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A Taste Of Things To Come…On The Desktop

Core i7-4770K: Haswell's Performance, Previewed

So, now enthusiasts have a general sense for how Haswell will compare to high-end Sandy Bridge, Sandy Bridge-E, and Ivy Bridge processors. You probably could have guessed this before even looking at our benchmarks, but the pre-production Core i7-4770K is in the neighborhood of 7 to 13% faster than Core i7-3770K in today’s threaded workloads. That’s pretty consistent with the evolution from Sandy to Ivy Bridge, even as the flagship Haswell-based part keeps its thermal ceiling under 84 W.

Processors with Intel’s HD Graphics 4600 engine should offer notably better 3D performance than today’s HD Graphics 4000, though most enthusiasts purchasing unlocked K-series parts won’t even notice. An additional four execution units and a maximum dynamic frequency 100 MHz faster than Core i7-3770K are only good for incrementally-faster frame rates—but nothing that’ll replace discrete graphics (seems to be the conclusion we draw every generation, huh?). As before, desktop gamers will continue buying graphics cards.

The mobile space is where Intel’s efforts should become more apparent…and it has something for that market we anticipate will give AMD’s and Nvidia’s entry-level GPUs a serious run. CPUs with the GT3 graphics engine will only be available in BGA packaging, though.

Where does that leave you as a power user on the desktop? Well, you’ll have access to quad- and dual-core Haswell-based CPUs armed with GT2 and two memory channels each. The LGA 1150 interface means you’ll need a new motherboard with an 8-series chipset. Fortunately, the updated platform gives you six SATA 6Gb/s ports and six USB 3.0 ports (14 total ports, including USB 2.0). At least from the enthusiast angle, everything else is pretty much the same.

Overclocking is undoubtedly what many of you are going to base your buying decision on. Many enthusiasts assumed that Ivy Bridge-based CPUs manufactured at 22 nm would be far more tunable than 32 nm Sandy Bridge processors. When that turned out not to be the case, many folks expressed that they’d sit on fast second-gen Core chips running comfortably at 4.4 and 4.5 GHz. I wasn’t able to overclock the Core i7-4770K I tested—largely because that’s no way to treat a borrowed CPU. But we’re certainly curious to see how a more mature process affects the architecture’s scalability.

Making Way For Mobile

We know from our talks with motherboard vendors at this year’s CES that you’ll be able to buy Haswell in LGA 1150 trim, but that its successor, Broadwell, is going to be BGA-only (meaning it’ll ship soldered onto motherboards). Now, it’s possible that Skylake, the architecture to follow Broadwell, will see Intel re-introduce an upgradeable interface. However, Core i7-4770K is going to get a lot of attention, if only because of its position as the last flagship before we’re subject to less flexibility.  

Of course, where we’re ultimately headed is a world where these desktop-class architectures are pulled down into smaller computing devices. It’s already happening with Ivy Bridge-based chips, but will continue with Intel’s Y-series parts and AMD’s Kabini. I know a lot of enthusiasts are bemoaning the slow erosion of unfettered configurability. However, the sky is not falling, and we're not ready to throw in the towel as power users. To the contrary, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Ivy Bridge-E, a Haswell-based Surface, and the next generation of x86-based consoles.

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