IDF 2012: Intel hopes to double Ultrabook battery life with Haswell chip

New Haswell processors will draw less than 10 watts of power, Intel said at the company's developer forum

The battery life of ultrabooks will nearly double with Intel's upcoming processors based on the Haswell microarchitecture, which will succeed processors code-named Ivy Bridge, according to Intel executives.

The new Haswell chips will also deliver much faster graphics and applications performance when they appear in ultrabook designs starting next year, said Dadi Perlmutter, executive vice president and general manager of Intel Architecture Group, during a keynote speech at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco.

(See Intel's Haswell demonstration on YouTube)

Ultrabooks are a new category of thin and light laptops with touch features, but early sales have been disappointing partly due to high prices. There are more than 70 ultrabooks with Intel chips on the market. Some upcoming ultrabooks with Windows 8 will have detachable touchscreens to function as tablets.

The Haswell chips have been designed with ultrabooks in mind, so power usage has been cut to the point that the chip can be used in tablets. Some new Haswell chips will consume under 10 watts of power and deliver performance similar to Ivy Bridge chips drawing 17 watts of power. But Haswell can deliver double the performance compared to Ivy Bridge on the same power consumption, Intel said.

Based on the different power requirements, Intel has also splintered future Haswell chips into two families, which will be available in ultrabooks starting next year. A new family of unnamed Haswell processors will draw under 10 watts of power and will be targeted at convertible ultrabooks. The company is also continuing the venerable Core processors that consume between 15 watts and 17 watts of power. Both the families of processors are based on the Core processor design, but some tweaks helped Intel drop power consumption in the sub-10-watt family.

The battery life will be doubled on convertible ultrabooks with the sub-10-watt Haswell processors, which is an improvement over a minimum of 17 watts of power consumed by the current Ivy Bridge chips.

"We are going to nearly double the battery life," said Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of the PC client group, in a separate presentation at IDF.

PC makers have quoted ultrabooks with Ivy Bridge delivering battery life of between six and eight hours, and up to 10 hours in some cases. The new chips could give convertible ultrabooks battery life of more than 12 hours, and perhaps up to 20 hours.

Perlmutter also said Haswell chips can deliver fast performance and can be used in ultrabooks and high-performance PCs, though power consumption on the chip in that case will be higher.

Ultrabooks with the Haswell chip will become available in 2013, though Intel executives did not provide a specific date. Analysts expect ultrabooks with Haswell to become available starting mid-2013.

Intel optimized Haswell chips for the power management features of Windows 8, and also reduced leakage levels that will help deliver improved battery life. Haswell ultrabooks will deliver 20 times more idle time than ultrabooks with Core processors code-named Sandy Bridge, which is two generations behind Haswell.

Haswell is very promising and could enable new, thin form factors for computing devices, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64, at IDF.

"I'm especially interested in having a sub-10-watt that delivers performance comparable to Ivy Bridge. That is going to enable thin form factors and tablets with very good battery life," Brookwood said.

A challenge for Intel in the future of Haswell is the positioning of Atom chips, which are used in tablets and netbooks and consume less than 10 watts of power.

Perlmutter also highlighted the improvements in Haswell around graphics performance, which has traditionally been a weak spot for the company compared to rival Advanced Micro Devices. Haswell will deliver the best graphics "on Mother Earth," Perlmutter said.

The new graphics processor in Haswell will support 4K graphics, which allows for a resolution of 4096 by 3072 pixels. Other features with Haswell ultrabooks will include wireless charging, NFC capabilities, voice interaction and more security features.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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