Gadgets

With 50 percent better battery life, Intel’s Haswell will drive laptops that won’t burn your lap

Intel‘s fourth-generation Core microarchitecture, formerly code-named Haswell, has been heralded for a long time, but it’s finally arriving in a variety of low-power computing devices over the next month. Those devices will have 50 percent better battery life than current-generation Ivy Bridge devices when used on active tasks. They will also have double the graphics performance and much lower power consumption in standby mode, Intel executives said in a briefing.

The Haswell chip family (dubbed fourth-generation Core) is the last hurrah for Intel’s outgoing chief executive, Paul Otellini. And it is a convergence architecture that, along with other 22-nanometer chips coming this year, will find its way into PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The chip family will inspire a new generation of hybrid devices, such as two-in-one concepts like a laptop that can be converted into a tablet. HP showed one such device off this week: the HP Envy Rove 20, a 20-inch all-in-one desktop computer that can be converted into a touchscreen tabletop computer.

For more than a year, Otellini has been pounding the drum on Haswell, which he described as delivering the “largest generation-to-generation improvement in battery life in Intel history.”

Rani Borkar, vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Group, said Intel is getting that improvement not only from moving to a more efficient manufacturing process, but also because it designed the chip from the ground up for mobility and low power. For instance, the chips use extensive “power gating,” where unused transistors — the on-off components of digital computing — are turned off when they are not in use and reawakened quickly when needed. Borkar said new devices will have a better “instant on” responsiveness when you hit a button.

“Haswell is a revolutionary product from Intel,” she said. “It will lead to a large number of form factors and industry firsts. It redefines what you expect from a conventional processor.”

Intel says the standby mode has 20 times better power efficiency than the Sandy Bridge processor-graphics combo chip from a couple of years ago. That means you can now watch three high-definition movies before your laptop runs out of power.

The Haswell microarchitecture is akin to putting a V12 engine in a car that used to have a V6, without expanding the size of the engine. Intel will make a variety of low-power Core processors using the microarchitecture, each of them with different code names and final product names. Those products from high-performance servers to “sleek ultraportables” are rolling out starting June 5 and throughout the year, and they’ll blur the line between devices, just as motorcycles, scooters, golf carts, and Ferraris are all variations on moving vehicles.

“This improvement in power is not coming at the expensive of performance,” Borkar said.

Kaizad Mistry, vice president of Intel’s technology and manufacturing group, said Intel is using an enhanced version of its 22-nanometer Tri-Gate 3D transistor manufacturing process. That version is optimized for low power, giving transistors the same operating frequencies while consuming low power.

Borkar said the Haswell-based chips will scale from chips that consume just 7 watts to some that consume 75 watts.

Intel first introduced its Atom processor for netbooks in 2008. Those failed, but Intel has a huge share in the mobile processing market for computers. Since 2006, Intel says, the integrated graphics performance of its microprocessor and chipset combinations (now often integrated in a single chip or a single package with two chips) has increased 75 times.

The chip includes integrated eDRAM memory and an improved interconnect between the processor and the chipset across two chips that are contained in a single package. Intel said that it achieves a “non-linear reduction” in idle power consumption thanks to a new power management design, new ways to power down a chip quickly when not in use, and new ways of moving data around the chip quickly.

One innovation is dubbed FIVR, short for Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator. It consolidates all of the power used in the chip into an integrated voltage regulator and measures power usage in real-time. That reduces the cost of the device.

Later this year, Intel will unveil the Silvermont microarchitecture for future Atom microprocessors, which are targeted at low power devices. The Bay Trail version of Silvermont will be used in tablets this holiday, Avoton will be used in microservers, and Merrifield will be used in smartphones. Intel will talk more about its roadmap at the Computex trade show in Taiwan in the first week of June.


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