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Intel Core i7-4770K Haswell Desktop Processor Review

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Haswell Final Thoughts

As a “tock”-cycle CPU, the Intel Core i7-4770K represents the first of a new CPU architecture, the 22nm equivalent of Sandy Bridge. If Intel sticks to its annual release schedule, we’ll see the “tick”-cycle Broadwell CPUs, based on a smaller process (rumored to be 14nm), about this time next year. Perhaps this will bring more performance improvements, because I have to say I was disappointed in the performance of this CPU as compared to Ivy Bridge or even Sandy Bridge. Let’s take a look at the stock-clocked performance difference on the CPU tests I ran between last year’s 3770K and the new 4770K. For this chart I’ve normalized the 3770K scores as “1″ and expressed the 4770K scores as the increase, so a 4770K score of “1.05″ would mean that it’s five percent faster on a given benchmark.

3770K 4770K 3770K 4770K
AIDA64 Queen 1.0 0.96 x264HD Pass 1 1.0 1.03
AIDA64 Photoworxx 1.0 1.02 x264HD Pass 2 1.0 1.07
AIDA64 AES 1.0 1.10 SPECviewperf Lightwave 1.0 1.05
AIDA64 ZLIB 1.0 0.95 SPECviewperf Maya 1.0 1.13
AIDA64 Hash 1.0 1.01 SPECviewperf TCVIS 1.0 1.18
CINEBENCH Single Core 1.0 1.07 SPECapc Lightwave Interactive 1.0 1.02
CINEBENCH Multi Core 1.0 1.11 SPECapc Lightwave Multitasking 1.0 1.04
Handbrake 0.96 1.0 1.06 SPECapc Lightwave Rendering 1.0 1.05
PCMark 7 PCMarks 1.0 1.06 Blender/Icetest 1.0 1.05
PCMArk 7 Productivity 1.0 1.09 POV-Ray 1.0 1.13
PCMArk 7 Creativity 1.0 1.02 Arcsoft Media Converter 1.0 1.04
PCMark 7 Computation 1.0 1.05 Average Performance Improvement 5.3%

As you can see, the average performance improvement as measured on these benchmarks was a mere 5.3%. The only impressive thing about this is that is beats the average 4.0% improvement Ivy Bridge had over Sandy Bridge. Things are brighter on the integrated video side, though:

HD4000 HD4600
Heaven 3.0 1.0 1.68
3DMark 11 GT1 1.0 1.34
3DMark 11 GT2 1.0 1.47
3DMark 11 GT3 1.0 1.90
3DMark 11 GT4 1.0 2.41
Alien vs. Predator 1.0 1.25
Lost Planet 1.0 0.73
Media Converter 1.0 1.05
Average Performance Improvement 47%

A 47% improvement is impressive, especially considering that there are only 25% more “execution units”. What’s even more impressive is that this comes on top of the 44% improvement we saw from Sandy Bridge’s HD3000 to Ivy Bridge’s HD4000. Now, the cynical might say that dramatic improvements like this are easy when starting from such a low baseline, but at the end of the day it’s still quite an accomplishment. The Haswell HD4600 GPU makes playing games– albeit at lower resolutions with things like anti-aliasing reduced or turned off– much more feasible than it’s been before.

So the desktop Haswell’s performance improvements are minimal. I see two reasons for this: one, CPUs at this level are already much more than fast enough for the vast majority of consumer applications. For those few running heavily threaded professional apps, there’s always Sandy Bridge Extreme LGA2011 systems. Two, there’s no competition at this level: AMD’s FX-series 8 core CPUs offer competitive performance in their price range, but get thoroughly stomped in single core performance by the even Sandy Bridge CPUs a level or two up. AMD has nothing that can come close to competing with upper-end Ivy Bridge or Haswell CPUs.

But remember that the desktop market isn’t the focus for this new architecture: battery-powered and mobile devices are. Haswell’s iGPU is much faster than the previous generation, which will enable tablets, ultrabooks, and notebooks to offer much better integrated video performance, especially with the higher-resolution screens that are becoming more common. Also, mobile versions of Haswell reportedly offer much lower power draw, especially in idle and sleep conditions, that should dramatically extend the life of a battery charge. There’s no way for us to test and compare BGA-packaged mobile CPUs, even if Intel would sample them, so we’ll just have to wait and see what kind of performance Haswell-based mobile devices deliver.

Neither of these improvements, though, make any real difference to the desktop market. Desktop users might use Lucid Virtu in conjunction with a discrete video card, but they’re unlikely to notice any performance difference there (and few users buying a 4770K are going to build a system without a discrete video card). Likewise, Haswell’s power savings are irrelevant on the desktop, where the electricity cost of running the CPU flat-out for 24 hours straight will be less than a quarter in most parts of the country.

It would have been nice to see a few more bones thrown to us desktop users. Haswell has a few new instruction tricks, but you’ll need new software to exploit them to full effect. We get a few more SATA 6G and USB 3.0 ports, but Intel’s determined not to give us the one improvement we’d really like: more PCI-E lanes, as Haswell is still limited to 16 from the CPU and 8 from the Z87 chipset. If a super-expensive LGA2011 system isn’t in the cards, there’s still AMD’s 18-month-old 990FX system, which offers 40 PCI-E lanes, six SATA 6G ports (but still no native USB 3.0).


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2 comments

  1. Bruce Normann

    I’m more excited by the changes in the 8-series chip set, frankly. Finally, we have more than two SATA 6Gb/s ports coming directly out of the PCH. I assume the RAID-TRIM-SSD functionality that they introduced on the 7-series is still there…..

  2. David Ramsey

    Oh, yes, it’s still there. I would have preferred more PCI-E lanes, myself, but there you go…

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