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Sunday, June 2, 2013

PC Specialist Vanquish 912 review - first 4th-gen Intel Core 'Haswell' PC benchmarks

A new microarchitecture from Intel might not create quite the same buzz that it did at the height of the PC technology boom, but Intel's new 22nm Haswell range, this year's successor to 2012's Ivy Bridge, has been given a the usual big build-up. 

Continuing the recent trend in personal computing, faster graphics and lower power consumption have been the two main mantras. And based on Intel's projected specifications, some pundits see how these new chips will revolutionise the laptops market, allowing for laptops that will keep going for 15 or 20 hours – aided no end by an improved low-power state that should allow the processors to consume up to 50 times less power when idle.

Indeed, the hope is that the one Haswell processor range will be able to turn its hand to almost every area of computing, from power-light laptops and tablets, right up to desk-bound tractor PCs. All that remains to be seen, of course. For, as with Ivy Bridge, the new Haswell architecture is getting its first outing not on laptops, smartphones or tablets, but with a standard desktop PC chip. And like Ivy Bridge, this initial launch this week won't necessarily show the new technology in its most exciting light.

In the Vanquish 912, PC Specialist has prepared a very special system for us, and one that gives us our first chance to sample the new Haswell chips. We'll come back to the PC itself in a little while. In the meantime, what's the chip like?

Buying Haswell will probably mean chucking out your motherboard too, since the necessary LGA1150 socket is incompatible with the LGA1155 used by Ivy Bridge. So if you're considering upgrading your existing system, is it worth throwing out both your chip and your motherboard in order to jump aboard Haswell? To answer this question, we're going to put the Vanquish's quad-core Core i5-4670K up against a stalwart of the Ivy Bridge brigade, the i5-3570K.

In both cases, the chips have been accompanied by 16GB of the same memory. Both have also been overclocked. The i5-4670K has been pushed from its default 3.4GHz to 4.2GHz, while the i5-3570K has been boosted from 3.4GHz to a more typical speed we've seen over the last year, to 4.6GHz.

The new Core i5-4670K, as can be guessed from the name, won't be the fastest Haswell we'll see, and an Intel Core i7-4770K is imminent – expect a look at this chip very soon.

Faster graphics performance from the integrated GPU has been touted as a significant advantage for Haswell. And there is some truth to this, just as long as you're prepared to put up with the shortfall in all-out performance that integrated graphics will likely mean.

The i5-4670K comes with an HD 4600 graphics controller, something of a step-up on the HD 4000 that the i5-3570K and many other Ivy Bridge processors had on board.

In our tests, the i5-4670K often finished significantly ahead of its rival, partiularly at middling settings.

In Stalker: Call of Pripyat, for instance, it notched up a score of 43.1fps at Medium settings, trouncing the 33.7 fps of the i5-3570K.

(We did find however that the scores were rather more level with detail increased to Ultra settings, where the i5-4670K ended up only 0.6fps ahead, with a score of 8.55 fps.)

In Hard Reset, at Medium settings, the i5-4670K recorded 29.2 fps to the 21.5 fps of its predecessor. With Ultra settings, the gap narrowed, 15.5fps playing 12.4fps.

In Aliens vs Predator, the scores were all low, but the i5-4670K's figures of 11.3 and 6.0 fps were still superior to the i5-3570K's 7.2 and 5.1 fps. However, while the i5-4670K may seem to have a good advantage here, the figures have less relevance to desktop PC users, many of whom, we can now see, will still have to ignore the integrated graphics, and bolt on a more powerful and suitable discrete card instead.

We felt that the 4.2GHz and 4.6GHz overclocked speeds of these two processors were pushing both close to their limits.

With that in mind, it's perhaps a little disappointing for Haswell supporters that the i5-4670K wasn't a touch faster in testing, when both chips were paired with the same nVidia GeForce GTX 770.

In games tests, the scores were virtually level in both Aliens vs Predator and Sniper Elite V2, with the i5-4670K less than a frame ahead at every step.

The difference did widen in some games, notably Hard Reset and Stalker: Call of Pripyat. In the latter, for example, the i5-4670K notched up figures of 296.4 and 142.8 fps, in Medium and Ultra settings respectively. These were significantly up on the 276.3 and 130.2 of the i5-3570K, although even in the case of the Medium settings, the gap was less than 7%.

In Hard Reset, the i5-4670K was significantly faster at Medium settings, notching up 170.1 fps to the i5-3570K's 148.8 – a lead of more than 14% - while registering a less substantial difference of 135.8 to 128.6 fps at Ultra settings.

There was also a decent gap in CineBench 11.5, particularly in the OpenGL settings, with the i5-4670K's score of 73.8 fps significantly ahead of the i5-3570K's 60.2.

So the i5-4670K is faster in many cases, although that gap can be quite small. And, even when a decent lead is established, the winning percentage rarely made it into double figures. But, to a certain extent, this is missing the point of Haswell – and is also partly the reason why the desktop PC isn't the ideal arena in which to see it show off its mooted advantages. For the real key to the new range is its lower power consumption.

Based on our experience with this new Haswell processor, we can see that the new chip series isn't just faster than its predecessor. It finishes marginally ahead while also drawing less mains power.

Testing both chips with Intel Burn Test 2.54 and Real Temp, we found that the i5-4670K never went beyond 83 ºC during 20 sets of standard tests.

The i5-3570K, on the other hand, topped out at 88 ºC. With Maximum load on, the i5-4670K pushed up to 90 ºC, while the i5-3570K reached a rather hot 94 ºC. In Sniper Elite V2, the i5-4670K peaked at 50 ºC, while the i5-3570K carried on pushing up to 57 ºC.

The i5-4670K didn't like being pushed to higher clock speeds than the 4.2GHz speed configured by PC Specialist. However, it's welcome to see several degrees being saved by the new chips.

Similarly, the new chips consume less power, with the i5-4670K taking up to 56 watt while idling, as opposed to the i5-3570K's 65 watt, and recording no more than 256 watt during games benchmarking, while the Ivy Bridge went beyond 285 watt over the same tests.

If Haswell offers any significant advantage, it's that it consumes less power and generates less heat. It'll be very interesting to see how that plays out in the notebook and tablet markets. For desktop users, though, the advantage in terms of speed isn't massive, and those seeking a significant power boost may be disappointed.

Not that that should put off prospective buyers of this PC Specialist system. After all, if you're buying a brand new system, it makes perfect sense to snap up the newer technology.

And there is a great deal else provided with this PC. The 16GB of Kingston HyperX Beast memory nicely complements the i5-4670K chip. Add to this the capacious 2TB Seagate Barracuda drive, and the timely speed boost offered by the 120GB Kingston SSD, and you have a strong all-round system. Little wonder, then, that the PC romped to a very pleasing 6685 point score in PCMark 7.

Sound and vision are well served. The nVidia GeForce GTX 770 graphics card has 2GB of memory and is a very nice new release from nVidia that looks like offering plenty of performance for a relatively good price.

We've already given game benchmarks for this card earlier in the review. Suffice it to say that the PC Specialist has strong gaming capabilities. And the audio is also a notch up on the usual fare, with the SoundBlaster Z soundcard making a welcome appearance.

Not everything about this PC is ideal. The CoolerMaster HAF 912 case is ruggedly stylish, even down to its satanic red glowing front. It takes up a fair amount of room space, but despite the outward size, there's stil a tight fit under that lid.

The GeForce GTX card can only just be squeezed into the space between the drive bays. You can get to the memory, although it's not the easiest job. All four of the slots are taken up. In fairness, a decent amount of room is consumed by the commendable and essential cooling system, and the Corsair Hydro H60 does a fine job of keeping the case well aired, although its pipes do get in the way of some of the other components.

The 650 watt Corsair PSU offers room for expansion. Ports and connectors are quite plentiful. Eight USB ports are included, two of those situated at the front of the case, alongside eSATA. Of the six rear-mounted USB ports, four are USB 3.0. The graphics card caters for HDMI and DisplayPort, as well as the more PC-centric DVI. A BD-ROM drive, 4x Lite-On iHOS104, finishes off the components, offering smooth playback of Blu-ray media. But note that not only do you not get any BD-writing, this drive won't burn DVDs or CDs either. See also: Intel launches 4th-gen 'Haswell' Core processors.

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