New generation of Intel chips are less than 1 month away.

Intel’s new range of processors is due to be released on June 4th 2013, 4 weeks from today. Intel have been making big claims about the improved performance and efficiency of these new chips, so what do the initial testing and benchmarking tell us about this new range of chips? More importantly, should you pay extra to buy a 4th generation over a 3rd generation model?

Please note:

If you are looking for a technical analysis with lists of tables containing facts and figures and discussions of various chipset architectures, this is not the preview for you. If you just want to know in plain English what this new chip has to offer, please read on.

What have Intel been saying?

Unsurprisingly, they’ve been saying quite a lot and it’s all good. 4th generation processors (which I will refer to as Gen4 from now on) offer considerable benefits of 3rd generation (Gen3) models. Compare the slogans Intel have come up with for Gen 3 ‘Ultra-thin Ultra-responsive. Ultra-secure.’ with the one they’ve come up with for Gen 4 ‘The Notebook Reinvented’ and you can see they think they’ve done something pretty amazing… So what is that exactly?

Gen4 processors (they claim) can process at the same speed as a Gen3 using half as much power, and at full power can run twice as fast. The new ‘Iris’ graphics processors built into Gen4 chips are 2-3 times as fast as the Gen3 model at much lower power levels. The new chips are smaller and thinner making them ideal for a new generation of smaller, sleeker devices.

It’s notable that the first group of Gen4 processors released are i5 and i7 models, with no i3 chips in the line up to begin with. Entry level users are going to have to wait a bit longer for Gen4.

What have experts and reviewers been saying?

Quite a lot as well.

As usual, Intel have a new architecture for this new processor which means that you can’t upgrade your existing Gen3 computer to Gen4. The new architecture itself doesn’t seem to have set tongues wagging or keyboards buzzing much with most experts concluding that it is continuing in the direction of making things smaller and less power consuming.

There was some hope that Gen4 would use the new DDR4 memory which came out last year instead of the 6 year old DDR3 technology, however only the ultra-high end Haswell-E processor (which hasn’t even been given a release date yet) will support this type of memory. It looks like DDR4 will have to wait until Gen5 at least. With DDR3 cheap and widely available and DDR4 expensive and in short supply, this is probably a move that will be unpopular with geeks and popular with businesses and consumers.

Actual testing of the new processors for performance and efficiency have shown them to run faster and on less power than the Gen3 models. It’s not any surprise to anyone that ‘real-world’ performance doesn’t match Intel’s benchmark figures, but the real world (almost) never does.

The biggest improvements noted were on power consumption which is much lower than Gen3 models. Laptops that can be used for 9 hours on a single charge have been reported which is a remarkable improvement on most current laptops.

The actual processor performance has received a mixed reception, with complaints that the new smaller chips can’t be overclocked to their maximum levels due to overheating problems. This means that Gen4 users will get a similar performance to Gen3 using less power, but won’t be able to get the reported faster performance by increasing their power consumption to Gen3 levels. I think it’s questionable how many people outside the ‘techie community’ would play about with their power and clock settings anyway, so this ‘problem’ is unlikely to be noticed by most users.

Graphics performance is also improved, and this is the one area of hot contention between different experts. I have read a number of reviews calling the HD5200 ‘Iris’ graphics processor a real threat to the graphics card manufacturers and just as many others saying it’s still way short of dedicated graphics card performance. The one thing everyone does agree on is that it is a lot faster than the HD4000 and will probably be enough for the 99% of users who won’t use it for anything more graphically demanding than watching DVDs or playing a few flash games on the ‘net.

So what does that all mean?

The 4th generation of Intel i3, i5 and i7 chips appear to have been designed with the mobile market it mind. They’re smaller, use less power and provide better processing and graphics performance than 3rd generation models. This should be ideal for smaller, thinner devices like Microsoft Surface and Asus Zenbooks. If the future of computing really is to be found in ultra-thin portable devices, like Microsoft’s Surface, then Intel seems to be positioning themselves in the ideal place. That’s still a fairly big if in my opinion.

For desktop users, there really doesn’t seem to be much of an improvement, other than the better graphics performance, and with good dedicated graphics cards available relatively cheaply, it’s questionable how much of an advantage this new generation really is.

Thanks for reading.

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