And there you have it, the full Core i7 4770K review, a standalone review and yes, a release that in our mindset is controversial. The PC market is changing and Intel is adapting to that, we see smaller form factors requiring energy efficient yet powerful designs with improved integrated graphics performance. It is abundantly clear that Intel has been successful in creating an architecture that offers both, strong and much improved IGP performance versus better power consumption.
However, the performance PC affcionado's will likely be baffled by today's release if you look at Haswell purely from a processor performance point of view. See, initially the Core architecture of Nehalem was not that much slower than say Sandy Bridge (Core i7 2600). What helped Sandy Bridge were creative Turbo clock frequencies. So when Ivy Bridge was released, we again notice only a tiny small bump in CPU performance. Now we honestly expected faster per core performance for Haswell, instead Intel's leading 4 core SKU is sometimes a tiny bit faster, but sometimes also a hint slower than a Core i7 3770. That does not make much sense and as such Intel needs to ask themselves this question, why should the end-user upgrade if the processor performance remains, give or take, the same?
Tweaking and performance
Here's another subtlety you should know about, when Intel released Ivy Bridge people noticed that Ivy Bridge processors overheat quite fast once you pass 1.30 Volts on the processor, which has everything to do with the TIM / Intel Heat-spreader used. It has been widely discussed by many of you. With that in mind I was a little surprized to see that with Haswell, Intel decided to ignore the critique and applies exactly the same methodology.
Overclocking wise Intel did open up a set of new overclocking options. But the end result remains similar to Ivy Bridge. Now, overall we do have to say that the ease of overclocking with K model 4770 processors remains impressive. You'll reach +4.5 GHz real fast. But sure, be advised and get some proper cooling to achieve and maintain acceptable temperatures. The bottom line is that once you pass 1.30 Volts on the processor, heat becomes an issue real fast.
What about the IGP
Quite honestly, for gaming you are still looking at little performance for truly serious gaming. But credit where credit is due, the IGP has gotten a nice chunk faster allowing Intel to compete much better with AMD's APUs. Flick down and forfeit on image quality and resolution, and things will get better fast. As huge as the overall performance improvement over the last generation IGPs really is, it remains entry-level performance for gaming on low resolution monitors though. But for mobile platforms the embedded GPU will be pretty good. We also need to separate gaming from the graphics core, realize that it is a multipurpose graphics processor. You'll have no issues with Blu-ray playback, heck it can even deal with 3D TV, post-process your media files and help out with video en/trans and decoding. The GPU is compatible with HDMI 1.4 and Display Port 1.2 next to the regular DSUB and DVI connectors of course. But overall, we really like the embedded GPU for what it is and does, we like to call it a video or media processor though.
Let's compare back and forth a little. The Intel reference board with a Sandy Bridge processor (2600K) without a dedicated graphics card idles at roughly 50 Watts. Once we stress the processor 100% on that platform we leveled out at 110~120 Watts. With Haswell (4770K) we notice 39 Watts in idle and 104 Watts with processor load at 100%. So Haswell and its chipset are definitely more energy friendly. Realistically though they are not at all that far off from Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge. Once you add a dedicated graphics card the dynamic changes of course.
Let's talk money
A 4770K will cost you 300 EUR, say 335 USD. This is Intel's top quad-core flasgship product. Now, we had hoped to see slightly better pricing really, but fair enough, the price ain't that bad either.
Let me just say it. Core i7 4770K is the fastest quad-core processor on the globe, however it is going to disappoint the real enthusiast PC afficionados that where looking for actual RAW processor performance increasements, they have no reason to upgrade. These guys are looking for RAW unadulterated processor performance. And alongside a semi-failed Windows 8 release, this is probably going to hurt the PC market in sales for this year. I honestly feel that Haswell needed to be around 20% faster to make enough of a difference, but instead you receive a processor that is 'just as fast' with the same thermal restrictions.
The only reason to upgrade would be the new Z87 motherboards, the motherboard manufacturers have done a tremendous job to make really cool gear. We'll show you a wide selection of these motherboards in seperate reviews in the weeks to come and I can already show you in two Z87 motherboard reviews today that the baseline performance on these boards on average show a 5% faster Haswell processor, just by using a non-reference yet 3rd party motherboard. Now back to the conclusion; if I take Haswell away from the PC enthusiast mindset then there are really great improvements alright. The new instruction sets will help out greatly with software that will be optimized for it, especially AVX2 will be favored by many people that transcode movies. And of course the IGP is a good chunk faster and energy efficiency overall has definitely been improved. That makes Haswell an SoC that is going to rise and rule in mobile solutions and tablets. And sure, that is the focus for Intel, of course. But if you have a Core i7 2600K or 3770K, honestly we see no real reason for you to upgrade at all unless you like the coolness that the motherboard partners are offering with all the Z87 motherboard sweetness they will be offering (and there's some really interesting stuff being released alright). If you come all the way from Nehalem, now might be a good time for an upgrade though as combined with the new motherboards, the PC infrastructure overall is gonna be sweet, really sweet.
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