Intel Haswell i7-4770K & i5-4670K Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: May 31, 2013
Product Name: i7-4770K & i5-4670K
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Haswell has been on the minds of many enthusiasts from the moment it crawled onto Intel's roadmaps. This architecture is supposed to serve as a rugged and adaptable platform for both the mobile and desktop spaces over the next two years or so. In other words, Intel has a lot riding on Haswell and they've engineered it in such a way that its benefits will be spread across multiple product categories.

In many Haswell still represents an adherence to Intel’s longstanding ideals of being king of the desktop market. However, as the consumers' needs evolved Intel has been forced to rethink everything from positioning to power consumption, thus affecting the very architecture itself. Build it yourself upgradeable computers are slowly fading into an enthusiast-only segment and ultra portable computing –from tablets to Ultrabooks- is beginning to take over. This has necessitated a shift in ideologies which will ultimately have significant impact upon the viability of certain form factors and Haswell is the first step towards addressing these changing conditions.

With Haswell, Intel’s famous “Tick, Tock” product cycle is taking its next logical step. Unlike the Sandy Bridge / Ivy Bridge transition last year, this time a new architecture is being introduced so many will expect performance improvements which weren’t possible with a simple generational refresh. Naturally, there are some other goodies being thrown in as Intel tries to add a feature set that encompasses the needs of mobile users with the demands of higher performance desktop clients.

The “Tick” part of this equation represents a move towards more advanced process technology using a refresh of existing architecture. You can count this as a proving ground before Intel introduces a new generation of products. For example, Ivy Bridge took the 22nm approach after Sandy Bridge’s 32nm outing.

The Tock meanwhile denotes a new architectural evolution which uses an existing and therefore properly refined manufacturing process. In this case Haswell (the tock of Intel’s current generation equation) uses the 22nm Tri Gate transistors which proved to be the lynchpin in Ivy Bridge’s evolutionary steps forward.

Haswell also incorporates a number of key processing features which will distinguish its design from that of its predecessors. However, this isn’t a new ground-up architectural revision that throws the baby out with the bath water. Rather, it takes many of the Sandy Bridge’s basic design elements and combines them with IPC improvements and new instruction sets tailored for today’s computing environments. The real focus here has been on power consumption, something that has always been a concern for mobile and desktop users alike.

Remaining ahead in the x86 race is still key to Intel’s success. However, in order to achieve the efficiency demanded by certain emerging markets, it has become increasingly necessary to leverage secondary processing means to achieve an optimal balance between performance and power consumption. As we have been hearing from AMD for several generations now, leveraging graphics cores for highly parallelized workloads leads to performance gains without substantial power needs. By using this same approach, Intel has packed additional high performance instruction sets and expanded graphics capabilities alongside their x86 processing modules. When combined, these factors should allow Haswell to remain well ahead of AMD’s APUs in standard processing tasks while partially closing the rather large gap in graphics horsepower.

Even though there will be a wide variety of desktop SKUs, Intel’s goals for Haswell reflect the market’s changing priorities. As such, this is very much a mobile-focused architecture which had the lion’s share of its development time prioritized towards improving battery life, performance per watt and a number of other items in an effort to improve platform efficiency.

On the surface, it may look like Haswell won’t make a noticeable impact in the desktop market. However, the aforementioned improvements have allowed Intel’s engineers to cram additional performance into lower TDP parts. This will allow better throughput at all levels but more importantly, it will lead to the creation of efficient, feature rich quasi-desktops which Intel calls “Adaptive All in One” PCs.

The A-AIO PC is where Intel believes the desktop market is heading this year and into the future. Currently, we’re seeing traditional stationary computing gradually shift towards a more integrated experience with a touch interface replacing the typical mouse / keyboard combination. While there has been a massive amount of pushback against this direction (look no further than Windows 8’s abysmal sales numbers), most consumers want to avoid the clutter and hassle of traditional desktops. Adaptive All in One PCs take this to the next level by combining the performance of a desktop into a thinner form factor that’s somewhat portable so it can be taken from one room of your house to another. For gaming, content creation and other tasks, standard desktops will stick around for the foreseeable future but A-AIO will provide yet another opening for Haswell’s more energy efficient modes.

Since Haswell focuses on balancing power consumption with better per-thread performance, it should be the perfect choice for users who want to upgrade from older Core 2 Duo setups. Its platform also incorporates a number of key connectivity enhancements like native SATA 6Gbps, Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 connectivity. However, Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge users may find very few reasons to actually upgrade their desktops.

As with the transition from Nehalem to Sandy Bridge, Haswell will require a new socket type (1150) which will necessitate the purchase of a motherboard alongside a CPU. However, the main reason for putting off an upgrade this time around may once again boil down to performance improvements, or a lack thereof.

Even though Haswell incorporates a number of features which will enhance (in some cases dramatically) per-thread performance, expectations have to be tempered since this won’t be backed up by clock speed differences. As we will see on the upcoming pages, the high end 4770K will run at the exact same frequencies as the outgoing 3770K so any boost in benchmark scores will be solely granted through the architectural improvements.

Even after substantial unveilings at IDF 2012 and IDF 2013, today doesn’t actually represent the full launch of Intel’s newest architecture. We’re allowed to talk about quad core parts while the dual core information will have to wait until June 3rd.

So what does this all mean for today’s review? Absolutely nothing since in it we will be looking at two different processors: the i7 4770K and the less expensive yet still extremely capable i5 4670K. With unlocked multipliers and a bevy of other overclocker-friendly features, both of these target the enthusiast market and are priced accordingly at $340 and $240 respectively. The only real difference is the i7 4770K’s ability to process up to eight concurrent threads while its i5 flavored sibling can only access four.

Regardless of your opinion of the desktop market’s current position, Haswell seems to incorporate all of the features one would expect within a modern CPU. Efficiency, graphics processing, extension support and many other areas have been addressed but will this be enough to satisfy everyone?

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