2014 in CPUs

Ancient CPU from the 90s
Ancient CPU from the 90s | Source

State of the Art

Computer hardware has long followed Moore's Law, which states that their performance will about double every eighteen months. That's why any guide CPUs will be out of date very quickly, so here we're going to look at 2014 CPUs, both those already out and those that are coming soon.

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Intel Haswell

Haswell is the name of Intel's 2013 "tock", meaning it's both the name of the latest microarchitecture and the codename for the CPUs out there going into 2014. The 2014 CPUS, detailed below, will also be based on the Haswell microarchitecture.

Starting with Haswell, Intel is releasing all CPUs with an integrated GPU, albeit a slow one compared to anything from AMD or Nvidia. Earlier generations still had some models without one.

Haswell-based models

Branding
Models
Threads/Cores
Frequency
Price
i7
47xx
8/4
2.0-3.9 GHz
$300-350
i5
44xx-46xx
4/4
2.7-3.8 GHz
$190-240
i3
41xx-43xx
4/2
2.9-3.6 GHz
$125-160
Pentium
G32xx-G34xx
2/2
2.6-3.3 GHz
$70-100
Celeron
G18xx
2/2
2.2-2.8 GHz
$45-60
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AMD Vishera and Kaveri

Whereas Intel uses a single microarchitecture from low to high end (leaving aside Atom, which still doesn't recommend itself outside very low end portables), AMD's product lineup seems like a jigsaw puzzle.

Vishera is the high end CPU line marketed as FX. It's based on the Piledriver update to the Bulldozer microarchitecture. It comes with 2-8 cores arranged in pairs called modules.

Kaveri is the latest APU line with an upgraded CPU and GPU. The CPU architecture is called Steamroller and is an upgrade from the one in Vishera. It has 2-4 CPU cores.

Additionally, there are still some Trinity APUs out, since Kaveri doesn't yet cover the whole lineup, while Jaguar based SoCs like those in Xbox One and PS4 are used in the low end.

Vishera and Kaveri models

Branding
Models
Cores/Modules
Frequency
Price
FX
83xx, 93xx, 95xx
8/4
3.3-5.0 GHz
$160-340
FX
63xx
6/3
3.5-4.2 GHz
$120-140
FX
43xx
4/2
3.8-4.3 GHz
$110-140
A10
77xx, 78xx
4/2 + GPU
3.4-4.0 GHz
$160-175

Intel 2014: Broadwell

Broadwell is the 2014 "tick" from Intel, based on last year's Haswell microarchitecture, but shrunk to 14nm. It's had some delays, but it's planned to come out in Q4. A full lineup from dual cores all the way up to Extreme Edition eight cores (a new for Intel) are expected, although for the latter we may need to wait until 2015.

Unfortunately, we don't really have any solid numbers yet. From past experience we can expect them to come in slightly higher frequencies than Haswell, but without major performance increases (other than from more cores and threads in the high end). However, they should take a leap ahead in lowering power consumption – an area where Intel is already ahead of AMD.

Update: Broadwell Core M has seen limited benchmarks. In the tablet form factor it offers sizable performance gains. However, little gains are to be expected in less power constrained form factors. Schedule is still late 2014.

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AMD 2014: No FX?

AMD has stated they will not upgrade their FX lineup to the Steamroller core used in Kaveri. However, going by their past product life-cycle, they will continue to bring new, slightly faster models to market as the process technology improves. So we are likely to see small performance increases.

On the APU front, they are still missing most of the Kaveri lineup. The table below details the expected variants, although the price ranges are not hard.

With their previous Trinity APU they also released a couple of variants where the GPU was completely disabled. Athlon 750K, which was the result of this strategy won some value awards for packing an admirable punch for less than $100. If they do the same with Kaveri, we may yet see a CPU-only Steamroller.

2014 Kaveri models

Branding
Models
Cores/Modules
Frequency
Price
A8
76xx
4/2
3.1-3.8 GHz
$120
A6
74xx
2/1
~3.5-4.0 GHz
~$100
A4
73xx
2/1
3.4-3.8 GHz
~$100
All models include a GPU

Should I wait?

With Intel's high end Broadwell delayed, waiting is not advised if you are looking for a high end CPU – i5 or above – and don't need a good integrated GPU. Only if you need extreme levels of performance and want the eight cores is it smart to wait for Broadwell, but even in that case the prices will be high enough (probably á $1000 at first) that buying a current CPU to carry you until then is not a huge additional expense.

If you are interested in gaming-capable APUs, but not drawn to AMD's current Kaveri models, you might want to wait for them to complete their lineup. Other than that, there's nothing from AMD worth waiting for either, on the CPU side at least.

Which should I buy?

First things first, if you care about GPU performance (e.g. gaming), but absolutely don't want a discrete GPU, you should pick the AMD Kaveri that fits your budget. Intel is behind by enough that it's an easy choice to make. Broadwell may change that, but is still months away.

Second, look at your budget. If it's $100 or below for the CPU, your options are a Pentium or Celeron from Intel or an older CPU. If you can find an Ivy Bridge i3 or some FX from AMD at that price point, take it. Athlon 750K is also a good option. Go with Pentium if you must, but don't expect miracles – it's fine for office work and internet, but not gaming or e.g. image or video manipulation.

At the $150 price point you have more options. If you are a gamer, you should probably go with an i3. If you do a lot of media encoding or other parallizable workloads, go with AMD FX and the most cores and frequency you can afford. FX-6300 is the value leader, but the eight cores do offer a significant performance increase if your workload can use the extra threads.

At $200-250 you want an i5, unless you are sure you can use the eight cores AMD has to offer. Gamers will want the i5. From a value point of view i5 4570 and 4670K are recommended. The latter only if you plant to overclock with its unlocked multiplier, otherwise you are paying $50 for a 5% performance increase.

At $300+ you want the i7 4770 or the 4770K variant if you plan on overclocking. The only alternative that can make sense is waiting for a 6-8 core Broadwell, but they may not be released until next year. However, if you can't use the extra performance, consider buying a $100 cheaper i5 instead. Gamers should probably do that and use the extra $100 on a better GPU.

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