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Intel launches its long-awaited lineup of Haswell CPUs

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June 4, 2013

Intel has launched its long-awaited lineup of Haswell processors this morning, and the company 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 processor launches in many years, Haswell has a lot to live up to, but there are some important caveats as to whether it can rejuvenate a lacklustre PC market.

Attendees at the Computex show where the event took place 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 this year, 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, we've done some looking around into Haswell, and the 22nm Tri-Gate chips are touted as offering 50 percent more battery life for notebooks than Ivy Bridge and even double the graphics performance, with power consumption as low as 6 Watts-- the biggest “generational leap” in Intel’s history, according to some observers.

What this means is over 9 hours of active battery life and up to thirteen days on standby in some models, with wakeup speeds eight times faster than in a four year old machine running a Core i5 processor, Intel said.

In a keynote to launch Haswell, executive vice president 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 come September.

“In 2011, 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,” said Kilroy.

“We’re on the tip of bringing in an exciting new era. We believe the 2-in-1 era is the new norm,” he added.

As a matter of fact, Intel spoke so exclusively about its 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.

Intel's new plan 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, added Kilroy.

In a separate event, Intel’s PC Client manager 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.

Intel 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 were quick to talk on the reasons Haswell did well in such little time.

Overall, the global PC market could certainly use a boost once in a while, and it looks like today it's here. IDC predicted last week that global PC shipments will fall by about 7.8 percent in 2013 as users delay PC purchases and increasingly look to tablets and smartphones to satisfy their computing needs.

But the key to Haswell and Intel’s 2-in-1 strategic success may be, quite simply, price alone. It will be the quad core Atom "Bay Trail" chips which go into the lower-cost models, with Intel saying today that 2-in-1 machines featuring these Silvermont-based CPUs will hit store shelves this autumn for $399.

Haswell, with all its much-touted benefits, will end up in higher-end models, it's just a question of time. That said, the analysts seem to be cautiously optimistic about what the new chips could deliver, if they deliver anything.

“To be honest, we have rarely if ever seen a CPU upgrade really make any kind of dramatic difference to PC sales,” said IDC’s vice president Bob O’Donnell.

“Of course, I certainly think that Haswell will help, particularly if the claims of 50 percent greater battery life really do turn out to be true, but it's still going to take lower PC prices, the 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 PC 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 still remain connected,” he said.

“The power drop means it can now fit into many different form factors, and it still 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,” he added.

In other IT news

The University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications is now using its Blue Waters petascale computer for research, and is credited with cracking part of HIV's code.

And this could possibly help point the way to new treatments for patients as well.

Overall, several simulations carried out on Blue Waters's complex supercomputer allowed researchers and scientists to determine the precise structure of the HIV capsid-– the protein shell protecting the virus, which is an important part of its ability to attack the human immune system.

A sample of 64 million atoms was analysed, and according to the researchers, that's what's required for the petaflop capability of the supercomputer.

What scientists were looking for was a detailed atomic-level analysis of the 1,300 identical proteins that form a cone-like structure in the capsid. Previously, attempts to analyse the capsid couldn't capture the whole structure in one single simulation.

While preparing for the experiment, the researchers, led by Peijun Zhang of the University of Pittsburgh, had first conducted various physical experiments including cryo-electron tomography to slice the proteins up and gain a broad understanding of their shape.

They then used the Blue Waters supercomputer to conduct a simulation, run by University of Illinois physics professor Klaus Schulten and postdoctoral researcher Juan Perilla, called “molecular dynamic flexible fitting”.

Schulten says that the capsid is “one of the biggest structures ever solved”. Blue Waters was originally going to be constructed by IBM, but the company withdrew in 2011, realizing that it couldn't build the supercomputer together on budget. Then, Cray picked up the project, assembling XE6 Opteron blade server nodes and XK6 CPU-GPU nodes, linked with Cray's Gemini XE interconnect system.

Source: Intel Corp.

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