Haswell tablets might show up this year

Intel-logoAlthough Intel has failed to cash in on the tablet craze so far, things may be about to change later this year. In addition to Silvermont-based Atoms, the chip maker plans to roll out the first Haswell chips with extremely low TDPs, perfectly suited for high-performance Windows 8 tablets.

Of course, the most obvious challenge facing Intel is the lack of market opportunities for Windows 8 tablets, but that might change. The hardware is practically ready. Intel will introduce new Core chips based on the Haswell core, which should fit the fanless tablet thermal envelope, reports CNET. At the moment, the most frugal Y-series Haswell chips have a TDP of 13W and a Scenario Design Power (SDP) of 6W.

SDP is a relatively new word in Intel’s marketing vocabulary, suffice to say that it’s sort of a TDP wish list – SDP denotes the level of power the chips need to work in normal conditions, not a top rating like TDP. In any case Intel now says that Haswell parts can hit an SDP of 4.5W, which is just barely enough to squeeze them into fanless tablets and 2-in-1s.

The main drawback of current generation Windows 8 tablets is that they are relatively bulky, and the fact that they have to use intricate cooling systems only compounds the problem. New Haswell chips could help designers shave off a few millimetres from the waistline, hence future Haswell tablets might end up as compact as upcoming Bay Trail tablets, although we believe most of them will be somewhat bigger hybrids, or 2-in-1s as Intel likes to call them.

However, we still believe the vast majority of x86 tablets in late 2013 and early 2014 will be powered by Silvermont based Bay Trail processors rather than Haswell parts. Although Haswell chips are vastly more powerful than any existing or upcoming Atom, they will be quite expensive, too. In other words they will be reserved for flagship products. Windows 8.1 will still have a pretty big footprint, forcing vendors to integrate plenty of RAM and flash into such devices. This will drive production costs even higher and such tablets will probably cost more than a high-end Ultrabook in retail.

Although the hardware is ready, we’re not sure such products make a lot of sense for vendors, or consumer for that matter. In all likelihood they will end up a lot pricier than Bay Trail tablets, not to mention Android tablets or iPads. At this point Haswell tablets sound like a niche product, and the niche sounds very small indeed.