Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) Haswell microprocessor is a success in every sense of the word. The chip has delivered on its very aggressive battery life improvement goals, all at the same time providing a very powerful and robust micro-processor core for desktops and, eventually, servers and high performance computing. While the majority of the performance improvements in higher end situations will not be evident today as software needs to be recompiled to take advantage of the very powerful new instruction sets that the chip provides, the new Haswell core still manages to deliver a nice ~10% per-clock boost in legacy code. Haswell is an achievement that should not be understated by technologists and investors alike, particularly as hard data has verified all of Intel's bold claims.
Haswell Promised All-Day Battery Life, and It Delivered
The big promise from Haswell wasn't overclocking headroom or substantially more performance per clock in legacy code, it was battery life in its ULT manifestation, and it was graphics in its more high-end notebook manifestation. In the battery life department, the Haswell ULT shines brightly. In particular, Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) new MacBook Air 13", which employs a Haswell chip with the best of Intel's low power graphics (HD 5000), showed some dramatic improvements in both graphics performance and battery life.
According to Engadget's review of the 2013 MacBook Air, the new "Haswell ULT" processor allows the new MacBook Air to last 12 hours and 51 minutes during the site's testing suite, while last year's MacBook Air -- which used the last generation 22nm "Ivy Bridge" -- only lasted six hours and 34 minutes. This is an absolutely incredible jump in battery life, and it just goes to show that the pundits who are busy misquoting enthusiast sites about Haswell "running hot" are busy trying to put a negative spin on what is quite possibly the most interesting mobile chip launch in history. The success in the MacBook Air should translate nicely to the slew of Windows 8 based Ultrabooks due in a few months based on the same processor.
Graphics Performance Much Improved
With battery life now amazing, Intel also improved on another one of its traditionally weak spots -- integrated graphics in low power situations. According to a review over at Laptop Mag, HD 5000 graphics are significantly improved over the HD 4000 graphics which, in turn, were quite good in low power situations (keep in mind that Haswell ULT has a total package TDP of 15W, while Ivy Bridge ULT had 20W to play with):
On the OpenGL portion of the Cinebench test, the newer Air registered 21 frames per second, more than doubling the last Air's score of 10 fps. The average ultraportable gets 15 fps, and the VAIO Pro 13 (12 fps) and Kirabook (17 fps) couldn't match the Air's graphics prowess. (emphasis added)
In low-power situations, Intel has managed to really solidify its lead in graphics, which -- coupled with the superior CPU performance -- gives Intel excellent pricing power in the low power/high performance processor space.
At the end of the day, Intel really nailed it with Haswell, bringing an extreme reduction in idle power and a great improvement in battery life, all while bringing even better graphics and CPU performance in a lower power envelope in one generational leap -- and in real-world tests run by independent third parties. While I was excited about Haswell from the perspective of what it was supposed to achieve, the hard data is in and Intel has delivered on all fronts. Things are going to get very exciting for ultra-thin laptops and convertibles, and in this space, no other chip vendor comes close.