Scott Hanselman

A month with an Intel Haswell prototype

September 6, '13 Comments [19] Posted in
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Intel sent me a Haswell Developer Prototype Ultrabook to review a little over a month ago. In order to effectively review this, given my experience, I need to separate the Haswell Chipset and Processor from this specific machine that they send folks to review.

I did not receive a very good unit - definitely not one ready for production.

Now, to be fair, it's marked as an "Intel Software Development Platform" prototype. This is not a machine that will ever be built, and it's also (they tell me) still getting drivers developed. It's a fairly regular looking gunmetal Ultrabook with no markings other than the Intel and Ultrabook logos. It's a lot like my Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch except it has a 1080p (vs. 900) screen and it's a Haswell. This review platform is a new i5 vs. last year's i7 in my X1.

Last year I looked at the 3rd gen "Ivy Bridge" ultrabooks and was impressed. So impressed that I eventually bought a Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch:

First: This particular Haswell Reference Platform device

This year's Haswell review unit has been nothing but trouble for me. Such trouble, in fact, that they've sent me THREE separate laptops as the first two both were unacceptable for different reasons. The first laptop had the SSD fail completely within a week. The second laptop had a bad Synaptics touchpad where only the right side worked. While the third one is workable, it turns off randomly, doesn't want to support standby/sleep and has a wonky keyboard with an unreliable "A" key.

Again, they're reference review laptops, but let's just say they aren't production quality Lenovo X1s or MacBook Airs. To be very frank, these not-ready review/prototype laptops and the experience I have had with them actively do the product a disservice. I'm sure Haswell as a platform is lovely and I would like to see how a Haswell-enabled system makes my life as a developer better. However, in order to do that I expect the mouse to work, the Bluetooth to be reliable and for the screen to stop rotating to the left without warning (even though I keep setting auto-rotate off.)

With the Ivy Bridge reference platform I saw constant and consistent improvements in system behavior with regularly updated drivers. With this Haswell reference platform I have seen just one driver drop, been told to not upgrade to Windows 8.1, and only updated the BIOs once. I have no idea if this device will ever become usable in the future because I have no communication or indication when new drivers are coming.

Second: Using Haswell every day...and the power promise

Ok, now that that's over. I've been using this every day running Windows 8 and have presented at two conferences with this device. I've run both VS2012 and VS2013 on it.

Even though Windows 8.1 does away with the WEI (Windows Experience Index) and I think that's a shame as it's a totally useful and built-in way to get a sense of how a computer will perform, I'm running Windows 8 on this Haswell machine and can still run it.

Surprising new device gets almost an identical WEI as my Lenovo X1 differing significantly only in memory ops/sec. I've heard this elsewhere that an i5 Haswell can perform as well as an Ivy Bridge i7 *and* with a much improved power profile. Haswell isn't (to me) about pure speed, it's about speed, power, and lightness.

image

This is very light laptop. As my second laptop around 3lbs it's cemented my conviction that I'll never own a big heavy luggable laptop again. There's just no reason for a 10 pound device anymore.

Performance, however, does seem dramatically different when on batteries. It appears to be extremely aggressive trying to saving power. This is definitely a laptop where changing Power Profiles makes a huge difference.

The greatest difference in how long this device will last has been screen brightness. When I'm on Power saver on the lowest brightness, I could get a full work day out of this device. However, the lowest brightness is just not feasible. I got between 6 and 7 hours with brightness at about one-third.

balanced-power

Switching to the Balanced Profile with the brightness at the level where Windows warns you it might be a problem, I got about 5 to 6 hours of typing.

power-power2

It's getting to around half-battery where you start getting uncomfortable and wondering if you're going to make it. Changing brightness and profile can get you an easy extra hour on Haswell, where it's just been a matter of 15-20 minutes (in my experience) on other devices.

power-balance power-power

Does Haswell deliver the all-day battery laptop?

  • Yes, if you write prose for a living.
  • Yes, if you aren't running at full brightness.
  • Yes, if you work in SSH or VIM and a remote Linode machine is actually doing the work while your Haswell waits.
  • No, if you're writing and compiling a 3D game locally.
  • No, if you're playing Steam and running TorchLight II.

Should you get a Haswell machine? Absolutely. If you're in the market for a machine and there's a Haswell version of your favorite coming soon, wait. You'll get the same speed and better battery life. Maybe not all day, but 50% more than before. I'm looking forward to the refreshed Lenovo T and X series to have Haswell on board.

All day power? My expectations perhaps aren't reasonable. Haswell and aggressive power management is the future, no doubt. I think, however, that it will be a combination of this plus improvements in battery density that will finally give me a 24 hour device (or 8 hours working hard at full brightness).

ASIDE: From a reviewer perspective, while it's always fun to answer the "what laptop is that?" question with "it's an Intel prototype," the folks at Intel should, when possible, loan reviewers machines that are closer to production that don't have all these driver quirks and hardware quality issues. Why? Well, I really value the opportunity to to review new and prototype hardware, the question always comes up...am I reviewing the keyboard and mouse and screen or am I reviewing the chipset and processor. Of course, there's drivers to hold it all together. This review unit has a loud fan, and iffy construction. But, it has great speed and I didn't think about memory once even though I was running only 4 gigs. I was able to run multiple instances of VS, Outlook and many browsers without even a thought. Even two Virtual Machines and it still felt fast.

I want to get my hands on a device like a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro or a Thinkpad Yoga. These Haswell devices are going to rock. I have extremely high hopes, but rest assured, your next machine is a Haswell.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Intel sent me this Haswell Ultrabook in the hope that I would review it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I would use and think you would find useful. This opinions are mine and mine alone as is this entire post. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Friday, September 06, 2013 7:49:04 PM UTC
Love my Asus Zenbook except for the occasional TouchPad lockup. Other than that, I can fly on the keyboard and with the i7 and 1080p IPS screen, and all day battery, it's awesome. Since it's over a year old, I was hoping to hear something better than that, but it sounds like it's just meh. Too bad.
PRMan
Friday, September 06, 2013 8:15:27 PM UTC
Here is what I don't understand. The 2013 MacBook Air with Haswell seems to get absolutely crazy good battery life. EVERY review I've read so far about Windows Haswell systems mentions significantly lower run times. E.g. the current Surface Pro 2 rumors suggest something like 7 hours, and your prototype also doesn't seem to get into the same range as the MacBook Air. Why can't the Windows systems approach the Apple numbers? Really frustrating, if it stays that way. Also, I would LOVE to see someone put Windows 8 on the new Haswell Macbook Air and report battery time.
davidacoder
Friday, September 06, 2013 8:45:06 PM UTC
I always find it interesting how much emphasis people put on battery life in these posts. Until a device can go a couple days on a charge, I'm kind of meh on that metric. Cool to see it's getting closer to that though. Also, Hanselman for CEO. Apparently Scott Gu is now the lesser Scott (according to the people). Still crushed by Gabe Newell though.
James
Friday, September 06, 2013 9:35:38 PM UTC
@James It's important for those times when outlets are truly unavailable. Crowded airports, on the plane itself, sitting in a conference hall, etc. The difference between your laptop battery lasting the whole day or needing to ration it is a big one.
Sam
Friday, September 06, 2013 9:36:06 PM UTC
Scott. Enjoy your new toy. Your excitement shines through your lines. :-)
Friday, September 06, 2013 9:37:47 PM UTC
I have a Haswell-equipped Sony Vaio Duo 13 sitting in the local Fedex ready to pick up. It's upgraded to the Core i7 version. I'm really looking forward to it.

I'm headed back to an "executive" grad school program (in Software Engineering) for the next nearly two years. It's going to be my OneNote (it has a stylus) + VS2012 + Visio platform. Since classes are 8 hours on Saturdays, I'm really hoping that it has the battery life everyone is talking about.
Flydog
Friday, September 06, 2013 9:40:42 PM UTC
James, I didn't believe it, but it's true! In a world with no whitespace, the lesser Scott is clear: http://www.googlefight.com/index.php?lang=en_GB&word1=scottgu&word2=scotthanselman

Battery life is a big deal for me -- I love how my iPad doesn't have to be charged in the middle of the day. I own a Yoga, and another peeve (besides inferior-to-iPad battery) is that it runs pretty hot. How is the prototype Haswell machine with temperature?
Bryant
Friday, September 06, 2013 10:49:19 PM UTC
scott hanselman - now one of my many blocked marketing channels. i am sad:(
soso
Saturday, September 07, 2013 1:06:45 AM UTC
I too, am very excited about the new Thinkpad T-440 and T-440S that's coming out in a couple months precisely because of the extended battery life. It has a dual battery design allowing you to swap batteries without powering down, which is very cool, but the coolest part is that you can get a total of 17 hours of battery life!

And you can get a spare battery which will bring that total to 28 hours!
I repeat, TWENTY-EIGHT HOURS!

Maybe now we can have a truly "all-day" notebook.
Sans Sense
Saturday, September 07, 2013 7:31:08 AM UTC
Scott - do you know which CPU this review model has? Is it a ULV, M(obile) or full-voltage CPU?

Davidacoder - the MacBook Air is populated with non-replaceable, soldered-on components. IMO this sets a dangerous precedent which shouldn't be encouraged. It's these soldered-to-the-board components that allow extra room for a larger battery. Plus, it uses a ULV CPU and you're limited to 8GB of memory. Ok, that's not bad, but in 2013, for using VS2013 et al, I'm looking for more than this.

Sans Sense - I too have been eagerly awaiting the new T440x range (despite Lenovo appearing to have ruined the touchpad, trackpoint and buttons) but don't believe for one second that you'll get anything approaching 17hrs of battery life from it's 6 cells of battery. Reviews of similar laptops with the same CPU, RAM, and battery watt-hours show almost half of what Lenovo are claiming.
Saturday, September 07, 2013 9:35:59 AM UTC
Forget Haswell, look out for new features in OS X Mavericks that will push macbook battery beyond 11 hours (especially App Nap) , I bought my first macbook and doing serious. Net development fora month (using parallels) performance wise I have no issues and get 9–10 hours. I've blogged the same with maverick features http://rohiton.net/2013/09/04/look-out-for-os-x-mavericks/
Saturday, September 07, 2013 10:55:02 AM UTC
In December 2013 I bought a VAIO SVS13A2C5E for 2.800 USD.
- Intel® CoreTM i7-3520M, 2.9GHz
- 512 GB SATA Flash SSD
- 12 GB 1333 MHz DDR3L-SDRAM
- 14 inch 1600x900
- DVD
- NVIDIA® GeForce® GT 640M LE

I bought also an Extra Long Life Battery (included in the price) that plugs under the laptop, making it a bit heavier but still acceptable when I am travelling.

With the extra battery the promise of 8 hours of hard coding work with high screen brightness is a reality. Starting VS2012 (R# + NDepend integrated) takes exactly 5 seconds. Having 4 instances of VS2012 (R# + NDepend integrated) on 4 large code bases just works smoothly.

I don't regret my purchase. I assume that as always, it'll take 3 full years before I feel I need a more powerful machine. Certainly in 2016 Q4 the Haswell Developer machine won't be a prototype anymore :)

Saturday, September 07, 2013 8:12:58 PM UTC
I am (impatiently) waiting for the MacBook Pro Haswell where I will run Windows 8 (8.1 when supported) in Bootcamp.
Gregory Hernández
Saturday, September 07, 2013 10:01:39 PM UTC
@Andrew

Technically it's up to 9 cells with the T-440s.

Lenovo says 6 hours for the 3-cell battery, which can be paired with a 6-cell for about 11 more hours, hence the 17 hours.

The Thinkpad Helix, which was rated for 8 hours, ran for just shy of 4 hours with the BatteryEater Pro test, aka "the-hell-on-earth-for-your-battery" test. That's 50% of the rated life under a realistic worst-case scenario. That is a very good result:
http://hothardware.com/Reviews/Lenovo-ThinkPad-Helix-Review/?page=7

Now keep in mind that the Thinkpad Helix is still running Ivy Bridge. Haswell is expected to increase battery life by 50% over Ivy Bridge. So while 17 hours may be a pipe dream, about 9 hours under a decent workload is nothing to sneeze at either. And as stated before, you can always bring another 6-cell battery to hot-swap for another 5 or so hours.

Swap. Reload. Repeat. All without having to shutdown, something no other laptop can do. Think about it. Your project is about 70% done, but it won't finish before your battery dies and there's no outlet. Hibernate to swap the battery and hope for the best, or hot-swap?
Sans Sense
Sunday, September 08, 2013 8:40:49 AM UTC
@soso

You've clearly missed the point of this blog.
Defstun
Monday, September 09, 2013 4:28:10 PM UTC
After looking at the other ultrabooks that were out there last month I ended up going with a 13" Haswell MBA (i7/8GB/256GB SSD). It came down to needing a fast ultra portable laptop and needing it NOW. I had a budget of around $1600 to work with. Both the Acer Aspire S7 and Sony Vaio Pro 13.3 cost more than the MBA and the only real up on the spec is the 1080p touchscreen.

Andrew is right up above, I dislike the soldered on ram but looking at a lot of the new ultrabooks they do the same thing. The i7 ULV still performs well I have not noticed any issues with it. I'm sure the PCIe SSD has to help with that.

I prefer the 16:10 aspect ratio screens on the MacBook line also. For my eyes, 1440x900 is okay for working on for a 13" screen although I would prefer 1680x1050. Going much higher than that and you have to start using scaling and IMO most legacy windows apps suck at that. We have an old ticket system that is nearly unusable at 125%. An IPS screen would be nice too, but it's still not that bad. It's much better than my old HP Probook 6460b.

The keyboard and trackpad on the whole macbook line are also pretty hard to beat.
Chris Wilson
Thursday, September 12, 2013 11:25:28 PM UTC
Andrew, it says i5-4350U @ 2 Ghz
Friday, September 13, 2013 12:25:21 AM UTC
Really awesome that haswell cpu's. I'm looking straight forward for a haswell ultrabook.
I'm wondering how you can run two virtual machines with Outlook and some instances of visual studio at the same time with only four gigs of ram. At least it sounds like a horrible performance on your virtual machines.
Thursday, November 07, 2013 6:24:46 AM UTC
have you ran benchmark test?
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.