Choosing the Right Components: Holding Out for Haswell

Intel P4 Processor by Eric Gaba, CC BY-SA 3.0

Intel P4 Processor by Eric Gaba
CC BY-SA 3.0

For a long time, the desktop computer processor market has been dominated by two companies: Advanced Micro Devices (better known as AMD) and Intel. After the PC boom of the 80s when Texas Instruments, IBM and other semiconductor companies were competing on a equal footing only Intel and AMD emerged with high powered, innovative consumer products for the late 90s and 00s. Except for a brief period in the mid 00s, Intel has always been the more dominant of the two companies, despite struggling to gain traction in the lucrative tablet and smartphone markets in recent years.

Back in 2004, I would have been stupid to buy anything other than an AMD processor. While Intel struggled to get faster clockspeeds from the Pentium 4 chips due to heat dissipation problems, AMD had introduced a 64-bit extension to the x86 instruction set, produced a successful consumer 64-bit processor and begun what was to become a near domination of the server processor market. To all intents and purposes, it looked like AMD were about to go from being an underdog to replacing Intel as the dominant power in the processor world.

The situation is completely reversed today. Intel abandoned a large part of the Pentium 4 processor architecture in favour of the Core architecture and have found phenomenal success with it’s increasingly powerful derivatives. AMD are struggling financially and have seen their most recent processors struggle to compete against faster and cooler Intel chips (Ars Technica has a good article about how AMD arrived in this situation).

Given that Intel processors run at much cooler temperatures and use less power while giving greater performance, I am firmly in the Intel camp. Next month, Intel will be launching their next generation processor, based on the Haswell architecture. These are expected to reduce power consumption and heat generated further while retailing at the same price point to the current generation of processor. The Haswell chips also use a new motherboard socket, meaning that a compatible motherboard should last for at least four to six years before needing an upgrade.

As far as models go, I see my choice as being between the enthusiast orientated i5-4670K or a more budget orientated i3 chip. The i5 is a four core processor, due out in June and will likely provide my system with an excess of computing capacity. The i3s haven’t yet been announced, but are expected to go on sale sometime towards the end of the year. The current generation of i3 processors have only two cores but due to poor use of multiple cores by game developers, they are more then capable of running high end games.

There are some arguments for going for an AMD processor over an Intel chip. Xbox Infinity is expected to use an AMD processor and it has already been confirmed that the PS4 will use a customised version of AMD’s Jaguar laptop processor. Some argue that this will lead to games being better optimised to run on AMD hardware. I’m not familiar enough with the diferences between AMDs mobile and desktop processors to comment on this, but given Intel’s dominant position in the market, I find it hard to imagine that developers wouldn’t take the time to optimise games for both Intel and AMD systems. This may, of course, be rather naïve, but only time will tell.

2 thoughts on “Choosing the Right Components: Holding Out for Haswell

  1. Ohmz

    The battle in the 80’s wasn’t about companies it was about architectures. Intel and AMD both use an x86 CISC based architecture Motorolla had the 68k RISC I don’t know much about TI’s architecture.

    PCs as we know them only really used x86, Macs used the 68k architecture exclusively until they moved to the PowerPC architecture in 1994 I remember lusting after the 40Mhz 68040 in the Quadra 840AV.

    The one to watch is ARM architecture because it’s being used in mobile devices (as well as PCs) and will have greater market penetration than PCs.

    Also because people consistently get a new phone every couple of years rather than every 4-6 years there is more pressure for innovation in the ARM market.

    Reply
    1. Seumas Post author

      You are quite right. I should really have phrased the first paragraph better but I didn’t want to get into the intricacies of processor architecture, which is not being the most accessible of subjects.

      It will be interesting to see how ARM chips prosper. If MS hadn’t locked down the ARM version of Windows 8, I think we might be seeing some very interesting products coming from hardware companies. Ars Technic did a brilliant state of play on the mobile chip industry recently, which I highly recommend.

      Reply

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