Articles: CPU

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It has become a kind of tradition for Intel to update its desktop CPU microarchitecture on a yearly basis. The Sandy Bridge was released in early 2011 and followed by the Ivy Bridge in April, 2012. The latest Haswell microarchitecture was introduced on the 4th of June, 2013. Having got used to this regularity, the market is already waiting for the new generation of processors which are known under the codename of Broadwell. However, Intel had some problems transitioning to the new 14nm tech process which was supposed to be used for the Broadwell. That’s why the release date, which had been originally set in the middle of this year, had to be revised. As far as we know at the moment, energy-efficient Broadwell processors for mobile gadgets are going to be announced at the end of 2014 whereas full-featured Broadwell products for desktop and mobile PCs will only become available in 2015.

To fill in the tedious wait, Intel has come up with an idea called Haswell Refresh. Instead of launching completely new Broadwell processors, the company offers improved versions of its older products. They feature the same microarchitecture but have higher clock rates. After the official announcement recently, Intel’s price list has grown by 42 new positions, 24 of which are desktop processors of various classes. In our today’s review we are going to take a look at Haswell Refresh products of the Core i7, i5 and i3 series targeted at ordinary desktop PCs.

Haswell Refresh for Desktop PCs

Haswell Refresh actually means higher clock rates for Intel’s Haswell-based LGA1150 processors. There’s nothing particularly surprising about this idea as the company used to steadily increase its CPU clock rates in between microarchitecture updates in the past. The Haswell Refresh initiative is only different in that the clock rate is increased not for select processor models but for the entire product range.

Intel seems to generate much hype about Haswell Refresh to create an impression of ongoing innovations even though the Broadwell announcement is postponed. We don’t see anything extraordinary about the Haswell Refresh processors just because they are the same Haswell-based products that have been around for about a year but now have a 100MHz higher clock rate. This higher clock rate translates into a performance gain of a mere 2 or 3%.

Fortunately, this small advantage in performance comes at no expense for the buyer. The new Haswell Refresh processors just replace their Haswell predecessors in Intel’s price list in the way shown in the next table (for the desktop models):

It must be noted that the higher clock rate doesn’t change the processors’ TDP, which is set at 84 watts for the Core i7 and i5 and at 54 watts for the Core i3 series. The Haswell Refresh products using the same semiconductor dies as before, the increased frequency potential is ensured by improvements in Intel’s 22nm tech process. The core revision is not changed, so it is still C0. It means we can’t expect any dramatic improvements in terms of thermal or electrical or any other properties of the refreshed processors.

Haswell Refresh for desktop systems

The Haswell Refresh products look exactly like their predecessors:

Ordinary Haswell - on the left, Haswell Refresh - on the right

The only difference concerns the overclocker-friendly K series which is going to be announced later, supposedly on June 2. Until then Intel suggests that overclockers use the old Core i7-4770K and Core i5-4670K but we guess we should say a few words about their upcoming replacement.

Haswell Refresh processors with unlocked frequency multipliers, known under the generic codename of Devil’s Canyon, offer something more besides higher default clock rates. Intel wants to make them better for overclocking by changing their packaging. The heat-conductive material between the CPU die and the heat-spreading cap will be replaced with a more efficient one while the cap itself will be made out of a different alloy with better heat conductivity. As far as we know, the Devil’s Canyon will include two unlocked LGA1150 processors: Core i7-4790K and Core i5-4690K. They will have a higher TDP than regular Haswell Refresh products and their default clock rates will be set higher, too.

That’s all we know about the Devil’s Canyon as yet but we hope to test them as soon as they come out. Today we will talk only about regular desktop Haswell Refresh products with standard TDPs. You can already buy such processors in any store.

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