What is this Intel Haswell thing, and should you pay extra for it?
In the old days, you could tell how fast a computer's processor was
by a few simple designations. Pentium 4? Faster than Pentium III. A
500MHz clock speed? Faster than 300MHz.
These days, however, processor lingo can be a lot more
confusing. Yes, Intel's current line consists of fairly simple
numerical branding--Core i3, i5, and i7--but within those
categories you'll hear terms like Ivy Bridge, Sandy Bridge, and,
most recently, Haswell.
What the heck do all those words mean, and if you're in the
market for a new laptop, do they matter?
Just like Intel's Pentium line before it, the Core series has
evolved over the years, with each new generation bringing various
changes and improvements. Haswell is the codename for the fourth
generation of Core processors, and products (namely laptops)
equipped with Haswell processors began shipping just a few months
However, you won't typically see the word "Haswell" when you
go laptop shopping at, say, Best Buy. What you'll see is "4th gen
Core processor"--and probably an extra-high price tag alongside
Is it worth paying a premium? It depends on what you're
looking for in a laptop. The big deal about Haswell is battery
life: According to Intel, if a manufacturer wants to apply the
"Ultrabook" designation to a laptop, it must deliver at least nine
hours battery life when idle, six hours when playing HD video, and
seven days in standby. Those are pretty big increases over the
previous-generation (Ivy Bridge) processors, which were rated for
five hours of normal usage.
Haswell makes the gains possible thanks to ultra-sophisticated
power management. Bottom line for users: If you want the longest
battery life you can get in a laptop, make sure it has
Other perks of the chip include faster graphics performance
and lower operating temperature. The latter should allow for fewer
and/or smaller cooling fans, which in turn enables manufacturers to
produce even thinner and lighter machines.
Haswell chips will also appear in future tablets and
convertible laptops, those with removable or full-turn keyboards.
And the same benefits will apply: longer battery life, better
The problem right now is that because this is Intel's latest
and greatest chip, it's selling at a premium--though prices are
starting to creep down. Best Buy, for example, now offers the Toshiba Satellite P55-A5312
, a 15.6-inch
laptop with a 4th-gen Core i5, for $599.99. It's not an Ultrabook,
but it should afford all the benefits Haswell has to offer.
The good news is that if you can wait a few months, prices
should drop even further, and we should start to see some deals on
refurbished Haswell-equipped systems.Veteran technology writer Rick Broida
is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his
money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC