Intel’s latest mainstream processor architecture isn’t a massive upgrade but Haswell does boast some performance gains, new/refined features, and improved energy efficiency, the latter most useful in the mobile chips running Windows 8.
June 6, 2013 by Lawrence Lee
|Intel Core i7-4770K|
Intel has firmly held the CPU performance lead over AMD for several years now, yet their releases continue at a brisk yet steady pace. Their last update to their mainstream desktop platform, Ivy Bridge, was released just a year ago, though it was considered a minor revision. The socket from the previous generation was reused and their was only a modest CPU speed boast, though integrated graphics received significant improvement. Their latest CPU architecture, Haswell, does require a new socket, but we wouldn’t describe it as a major update either as it still shares a lot in common with its predecessor.
The Intel Core i7-4770K.
Haswell Die diagram (quad core model). 1.4 billion transistors on a 177 mm² die.
Haswell carries the same essential design of Ivy Bridge, including all the key elements from its predecessor such as 22 nm Tri-Gate transistors, Turbo Boost, Quick Sync video transcoding, and a host of virtualization and management features. Added to the mix, as usual, are updated instruction sets, this time AVX2 and AMD’s FMA3, both of which primarily benefit floating point calculations and SIMD operations. There are several other minor improvements under the hood including increased bandwidth between the different cache levels, refined Turbo Boost frequencies. Power regulation has been altered as Haswell has a fully integrated voltage regulator included, and lower C-States are now supported to help boost idle energy efficiency. While idle power consumption is not terribly important on desktop systems, it’s absolutely vital for the ever growing mobile market. With the world moving toward portable devices, battery life appears to be one of the biggest bottlenecks to advances in consumer technology.
Haswell Integrated Graphics Comparison
GT3e: Iris Pro 5200
up to 1300 MHz
GT3: Iris 5100
up to 1300 MHz
GT3: HD Graphics 5000
up to 1100 MHz
GT2: HD Graphics 4200 / 4400 / 4600
up to 1250 MHz
GT1: HD Graphics
up to 1100 MHz
Intel’s HD graphics have come a long way and the latest evolution is nothing to sneeze at. The newest version gets support for the DirectX 11.1, OpenCL 1.2, and OpenGL 4.0 APIs, 4K resolution displays, and DisplayPort 1.2, along with a revamped version of Intel’s Quick Sync video technology. Under the hood, the core has been redesigned to be easily scalable by using what Intel calls "sub-slices," the essential building blocks of their graphics technology which each include 10 EU’s (Execution Units). Each chip in their family is essentially the same chip only with a different number of sub-slices.
The nomenclature is somewhat confusing however. There are four levels of performance denoted by the prefix "GT" but each level also have specific model names. The slower models are Intel HD Graphics, HD Graphics 4200 / 4400/ 4600, and HD Graphics 5000. The difference between 4200, 4600, and 4600 hasn’t been clearly stated by Intel but our guess would be clock speed. The higher models dubbed Iris 5100 and Iris Pro 5200 will actually not be available in many desktop chips, instead they will be pushed on the mobile market where they will have a bigger impact. With regard to the fancy name, it seems to be a play on Apple’s Retina Display moniker and the hopes are that Iris will evoke similar connotations. The top-of-the-line Iris Pro 5200 differs from Iris 5100 in that it is equipped with 128MB of eDRAM that acts a high throughput, low latency cache, as it resides on the same package (but not the same die).
Haswell Core i7 desktop lineup.
The first crop of Core i5/i7 Haswell chips is numerous and varied, though it’s more unified than in the past in that most of the SKUs aren’t missing any important features. Intel’s basic Virtualization and AES-NI encryption technologies are supported by all, as are Quick Sync and Intel’s Wireless Display feature. The available clock speeds are in the same range as Ivy Bridge so any performance improvements will come down to architectural differences alone.
The i7’s are priced slightly higher than the previous generation, between US$300 and US$350. The entire LGA1150 lineup is poised to take the place of the older Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge parts. For many manufacturers this would mean a round of price-cuts for the older hardware but this is unlikely to happen for Intel. They typically keep the prices stagnant until they reach EOL (end of life), pushing their users onto the new platform rather giving them motivation to invest in outdated technology. For those craving low power consumption there are a few energy efficient models with TDPs of 35W, 45W, and 65W. The flagship, i7-4770K, which has an unlocked multiplier, is what we’ll be testing today. Interestingly, its thermal envelope is 7W higher than its predecessor, the Ivy Bridge i7-3770K.
Haswell Core i5 desktop lineup.
The Core i5’s as usual, lack Hyper-threading, so they can only handle four concurrent threads, though for most users this isn’t a big deal. The i5-4670K appears to be this generation’s equivalent of the i5-2500K/3570K, the quintessential lower cost overclocking-friendly chip with an unlocked multiplier.
Haswell Core i5 desktop lineup continued.
Like Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge before it, the cheapest Haswell Core i5 will set you back just under US$200, positioning themselves in a higher price range than any of AMD’s quad core offerings.
Chipset & Motherboard
Z87 chipset block diagram.
There are five chipsets for this new platform, B85, H87, Q85, Q87, and Z87. They are all, in most respects, the equivalent of the 7 series with a few minor updates. Legacy PCI support has been removed (a bridge chip can be used to add PCI functionality), the digital display interconnects are now handled by the processor, most importantly, they’ve upped the number of native USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps ports.
To test the Core i7-4770K, Intel has provided us with a enthusiast class motherboard,
the Intel DZ87KLT-75K, featuring three PCI-E 16x slots, eight SATA 6 Gbps ports
(two via a Marvell controller), FireWire, a pair of Intel gigabit ethernet controllers,
and even a Thunderbolt port. The board uses an 8-phase VRM design cooled by
a pair of stylish heatsinks. We don’t have any pricing information on this model
but by the feature-set, we’d guess it’s well over US$200. (Editor’s Note:
Newegg and MWave both have it listed for $286.)
Of course you don’t need a pricey motherboard to use a Haswell chip, with B85 chipset boards for sale near US$70. If you plan on using the integrated graphics features with a discrete video card you will need a Z87 model however, which start at about US$110.
The back panel only has one display output, an HDMI port, however the small Thunderbolt connector at the far end can double as a DisplayPort using an adapter. There are plenty of USB 3.0 ports, a pair of RJ45 jacks, and Intel’s Back-to-BIOS button which is used for for recovering from unbootable UEFI/BIOS settings.
The decorative blue shields capping the heatsinks limit their cooling ability but as some of the power regulation circuitry has been moved onto the processor, they shouldn’t be taxed much. The mounting holes around the socket are no different than LGA1155/1156 so enthusiasts don’t have to worry about finding a new cooler or an updated mounting kit.
When considering the cost of a system, the CPU is only part of the equation
as the price of motherboards varies greatly from platform to platform. In the
chart above, we added the current street price of the chips compared today to
those of an average compatible motherboard from Newegg.
The following criteria were used for the motherboards: retail versions, Asus/Intel/Gigabyte/MSI
branded, microATX/ATX form factor, SATA 6 Gbps and USB 3.0 controllers, and (outrageously
priced models were omitted.
The average motherboard price turned out to be
US$266 for LGA2011, US$150 for LGA1150, US$119 for LGA1155, and US$104 for AM3+. Note: the Phenom II X6 1100T was omitted as it has been discontinued.
Common CPU Test Configuration:
Common IGP Test Configuration:
AMD AM3 Platform:
AMD AM3+ Platform:
AMD FM1 Platform:
AMD FM2 Platform:
Intel LGA1150 Platform:
Intel LGA1155 Platform:
Intel LGA2011 Platform:
Discrete GPUs Compared: (using our 2012 GPU test system)
Measurement and Analysis Tools
Timed Benchmark Test Details
3D Performance Benchmarks
Video Test Suite
Flash 1080p: The Dark Knight Rises Official Trailer #3, a YouTube HD trailer in 1080p.
Our main test procedure is a series of both CPU (timed tests of real-world applications) and GPU-centric (gaming tests and synthetics) benchmarks. System power consumption is measured during the CPU tests (an average of the first 10~15 seconds) and in various states including idle, H.264 and Flash playback and full CPU and GPU load using Prime95/CPUBurn and FurMark.
Certain services and features like Superfetch and System Restore are disabled
to prevent them from affecting our results. Aero glass is left enabled if supported.
We also make note if energy saving features like Cool’n’Quiet and SpeedStep
do not function properly.
Estimating DC Power
The following power efficiency figures were obtained for the
Seasonic SS-400ET used in our test system:
Seasonic SS-400ET Test Results
DC Output (W)
AC Input (W)
This data is enough to give us a very good estimate of DC demand in our
test system. We extrapolate the DC power output from the measured AC power
input based on this data. We won’t go through the math; it’s easy enough
to figure out for yourself if you really want to.
INTEGRATED GRAPHICS TESTING
Our first set of tests focuses on the integrated graphics. Each CPU/APU and motherboard combination was equipped with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB notebook hard drive and a Blu-ray drive.
Note: Discrete GPUs were tested on our GPU testing platform which uses a
Core i3-2100, though CPU scaling shouldn’t be an issue given the relatively low level of GPU performance of the chips compared.
The new HD 4600 integrated graphics controller is tremendous upgrade over Ivy Bridge’s HD 4000, generating 35~40% better fps on average in our tests. It performed best in synthetic tests and three out of four of the games in our test suite, scoring on par with the A8-5600K/Radeon HD 7560D. The only sore point was Lost Planet 2, where it was only 2~3 fps faster than HD 4000.
It’s a nice performance bump but keep in mind that in our more demanding games, it only achieved greater than 30 fps when the resolution was set to just 1366×768 and details were set to low. It keeps pace with other integrated solutions but it’s still only comparable to low-end discrete graphics cards, which never deliver much bang for your buck.
Quick Sync Performance
Intel’s Quick Sync video encoding and decoding technology debuted in Sandy Bridge and has been improved with each generation since (Ivy Bridge and now Haswell). The feature offers fast video transcoding accelerated by the integrated graphics chip. In past CPU reviews we didn’t pay much attention to it as it wasn’t supported by most applications. That’s still the case today with the notable exception of the latest beta version of HandBrake, a popular open source video encoder. With this latest development we thought it would be prudent to check out whether Quick Sync is truly a viable alternative to traditional non-accelerated CPU intensive transcoding. Our test was a simple one, converting a 720p H.264 encoded video with Matroska container into one with an MP4 container using a similar bitrate.
720p H.264 Video Transcoding Comparison:
Avg. CPU Usage
System Power (AC)
Intel HD 4600 (Quick Sync)
Intel HD 4600 (Quick Sync)
Radeon HD 5450
Using HandBrake, Quick Sync produced a 40% improvement in completion time and 72% reduction in system power consumption compared to the same task unaccelerated (software transcoding). The resulting videos had similar image quality when played but after picking out still frames we noticed that Quick Sync transcoded file actually generated a smoother, less grainy/blocky picture. CPU usage was also way down, so using Quick Sync frees up the system’s resources for a better multitasking experience, assuming it’s not bottlenecked by disk operations.
CyberLink’s MediaEspresso has excellent Quick Sync support, having been compatible with the technology since the beginning. Using Quick Sync, the transcode was completed in less than a third of the time with similar CPU usage and power consumption as HandBrake. MediaEspresso can also do hardware encoding/decoding with AMD and Nvidia cards as well, but enabling it with an Radeon HD 5450 actually slowed down the process, though CPU utilization was almost halved. As for image quality, we couldn’t really tell the difference between the three files, so essentially it’s another win for Quick Sync.
IGP Energy Efficiency
Much fuss has been made about energy efficiency being key to Haswell’s success and we’re pleased to report that its light load power consumption is noticeably better than Ivy Bridge. Our i7-4770K system idled at only 21W DC and only an additional 3~4W was required for video playback. This puts it well ahead of the i7-3770K and AMD’s A8/A10 APU series. It’s not a huge savings in the grand scheme of things but the relative improvement is prodigious.
Moving on to more taxing applications, power consumption while video encoding with TMPGEnc was on par with the i7-3770K but the Haswell combination was modestly more power hungry in our synthetic stress tests, but that was to be expected considering the i7-4770K’s TDP is 7W higher. Still, the i7-4770K was more efficient than both the 100W A8-5600K and A10-5800K overall.
C6/C7 Sleep States
One of Haswell’s features that has gotten a lot of publicity for its new low power states (C6/C7), mainly due to the question of power supply compatibility. C6/C7 can theoretically drop idle energy usage but the PSU needs to be able to deliver a 0.05A load on the 12V2 line, much lower than the ATX 2.3 specification. Many of the big PSU manufacturers have posted a list of compatible models on their respective websites for prospective Haswell buyers.
Another issue is it takes some time for the CPUs to enter these deeper sleep states (and sleep states in general) and often it’s woken up by the O/S when it polls the system for updated data to keep everything running smoothly — this is something Windows 7 and previous versions are scheduled to do in a periodic fashion. Windows 8 is designed more efficiently in this regard, syncing up and performing requests on demand to keep the CPU idle for longer stretches. Given how the much maligned Windows 8 home screen is filled with constantly updating Live Tiles, this improvement along with C6/C7 is almost a necessity to prolong battery life of Windows 8 tablets and laptops.
Best to our knowledge, the lower C-states are disabled by default on most motherboards due to the relative lack of Haswell certified units. In the UEFI/BIOS of our Intel DZ87KLT-75K, the setting is located in the power settings labeled "Lowest CPU Idle Power Setting."
Power Consumption Comparison: C6/C7 Power States
EPS12V Power (DC)
System Power (AC)
System Power (AC)
EPS12V Power (DC)
CPU Load (Prime95)
Pairing our IGP test platform with a Seasonic X-560 and Windows 8 Pro, we saw very little difference with the lower power states enabled. The savings were slight, and as expected, only when idle and under light load (video playback). The draw on the +12V2 line was also lower which seems to indicate this is more than what would fall under margin of error. We wouldn’t recommend anyone rush out to upgrade to a Haswell approved PSU, it’s simply not worth the time and/or effort on a desktop.
Our CPU testing is conducted with a discrete graphics card (a GeForce 9400 GT) to eliminate integrated graphics as a variable, most notably with regards to power consumption. It’s also necessary for fairly comparing CPUs that do not have an onboard graphics such as Bulldozer and Sandy Bridge Extreme models.
A modest amount of time was shaved off in all of our tests compared to the i7-3770K and power consumption was also slightly improved. The 4770K’s strong performance brings it closer to the i7-3960X though the more expensive Sandy Bridge Extreme chip has a slight edge in multi-threaded and memory intensive applications. Still, the 4770K is a superior all-around processor thanks to its much lower cost and energy efficiency.
CPU Energy Efficiency
Once again we see an improvement in idle energy efficiency. Also, somewhat strangely, we’ve noted efficiency improvements in our video playback test going from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge, and now from Ivy Bridge to Haswell, despite running on discrete graphics for our CPU tests. On heavy load, the i7-4770K stayed more or less on par with the Ivy Bridge i7-3770K and the Sandy Bridge i7-2600K.
For users with balanced workloads, we’ve determined what we call the "average power consumption" which assumes the system is used half the time for light load activities (an average of idle and H.264 playback) and the remaining half for heavy load (an average of the power consumption used running our five benchmarks). We believe this is a very common usage pattern for an average PC — they are often left on for long periods of time, doing little to no work.
In this scenario, the Core i7-4770K edges out its Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge cousins by 5W and has a massive lead over Sandy Bridge Extreme and Bulldozer.
For users with heavy workloads, the total power consumed while running our benchmark suite is of pertinent interest. The total power takes into account the energy efficiency of each CPU while running our benchmark tests as well as how quickly they complete each task. This simulates the power draw of a machine that is purely for doing work and shuts down when its job is finished.
Low power consumption coupled with strong performance gives the 4770K an easy win here, beating out the 3770K by 1.6 Watt-hours.
CPU Performance Analysis
We arrived at our overall performance figures by giving each CPU a proportional
score in each real world benchmark with each test having an equal weighting.
The scale has been adjusted so that the Core i7-4770K is the reference point with
a score of 100.
With a mix of both tremendous single and multi-threaded performance, the Core i7-4770K delivers an 8% bump over the 3770K, enough to leapfrog the extravagant i7-3960X. Sandy Bridge Extreme is better suited for a heavy, professional workload.
Dividing the overall performance by the platform street cost (CPU plus an average
priced motherboard) gives us the performance per dollar, re-weighted with
the Core i7-4770K at 100 points.
Unfortunately, the i7-4770K’s modest performance improvement over the previous generation is offset by price. Like most new technologies, the cost to early adopters is somewhat prohibitive. The i7-4770K combined with an average priced LGA1150 is about US$500, US$60 more than an LGA1155 combination with the i7-3770K, and US$160 more than one with the popular i5-2500K, making both better values. We’ve seen AMD’s Bulldozer parts lose to Intel in almost every category but we can’t deny the competitiveness of their pricing.
To determine performance per watt, we divided the overall performance score
by the average power consumption calculated earlier and again re-scaled with the Core i7-4770K
as our reference.
Intel continues their energy efficiency dominance with the i7-4770K. The Haswell takes this category with ease, outpacing the already power thrifty Ivy Bridge by a hefty margin.
With the high-end CPU race firmly in their pocket, Intel didn’t need to light the world aflame with a significantly faster processor. Breathing room is a luxury few technology companies can claim and its given Intel time to improve their products with what can be considered secondary features, rather than focusing on maximizing CPU performance above all things. Indeed, Haswell provides only a modest performance bump over Ivy Bridge just as Ivy Bridge had over Sandy Bridge. It has become like inflation, this gradual speed boost is inevitable and expected.
Intel’s integrated graphics has received another kick in the pants, with gaming performance substantial enough to compete with some of AMD’s lower-end Trinity APUs. It’s still nowhere close to the point where gamers are forsaking their discrete graphics cards but we’re well past the days when a game would be completely unplayable running integrated graphics. HD 4600 graphics shines best at low resolutions like 1366×768, which is common in the consumer laptop market, but if you’re hoping for smooth play at at higher resolutions, you’ll need to stick with less demanding titles. Support for the attached Quick Sync transcoding engine is also starting to expand, though not fast enough for our liking. The addition of HandBrake, a free, open source encoding application, to its ranks makes the feature is more accessible but it still works best on the limited selection of "properly" supported commercial software, e.g. MediaEspresso.
Wrapping it all up is a reduction in power consumption across the board, the most significant since Sandy Bridge. For the past few years, Intel has outcompeted AMD in energy efficiency by a sizable margin and yet they managed to get more work done with fewer watts once again. It’s especially impressive considering the architecture of Haswell isn’t all that different from Ivy Bridge. A bit of fine tuning and they managed to squeeze blood out of a stone it would seem. An additional drop can be wrung out if you happen to have a Haswell-certified power supply but it’s hardly worth the effort.
In the end there’s a whole lot to like about Haswell and not a lot to complain about. AMD’s A8 and A10 APUs are a budget alternative if you’re looking for similar energy efficiency but the CPU performance isn’t there. Similarly, an FX series Bulldozer chip will get you closer speed-wise (though it falls short) but then you sacrifice energy efficiency and integrated graphics. Haswell gives you everything in one complete package. The only point of contention is cost. The price difference between Haswell and Ivy Bridge CPUs isn’t substantial but if you add in the premium Series 8 motherboards are currently carrying, it’s enough to make many prospective buyers looking for a new system stop and think. For those currently running a Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge chip there is no killer feature or improvement that justifies a Haswell upgrade.
Our thanks to Intel for the Core i7-4770K and Intel DZ87KLT-75K samples used in this review.
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Articles of Related Interest
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AMD A10-5700 APU: Trinity at 65W
AMD Trinity: A10-5800K & A8-5600K 2nd Gen APUs
Intel Core i7-3770 Ivy Bridge CPU
Intel Sandy Bridge Extreme: Core i7-3960X LGA2011 Processor
AMD FX-8150 8-Core Bulldozer Processor
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