eight threads on the top i7. And the top clock speed of 3.5GHz is nothing new either. They are, in general, ever so slightly quicker compared with the existing Ivy Bridge chips. But not in any meaningful way for gamers.
If you’re after serious computational power from your desktop though, Intel might argue, they have the beefy LGA 2011 socket and its Extreme! six core chips. You can even strap an eight core Xeon into one of them too. But that is actually quite damning for the new desktop generation considering the current top end desktop chips in the LGA 2011 range are all still based on Sandy Bridge, with the Ivy Bridge E update set to arrive around the Autumn (Fall for my US chums). Who knows if the Haswell architecture will ever get an Extreme! update.
And then there’s the overclocking performance of the new Haswell chips. I know most people probably wont spend the time to see what extra performance they can get out of their top end components for fear of frying expensive silicon, but modern chips are generally robust enough to cope with whatever we can throw at them.
I was then hoping for some good results from the 4th Gen chips, but fearing the worst. From Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge the overclocking performance dropped, and in the transition to the Haswell architecture that performance has dropped again. There also seems to be far greater variance between chips too. I’ve spoken with various system integrators and they were all struggling to figure out where to position their overclocked Haswell rigs.
We’re looking at around 200MHz lower clocks than the equivalent overclocked Ivy Bridge chips, even using decent water-cooling CPU blocks.
If that all paints a rather negative view of Haswell on the desktop, there are reasons to be cheerful. The mobile side of the equation ought to lead to some rather tasty Ultrabooks with nigh-on discrete graphics performance. And they ought to last a fair while too.
A quad-core Haswell notebook with the top level Iris Pro graphics should make up a pretty decent little gaming machine on the go. Link it up with some of the new low-power graphics chips in Nvidia’s 700M series and we could see proper gaming laptops with decent battery life even when you’re gaming away.
Haswell should also mean we’ll get some potent small form factor machines too. The Iris Pro graphics aren’t going to make an appearance in standard desktop trim, but we are going to see soldered-on BGA versions of the chip. They’ll presumably make their debuts in the next generation of Intel’s NUC.
A tiny machine like that could make a decent li’l Steam box and no mistake. But for us forgotten desktop PC gamers there simply isn’t enough in Haswell to make a compelling reason for most of us to upgrade.
What are your thoughts? Will you be looking to Haswell for your next CPU or are you happy to wait a while for Broadwell?