Everyone knows that if you wait 6 months a faster computer will be out that makes what you buy today look slow. Of course you can’t just keep waiting but this time it really is more than just the usual speed increase.
Why is Intel Haswell special?
In some ways it isn’t, just the regular speed update in line with Moore’s Law but what really matters here is the power-consumption and graphics.
A computer’s processor is responsible for a large amount of the power-consumption in a computer, along with the screen. This processor uses a number of tricks to reduce its power consumption so far that the life of a standard laptop goes from 5-6 hours to 8-10. Put another way from ‘needs a recharge middle of the day when you’ve forgotten your charger’ to ‘genuinely all day under normal use’.
The graphics are also a leap in that although graphics have been ‘integrated’ into a number of processors before this now feels like the real deal and doesn’t require a separate graphics processor to power beautiful video or gaming. Not that gaming is done on most laptops but it makes a big different to displaying and switching between windows if there is a sufficiently powered Graphics Processing Unit.
Essentially you can now get what you want out of a laptop, both decent processing power and battery life that lasts all day. This is no laboratory promise but seems to be proven in real-world scenarios on actual laptops.
When is Haswell available?
Officially it has already launched and is in some mainstream products, notably the recently refreshed MacBook Air but also some PC Ultrabooks. However these are the expensive end of the wedge, the flagship products that would always get it first.
It looks as though a significant number of manufacturers are refreshing their lines between now and Christmas with a good number available in time for the new academic year.
You can see the latest lists of devices containing Haswell here: http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/processors/core/4th-gen-core-processor-family.html and yes be aware they are calling them “4th Generation”, though most will understand “Haswell” more readily.
What Should I Get?
As with the current generation of i3, i5 and i7 Intel Processors (bigger number is faster) there are several versions of Haswell. They don’t just relate to the power of the processor but also the graphics capability as that is becoming more and more integrated.
There’s a horribly complicated and comprehensive list here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haswell_%28microarchitecture%29#List_of_Haswell_processors but generally if you want speedy graphics then ask for ‘Intel Iris’ graphics which are a step smoother than the other versions and apparently ideal for Ultrabook.
Of course these older processors will still be around in laptops so make sure you insist on Haswell even if it costs £50-100 more. After all you’ll be using your computer for 2-3 years to come every day and the investment is worth it.