Intel's Haswell CPU, successor to Ivy Bridge: details from the Intel Developer Forum

Adam Oxford

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I wasn't at Intel's Developer Forum (IDF) this year, and I'm also moving house, so forgive the tardiness of this round up of the announcements from said conference. The big news is, of course, more details on its next CPU, codenamed Haswell. This chip will be the fourth in the 'Core' line-up, replacing current Ivy Bridge processors some time early next year.

The good news, for PC gamers at least, is that you can probably upgrade your CPU now (if you need to) safe in the knowledge that Haswell isn't likely to make any current desktop quad core obsolete within a year or so.

It's laptops and tablets that Intel has its eye on for the future (doesn't everyone?)

Intel's big goals for Haswell have been to focus on low power use – for increasing battery life on Ultrabooks – and improving the on-die graphics. For the former, there's some impressive figures being bandied about as far as ultra-low voltage models go. Intel reckons it can hit a maximum TDP of 10W and slash idle power use by a factor of 20 thanks to a new sleep state it's calling S0ix. That's not quite Atom territory, so the low end chip will continue for netbooks, tablets and phones, but it's not hugely far off. By contrast the most conservative of current Core i5s has a TDP of 17W.

For graphics, meanwhile, the HD Graphics designation will expand to encompass three new different parts named internally as GT1, GT2 and GT3. The top end one is apparently capable of rendering games twice as fast as an HD4000, and there's lots of anecdotal evidence from IDF that demos of Skyrim run pretty smoothly on it. Structurally, GT is broadly similar to HD, but with more of it, running faster and decoupled from the processor clock. Nice news for Ultrabooks, again, not a huge deal for desktop games – although ExtremeTech has an interesting analysis which claims that Haswell's graphics could possibly outpace NVIDIA's GTX 580 in double precision operations .”

For the rest of the CPU, though, the updates look very much incremental rather than revolutionary. It'll be produced on the same 22nm fabrication process as Ivy Bridge, with a similar core design but improvements to branch prediction and more cache and a revised AVX instruction set. Most importantly, there's a second floating point unit on each core, which may be the key area for performance gains in games.

It won't, however, be compatible with current motherboards requiring a new 1150 pin socket. More surprisingly, Haswell will still only come in two, four and six core variants, the same as Ivy Bridge.

It's all a bit underwhelming, unless you're looking to maximise battery life on a Win 8 tablet. And given that few games are really CPU limited - certain new MMOs spring to mind - it's hard to argue with Intel that this is where R&D should be spent.

Intel's news on wireless at IDF, however, is much more fun. For starters there's a plan to build WiFi transceives into dual core Atoms, which means even cheaper netbooks and phones and we move another step closer to ubiquitous computing - where tiny systems on a chip are embedded in everything we use. Better yet, there was also a demo of WiGig (wireless gigabit) technology. Apparently, it's capable of running an HDMI signal over your home network - being able to stick my gaming PC in another room to my monitor or stream to my TV at the flick of a switch would be far more likely to tempt me to upgrade right now that a few more spare CPU cycles.

The main pic, btw, is Intel's CTO Justin Ratner taking to the stage. In a pair of bunny ears. Don't ask.

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