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IDF 2012: Intel introduces Haswell processors

Intel 4th Generation Core

4th generation Core processor architecture revealed at developer conference

Intel has finally outlined the architecture that will power its fourth generation Core processors at the company’s Developer Forum in San Francisco. Codenamed Haswell, the chips will make their way into PCs, laptops and tablets with a raft of improvements over the current processor generation.

In Intel’s own terms, Haswell is a “tock” – a brand new processor architecture rather than a die shrink of an existing design. The current generation Ivy Bridge processor line was a “Tick”, switching from the 32nm process used for Sandy Bridge to a 22nm process. It also introduced 3D transistors, which will return for Haswell.

Again using a 22nm process, Haswell looks to be mainly focused on graphics performance and improved power consumption. Key Intel technologies such as Turbo Boost and Hyper-threading are set to make a re-appearance, and both L1 and L2 cache sizes will remain unchanged from Ivy Bridge, but Haswell will still see performance improvements at similar clock speeds thanks to increased cache bandwidth and a new version of the Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) which potentially doubles floating point performance over the previous generation. Two extra ports will also be added to the processor’s Unified Reservation Station, letting it execute eight operations per clock cycle compared to the six in Sandy/Ivy Bridge.

More important for laptop users is the promise of improved power consumption. Intel says Haswell processors could see up to double the battery life of Ivy Bridge, thanks to a new power state called S0ix. Whereas a current generation is either in S0 mode (active) or in S3/S4 mode (sleep/hibernation), S0ix lets the system stay active with only five per cent of the power needed to keep a Sandy Bridge system at idle speed. Switching between states will be instantaneous, which could lead to even faster start-up and resume times than the current generation.

The major improvement should come from the redesigned GPU core. Intel claims Haswell will be around twice as fast as the HD 4000 seen in Ivy Bridge, which was itself a big improvement over Sandy Bridge. There will be three variants, the GT1, GT2 and GT3, which will dictate overall performance, but both will support DirectX 11.1, OpenCL 1.2 and OpenGL 4.0. The top-end GT3 should deliver twice the performance of HD 4000 but use the same amount of power. All variants will also support 4K resolutions, paving the way for higher resolution displays. This unfortunately means picking the right processor could get even more confusing than it is already, as you’ll have to work out which GPU core you need as well as overall performance.

Intel has yet to announce much more than the overall architecture design for Haswell, so we’re quite a way away from knowing what processor models will be available, but this week’s IDF conference is a great indicator of what to expect from PCs and laptops next year. We do know that Intel is taking a “mobile first” approach to Haswell, meaning laptops and tablets should be first out the door when the processors launch in 2013.

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