Scott Hanselman

Initial Impressions - Intel Haswell 4th Generation Developer Prototype Ultrabook

July 29, 2013 Comment on this post [30] Posted in Reviews
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Haswell Intel Prototype

I've reviewed Intel Ultrabooks before that were sent by the software development team at Intel. I review them from a software developer's point of view, so I'm pretty hard on laptops. I want them to be fast, light and fast. They should put up with a development environment being open most of the day, lots of compiling and some virtual machines for good measure.

Last year I looked at the 3rd gen "Ivy Bridge" ultrabooks:

After the Ultrabook experience, I replaced a Lenovo W520 with a Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch as my primary machine. My primary beef with the X1 Carbon is its screen resolution, a barely passable 1400x900, but everything else (plus it's just over 3 pound weight) keeps me using it. However, I get about 5-6 hours typing on the X1 but about 4 hours of "hard work" which just isn't enough considering I'd like to sit AWAY from an electrical outlet for once. If the X1 Carbon Touch had a better 1080p (or better) screen and Haswell, it could be the perfect PC. But do I really need Haswell?

All Ultrabooks are Thin Now

From The Verge, Intel has made some bold statements regarding the Haswell generation:

Intel's been branding the new processor tech as its "largest generational leap ever" with "the biggest performance improvement ever in battery life," as Intel's executive VP of sales and marketing Tom Kilroy boldly stated at Computex's opening keynote speech. The superlatives don't stop there: Navin Shenoy, vice president of the company's PC Client Group, told VentureBeat that "it’s the complete reinvention of the computer as we know it."

imageIntel folks are also saying things like "we can look forward to a 50 percent increase in battery life in the coming wave of devices, with no loss of performance."

So you'll forgive me if I have high expectations. I want this laptop generation to do nothing less than blow my mind.

The software development department at Intel has sent me an Intel Prototype Haswell Ultrabook to review, from a developer's perspective. it's a "no-name" brand (it says Intel on the outside) and it will never be sold. It's a reference hardware example, as it were. I'm not looking to review it as the Ultimate Haswell Laptop, rather as an example Ultrabook with the characteristics I would hope to see in other vendor's Haswell systems.

I will do an in depth review after a month or so of using this, but here's my initial impressions after using this Haswell Laptop exclusively for two full days of actual work.


Three pounds, baby. That's the standard for nice laptops now. If it's five pounds, it's too heavy. This is a lovely size and a lovely weight. The best part about this Ultrabook is that it's 3.5 lbs and it has a 1080p screen. YES! That's almost enough for me to start using it full time over the Lenovo Carbon X1 Touch. Air-sized is the new size. If it's not this size then I'm not interested in it.


While this is a prototype that will never be produced, it is definitely nicer than the Ivy Bridge I looked at last year. That one had a lousy keyboard and a nightmare trackpad that has since broken. (My wife can no longer "left click" with that Intel Prototype. This Haswell 4th gen has stepped up the casing part of the hardware, at least, considerably. Remembering that the insides are presumably what this device is aiming to showcase, regardless, the touch pad on this device is WAY better than my X1 (whose touchpad I despise with the heat of a thousand suns) and the keyboard, while it doesn't have Lenovo's legendary quality throw, is still comfortable and fast.

This machine is a matte, almost gunmetal black, with light but firm plastic housing. The major fail is the weak/flimsy power connector, but that's a small complaint. I would also have preferred dedicated page up/down buttons. Otherwise, it's a pleasant and appealing housing.

UPDATE: Sorry, of course, it has a touchscreen, as all Ultrabook's do, by spec definition. It also has a 1080p screen.


Setting this machine up from initial boot to a usable machine including Office 2013, Visual Studio 2013 and Windows 8.1 to just 5 hours, working at night watching TV. Mostly it was "next, next, next, finish" as the hard drive light blinked. Part of this is due to the speed of the machine, and part of it is due to newly re-written setup programs. With Office 2013's Click To Run I had Word running in 10 minutes, and VS2013 Pro Preview running in 30. Windows 8.1 took a few hours, and the rest of my developer tools were installed with Chocalatey (apt-get for Windows).

While I wasn't initially impressed with this Ultrabook having only 4 gigs of RAM and an i5 processor (Id' have preferred 8 gigs and an i7), I really haven't noticed a speed difference (yet) against my 3rd-gen i7 Lenovo X1 Carbon. I will do more profiling later to understand the characteristics of this machine and how it affects compilation and app debugging performance.

Battery Life

I have mixed feelings about this. I think the hype machine has us all in its grips. I keep hearing "12 hour battery life" and "all day battery life." But of course I realize that intellectually this means "lower the brightness and watch a movie that has the GPU do all the work and don't touch the laptop all day battery life." It's not "work really hard and compile and run VMs and Outlook and Visual Studio" battery life.

That said, I worked for 6.5 hours before the battery died. It wasn't 12, and it wasn't 10. It was nearly 7 and the brightness was at about 70%. I'm going to wait a bit and do some more formal benchmark. Yes, it's 50% more battery life than the pathetic 4 hours I get now, but it's not all day. Still, the hype machine. I am withholding judgment because it's clearly BETTER, and it's just been a few days.

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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July 29, 2013 8:52
But does it have a touch screen to complement mouse/keyboard? Also useful for developing and testing those touch apps. Do you miss this from the X1? I'm looking forward to the Haswell version of the X1 (hype, I know).
July 29, 2013 8:58
2nd the Question on the touch screen and the 1080P. I have the X1 Carbon touch as well and have the exact same gripes.
July 29, 2013 9:15
"While this is a prototype that will never be produce"

I was looking forward to seeing an Intel section in my grocery store too! ;)

I remember having some exchanges with you over Twitter about the X1 Carbon Touch. I actually gave mine up since I no longer work at that company, and honestly, I don't think I'm going to buy one of my own. The trackpad was worthless (although I used the TrackPoint exclusively), and the graphics power just sucked on the HD 4000. I need to be able to play StarCraft 2 decently! I want to know if the HD 4600 is a big leap or not, like the battery life is suppose to be.

I think I'm going to end up selling off my giant desktop and buying a Razer Blade 14. I don't think the battery life will blow me away, but it's literally everything I want in a laptop. The screen is suppose to be on par with the X1 though, albeit higher resolution.

Love your blog and podcast Scott! First time commenting. :)
July 29, 2013 9:23
So far Haswell on desktop has been huge downer. It hardly offers same performance as older generation, problem been it cooks itself if you truly push it. So does it get much warmer than IvyBridge? Does it blow fans 24/7? BTW you failed to mention what size battery it has?
July 29, 2013 10:29
Hi Scott,
Regarding the "developer tools were installed with Chocalatey" side note:
Is there an actual "package restore" mechanism like in NuGet or did you manually reinstall all your apps (that's what I am doing right now for lack of a better option).
July 29, 2013 10:49
Hi Scott,
Thanks for the review. I cannot seem to find the "viewable display" size. The border (I forget the colloquial name) looks MASSIVE this a huge waste of space. I have also found 8gb unsuitable.

I would love to see something from intel in the 17" range with a full keyboard, 16gb ram, one ssd (or two ssd. 250gb and 750gb+ secondary). The i7 should be a definite MUST.
How you work with less than 17" of display is beyond me.
July 29, 2013 12:05
I'm really surprised that so many ultrabooks > $1000 don't even have dedicated page up/down or home/end buttons. This is a deal breaker for me and really limits my choices, especially when some of them still don't have touch screens (Samsung series 9).
July 29, 2013 12:30
@James, I think with 15.6" a developer can do a lot. but would still love a 17", I would love to see this, even if its not from Intel but from say Asus/HP/Dell. I agree for 16gb, its so important to able to run at least 1 or 2 VMs.

Hello Scott

Nice article, but just dreams. Any configs that's available in market is mostly made for larger public and not specifically driven towards developers. I guess we are not just that many.. to make manufacturer's take a notice. or may be I am completely wrong and they do. but those are certainly not available in India.
July 29, 2013 17:00
My MBP 13" Retina Ivy Bridge goes for 5.5h running Parallels/Win8/VS2012/SQL2008/WiFi on full brightness with "optimise for speed" setting. 6.5h on Win8 Haswell, considering no performance benefits, is plateu for me.
July 29, 2013 18:32
Oh good grief. I just ordered an X1 Carbon touch because I grew weary of waiting for Haswell. Lenovo apparently has a T440s coming out in Sept\Oct which looks quite nice.

Honestly getting sick of the PC manufacturers being so late to the party. Maybe I should just get a macbook as I don't really use my touchscreen much anyhow.

Sebastian - what are the specs on your MBP - it's not an air? I assume it has 8gb and a SSD?
July 29, 2013 18:58
Love the Ultrabook class machines. Haven't yet (but will) buy one - Sadly, though their greatest achievement is protecting margins for hardware companies. Take a $500 laptop, add ~$300 worth of upgrades, make it thin and sexy and sell it for $1500.
July 29, 2013 19:21
Considering the recently announced t440s has an option for a 1080p display, I am very hopeful the haswell refresh of the x1 carbon touch will include it as well.
July 29, 2013 19:34
Scott, have you ever tried the samsung ultrabooks?
July 29, 2013 19:39
I've been using the ASUS RoG laptop for a couple of years now. 1080p, Core i7, and decked out with 16 GB of RAM -- and it will take 32GB. Upgraded primary HD to SSD and I love it.

Clearly, though, this beast is heavy and not easy to travel with. It's certainly NOT ultra-portable. Hell, I get comments in airport like "look, he's carrying around a word processor", but I don't think I could give this thing up at this point.
July 29, 2013 20:03
I use a 17" laptop for work, but just picked up a windows tablet to get soft-core work done (email, browsing, etc). My hope was to find one machine to do it all but this is working out quite well so far.
July 30, 2013 10:04
@Jeff My MBP has 3.0GHz Core i7, 768GB SSD and 8GB RAM. VS2012 runs faster than on my Dell XPS 16 (i7 Q720, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD) not to mention Retina LCD display is second to none.
July 30, 2013 15:50
Really looking forward to the update on the benchmarks. The ultrabook I have my eye on is the Sony VAIO Pro 13. 1080p, SSD via PCI-E, but it only has 4G ram and is an i5. Actually you can get 8G ram and i7, but not in Australia and the price skyrockets. The base model looks like a great machine for reasonable price, but I wasn't sure the effect of dropping back from an i7 and 8G ram for dev work.

Also interested how 1080p works for dev. I hear windows 8.1 has per app scaling?

July 31, 2013 16:43
I think Intel should start making its own laptops. OEMs are doing a pretty bad job at making their laptop. Windows 8.1 needs a killer device and Surface Pro isn't likely to be 13 inches.

And this looks better than any Haswell laptop on the market today. And won't carry those stickers and bloatware also!
July 31, 2013 17:01
Hi scott, I was trying 1920x1080p ultrbooks and found them useless as dev machines. I mean, you can tune VS font settings, env settings, etc... but take for instance SublimeText2 o even Notepadd++, at that resolution, the text on tabs and menus is unreadable. How you (or any reader) overcome that limitation on, let say, 13' screens?
July 31, 2013 21:27
Ale - Unreadable because they are too small? Have you (honest question) had your eyes checked? You could also change the font size to 150%.
July 31, 2013 22:23
You are right, I'm on my mid thirties, I guess it's time to visit an eye doctor....
Saddly I'm realizing that it's me, not the fonts ;)
July 31, 2013 22:24
Ale - Let me know what happens. I'm 40 and I am using 1080p...perhaps computer glasses will help!
August 01, 2013 2:25
Also, Windows 8.1 should help with the DPI scaling quite a bit I would imagine? I actually haven't ever used a 1080p laptop, but I did have a 1080p 21.5" monitor and it rocked. That's my preferred resolution on everything if I had it my way.
August 01, 2013 21:01
This upcoming Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus appears to be the one to beat for this year. Intel Haswell, 13.3" 3200x1800 touchscreen LCD, Ultra thin .54", 12hours battery life, etc. I am awaiting anxiously for the release date and pricing information.
I was considering the X1 Carbon or the Lenovo Yoga for an ultra-portable travel friendly powerful machine but with those specs, it may be worth the wait.
August 02, 2013 21:46
I have the same review unit and had some real problems installing Win 8.1 and then VS2013. the installer would crash at the splash screen. Tried a few times and loaded all the drivers from the supplied USB, but still no dice. Did you install win 8 and vs2013 and then upgrade to win 8.1? maybe that's the trick.
August 03, 2013 3:30
Mark - I have had trouble only with the webcam, it doesn't work at all now. Talk to Norman at Intel and get the latest drivers.
August 07, 2013 2:03
Thanks. I'm going to try the VS2013-on-Win8 and then upgrade to Win8.1 path while I'm investigating the driver issues. Getting pretty good at creating EUFI boot sticks these days. There is a tool called Rufus you might consider adding to your bag of tricks. I know I was stumped by EUFI boot-from-usb when I first encountered it. It was a real "Hey, I thought I was good at computers" moment.
September 01, 2013 7:17
I'm so frustrated by my Haswell ultrabook experience! Been saving up some cash for a while for a new dev laptop and jumped on the Acer Aspire S7 with Haswell. After 2 days of use, it ends up with some sort of short where it continuously rebooted for a while and then would be good. Then you would move it or plug it in and it would start all over! Raid 0 SSDs sounds awesome until you realize that power failure is a big problem!

Got my money back and waited until Sony fixed the WiFi issues they were having with the VAIO Pro 13. Bought that last week monday and over-nighted it from the microsoft store. This time I bought the 2 year everything warranty. Starting today, 5 days later, the Sony will no longer work without being plugged in. Another power issue!

I'm getting really tired of spending $1600 on laptops that wont function for even one week!
September 02, 2013 8:30
8GB minimum and 512GB SSD minimum is a must these days. I upgraded my old Asus EP121 from 64GB msata to 256GB msata as that is the largest msata I could get earlier this year. Also got rid of Windows and installed Linux Fedora. First thing I would do to any ultrabook is remove Microsoft Windows and install Linux Fedora distribution
October 08, 2013 7:26
Ya, 2 years ago, I selected AMD Llano Dell Vostro3555 with backlit keyboard, replaced some E** CPU by A8-3530MX, replaced HDD by Crucial M4 512G and replaced memory by 16G in total - all that for good virtualizaiton and total speed balance, against raw CPU power and its still quite OK; may be it will serve as RDP client to my very custom built portable server/NAS with another AMD or brute-force IvyBridge for VisualStudio - the Haswell seems to be only reducing consumption in very specific media usage, as you noticed. And ... the winner will be APU at the end of the day ... :-)

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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.