Intel's new Haswell chips couldn't come at a better time for the PC industry. According to IDC, PC sales suffered the worst drop on record during the first quarter, due to both increasing tablet demand and a lukewarm reception for Windows 8. For its fourth-generation Core series processors (Haswell is the code name), Intel is promising a significant improvement in battery life and much better graphics performance.
The goal of Haswell? Push Ultrabooks further into the mainstream and make 2-in-1 systems (think detachable tablets and other hybrids) more compelling for consumers. Here's what Haswell has in store.
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Improved Battery Life
The biggest, and perhaps most impressive, improvement Intel's latest Core series chips offer is a more than 20 percent increase in battery life over the company's previous generation CPUs. Intel managed this by reducing the total wattage the CPU requires to run various applications.
Whereas watching HD Video used to require more than 8W of power, Intel's fourth-generation chips now need a little more than 5W. Similarly, Office applications, which used to require 8W of power, now need just under 6W.
Overall, the changes should result in some serious power efficiency improvements, with Intel estimating an additional 3 hours of HD video playback and anywhere from 10 to 13 days worth of standby power.
Gamers and video editors know that integrated graphics chips can't hold a candle to the power of dedicated chips from the likes of Nvidia and AMD. But Intel is hoping to flip the script on that line of thought with its Haswell chips' new line of integrated GPUs. Intel has replaced the Intel HD Graphics 4000 chips found with its third-generation Core CPUs with a new line of integrated chips that will include the Intel HD Graphics 4200, 4400, 4600 and 5000 processors.
If you're looking for more power, you can grab a system with Intel's new Iris Graphics 5100 or Iris Pro Graphics 5200. These bad boys are expected to bring twice the graphics firepower to your notebook, allowing you to play games like "Tomb Raider" with the graphics set to medium at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 at an impressive 38 frames per second.
Intel's new graphics chips don't just pack a punch, they also offer include enhanced 4K resolution support, the ability to use three displays as one, faster Intel Quick Sync Video software that allows for 9.2 times faster video processing and editing, as well as improved JPEG and MPEG decoding speeds.
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A Focus on 2-in-1 Devices
With Haswell, Intel has managed to cut down the size of Core-series processors by combining the CPU and Platform Controller Hub into one chip. This not only allows for slimmer Ultrabooks, but helps the company provide for thinner 2-in-1 devices. Of course, one of the concerns with current generation 2-in-1 devices is how hot their components get. Thinner devices means less internal space for air to move around, which results in hotter notebook or tablet.
To help ensure that you don't scorch your finger when you swipe your next system's touch screen, Intel has worked to improve the Core series' heat management. The company says its Haswell chips will enable thinner, quieter 2-in-1 systems and Ultrabooks that will run cooler than their current generation counterparts--all while still offering solid performance.
New Ultrabook Standards
Intel's Haswell chips also bring with them a new set of standards for defining Ultrabooks. In order for a fourth-generation Core processor-powered notebook to be considered an Ultrabook, it must offer WiDi, voice control and sport a touch screen display. The system should also be able to wake from sleep in less than 3 seconds, offer more than 7 days of standby battery life, be able to idle for 9 hours on Windows 8, and provide more than 6 hours of HD video playback.
Beyond that, an Ultrabook should also offer anti-virus and anti-malware protection, include Intel's Anti-Theft and Identity Protection Technology and be less than 23mm thick. As part of its focus on 2-in-1 devices, the Ultrabook standard will also include more convertible designs.
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Improved WiDi Support
Intel's WiDi (Wireless Display) technology allows users to throw an image or video from their notebooks to any other WiDi-equipped device for an improved viewing experience. As part of its Haswell refresh, Intel's fourth-generation CPUs also get an updated version of WiDi in the form of WiDi 4.1.
Key improvements included in WiDi 4.1 include a low-power panel self refresh, reduced latency, a focus on touch controls and support for more USB devices, high-resolution stereoscopic 3D and Miracast.
The new standard also allows for a wider range of WiDi-enabled devices, including TVs from Toshiba and LG, projectors, and smaller WiDi adapters from Netgear, Lenovo and Actiontec.