Computex As expected, Intel today took centre stage on the first day of Computex proper to launch its long-awaited lineup of Haswell processors. And Chipzilla heralded the new 2-in-1 form-factor - PCs that can turn into tablets - in which many of these new chips will find themselves.
As one of the most widely trailed and hyped chip launches in years, Haswell has a lot to live up to, but there are some important caveats as to whether it can rejuvenate a moribund PC market.
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Attendees at the show could be forgiven for thinking this was 2012 all over again. Last year it was all about Ivy Bridge and Windows 8 based devices while in 2013 the hype in Taipei is focused on Haswell and the upcoming Windows 8.1.
The question some commentators are asking is: If the predicted uptick in sales didn’t work after Ivy Bridge/Win8, what’s different this time around?
Well, El Reg has done a deep technical dive into Haswell here and here, but to cut a long story short, the 22nm Tri-Gate chips are touted as offering 50 per cent more battery life for notebooks than Ivy Bridge and double the graphics performance, with power consumption as low as 6W (SDP) – the biggest “generational leap” in Intel’s history.
What that means effectively is over 9 hours of active use battery life and up to 13 days on standby in some models, with wakeup speeds eight times faster than in a four year old machine running a Core i5 processor, Chipzilla said.
In a keynote to launch Haswell, EVP Tom Kilroy demo'd a series of 2-in-1 devices, claiming there are over 50 designs in the pipeline and expected to hit shelves for “a range” of different prices at around September-October time.
“Two years ago we talked about reinventing [the notebook] with the ultrabook and today we’re talking about 2-in-1. It’s PC performance and tablet-like mobility in one,” he said.
“We’re on the verge of ushering in an exciting new era. We believe the 2-in-1 era is the new norm.”
In fact, Intel spoke so exclusively about the 2-in-1s, that Kilroy was forced to clarify in the subsequent press conference that the ultrabook dream has not actually been abandoned, and that some of the coming Haswell 2-in-1 models will belong to that exclusive category.
The plan, he added, is that the ultrabook will continue to serve as a high-spec’d premium format, driving innovation and momentum for everything beneath it to make notebooks thinner, faster, lighter and touchscreen.
In a separate satellite event, Intel’s PC Client honcho Kirk Skaugen showcased a number of upcoming 2-in-1s to prove OEMs are already innovating in the form factor.
These included the “ferris wheel” design of Dell's XPS 12, the detachable Asus Transformer Book Trio launched yesterday, and other variations on the 2-in-1 theme including “sliders”, “swivel” designs and some with raised hinges.
Chipzilla said there would be a tenfold increase in the number of designs hitting the shelves from spring 2013 to the autumn. Needless to say OEM partners like Asus, Acer and Quanta wheeled on to speak about Haswell did so pretty gushingly.
The PC market could certainly do with a lift. IDC predicted last week that Worldwide PC shipments will fall by 7.8 per cent this year as users delay PC purchases and increasingly look to tablets and smartphones to satisfy their computing needs.
However, the key to Haswell and Intel’s 2-in-1 strategic success may be, quite simply, price.
It will be the quad core Atom "Bay Trail" chips which go into the cheapest models, with Intel tweeting today that 2-in-1 machines featuring these Silvermont-based processors will hit the stores this autumn for $399.
Haswell, with all its much-touted benefits, will end up in pricier models. That said, the analysts seem to be cautiously optimistic about what the new chips could deliver.
“To be honest, we have rarely if ever seen a CPU upgrade really make any kind of dramatic difference [to PC sales],” IDC’s VP Bob O’Donnell told El Reg.
“I certainly think Haswell will help, particularly if the claims of 50 per cent greater batter life really do turn out to be true, but it's going to take lower PC prices, increased availability of touch, the ‘re-launch’ of Windows with 8.1 and more stylish designs to really get the PC market going again.”
Ovum principal analyst, Roy Illsley, added that users will naturally look to consolidate onto fewer computing devices as the price and performance of ultrabooks and tablets become more appealing.
“Haswell is an improvement on the old chipsets in terms of the power it requires and with the ability to shut off circuits in microseconds, it also enables PCs to operate like smartphones – when the lid is closed the device will remain connected,” he told The Reg.
“The power drop means it can now fit into many different form factors, and has the power to provide a good customer experience. I think the market will be fragmented, but people want longer battery life, ease of use, at a price that is affordable.” ®