Intel's Haswell-Y promises PC performance in tablets

Summary:The latest Y Series processors use so little power that they are now a viable option for fanless tablets and 2-in-1 devices. HP is the first to announce a 2-in-1 with the latest Haswell-Y chip, but will others follow?

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Lately Intel has been focused on its Atom processor and tablets , but there’s another new chip in its family that could prove to be equally important. The latest Haswell-Y processors use so little power that they are now a viable option for tablets and 2-in-1 devices.

The focus on power efficiency in Core processors is nothing new. Even before laptop shipments eclipsed desktops for the first time five years ago, Intel began working on power and it has long offered a line of low-voltage Core processors--typically rated at around 15 watts compared with 37 watts for standard notebook chips.

At the beginning of the year, Intel announced a new Y Series of ultra low-voltage processors starting with third-generation Ivy Bridge chips that were rated at a maximum 13 watts, but used as little as 7 watts in typical tablet usage scenarios (something Intel calls Scenario Design Power or SDP). Later in the year it rolled out an updated fourth-generation Haswell-Y family shrinking the SDP down to 6 watts with a maximum power rating of 11.5 watts.The latest batch, which Intel announced in July but is only now becoming available, use only 4.5 watts (though they are still rated at 11.5 watts on certain notebook workloads).

That might not sound like a huge difference. But it is significant because it means that Core processors can be used, for the first time, in 2-in-1 devices and tablets that do not need a fan for cooling. That means thinner, lighter and quieter devices--with performance comparable to a PC, but with battery life that is more like a tablet.

So far there are three of these 4.5-watt Haswell-Y dual-cores (four threads). The entry-level Core i3-4012Y has a base frequency of 1.5GHz and does not support turbo mode. The Core i5-4202Y and the i5-4302Y are similar--both have a base frequency of 1.6GHz though the 4302Y can turbo slightly higher--but the latter also supports Intel’s vPro, a set of features for businesses.

The next-generation Broadwell processor, which is manufactured on a more advanced process and also due out next year, should push power and performance per watt even further. At the INtel Developer Forum earlier this month, the company showed a slide indicating that the next-generation Y Series will bring the total system power-including component ts such as the display, memory and SSD--down to around 10 watts on fairly intensive tasks.

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Last week announced the first 2-in-1 Ultrabook that will use the latest Haswell-Y processors. The Spectre x2 is a detachable with a 13.3-inch 1920x1080 tablet that weighs 2.1 pounds and a keyboard with two USB 3.0 slots HDMI and an SD card slot that brings the total system weight to 4.3 pounds.It will be available in October strating at $1,100.

[My colleague, Sean Portnoy, has posted more details on HP’s announcements last week.]

Beyond that Haswell-Y hasn’t seen wide adoption yet, which is puzzling since it seems like a good option for 2-in-1 devices. The new Surface Pro 2, which Microsoft announced today, would seem to be a great fit for the Core i5-4302Y, for example, but the company instead chose the 15-watt i5-4200U, which offers better performance and still claims to deliver good battery life. It’s hard to tell whether this is because of limited availability of Haswell-Y or other issues such as cost or the board area required. Hardware companies may also be waiting until next year when Microsoft will reportedly release a 64-bit version of Windows 8 that supports the Connected Standby, a set of features that s especially desirable for tablets and hybrids.

With Bay Trail bringing higher performance to the low-power Atom line for tablets and Core processors scaling down to lower power, there’s bound to be a little overlap in the middle. Both compete with ARM-based chips--from companies such as Qualcomm, Samsung and Nvidia--as well as AMD’s Kabini and Temash processors. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter to Intel as long as it makes some headway in mobile. The Spectre x2 looks like a good start, but as with Bay Trail, Intel needs more design wins to show Core can really work in 2-in-1s and tablets.

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Topics: Processors, Intel, Laptops, Tablets

About

John Morris is a former executive editor at CNET Networks and senior editor at PC Magazine. He now works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are... Full Bio

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