CPU Performance: Five Generations of Intel CPUs Compared

For the purposes of our look at Haswell, we will be breaking up our review coverage into two parts. The rest of this article will focus on the CPU side of Haswell, while coverage of the GPU - including Iris Pro and Crystalwell - has been spun off into another artice: Intel Iris Pro 5200 Graphics Review: Core i7-4950HQ Tested.

The majority of the market doesn’t upgrade annually, so I went back a total of five generations to characterize Haswell’s CPU performance. Everything from a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo through Nehalem, Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge and Haswell are represented here. With the exception of the Core 2 platform, everything else is running at or near the peak launch frequency for the chip.

In general, I saw performance gains over Ivy Bridge of 1 - 19%, with an average improvement of 8.3%. Some of the performance gains were actually quite impressive. The 7.8% increase in Kraken shows there’s still room for improvement in lightly threaded performance, while the double digit FP performance gains in POV-Ray and x264 HD really play to Haswell’s strengths.

Compared to Sandy Bridge, Haswell looks even more impressive. The Core i7-4770K outperforms the i7-2700K by 7 - 26%, with an average performance advantage of 17%. The gains over Sandy Bridge aren’t large enough to make upgrading from a Sandy Bridge i7 to a Haswell i5 worthwhile though, as you still give up a lot if you go from 8 to 4 threads on a quad-core part running heavily threaded workloads.

Compared to Nehalem the gains average almost 44%.

Cinebench 11.5 - Single Threaded

Cinebench 11.5 - Multi Threaded

POV-Ray 3.7 RC7

7-zip Benchmark - Single Threaded

7-zip Benchmark - Multithreaded

Kraken Javascript Benchmark (Chrome)

PCMark 7 - Overall

x264 HD 5.0.1 - First Pass

x264 HD 5.0.1 - Second Pass

TrueCrypt AES Benchmark

Quite possibly the most surprising was just how consistent (and large) the performance improvements were in our Visual Studio 2012 compile test. With a 15% increase in performance vs. Ivy Bridge at the same frequencies, what we’re looking at here is the perfect example of Haswell’s IPC increases manifesting in a real-world benchmark.

Gaming Performance

After spending far too much time on the Iris Pro test system, I didn’t have a ton of time left over to do a lot of gaming performance testing with Haswell. Luckily Ian had his gaming performance test data already in the engine, so I borrowed a couple of graphs.

As expected, Haswell is incrementally quicker in GPU bound gaming scenarios compared to Ivy Bridge - and most definitely at the top of the charts.

Civilization V - One 7970, 1440p, Max Settings

Dirt 3 - One 7970, 1440p, Max Settings

Die Size and Transistor Count CPU Performance: Going Even Further Back
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  • jmcb - Saturday, June 1, 2013 - link

    I currently have an E8400 so the Haswell would be amazing....but I will go for amazing and value.
  • _zenith - Saturday, June 1, 2013 - link

    "Even on the dekstop" - desktop. Just spelling gripe.

    I notice the gains over Nehalem are pretty much the same that you can *easily* get (just increase VCore and BCLK) out of overclocking Nehalem. So now they're neck and neck if you don't overclock the Haswell part. Maybe my system will be good for another year now! (i7-920 @ 4.0).
  • Da W - Saturday, June 1, 2013 - link

    Now i can buy my Trinity + Radeon rig for the price of a haswell only rig. I know it will play every videogame made for xbox or PS4 for the next 7-8 years and make a perfect HTPC!
  • ChefJeff789 - Saturday, June 1, 2013 - link

    I've been sitting on a first-gen Core i7 and this is still a little dissapointing. It is significantly quicker than mine, but I'm not sure that the upgrade is quite worth it for me yet as everything I use runs reasonably well. I am interested in the new socket type, though. I wonder if upgrading the motherboard with a decent Haswell would benefit me later on with a Skylake. It's hard to say; I haven't seen any firm specs on the socket-type for the Skylake chips.
  • jwcalla - Saturday, June 1, 2013 - link

    At this point I think there are more interesting places to put your tech dollars. A high-DPI display or triple monitors if you're into gaming, more SSDs if you need the space, a NAS or a nice tablet, etc. I'm in your camp with an i7-870 and nothing I do pushes it enough to test my patience.
  • kyuu - Saturday, June 1, 2013 - link

    Agreed -- unless you're loaded, there are far more interesting ways to spend your money in the PC arena than on the overhyped and underwhelming Haswell SKUs. Unless you're still stuck on Phenom II or Core2Duo.
  • bji - Sunday, June 2, 2013 - link

    Hey - I'm still "stuck" on a Phenom II (in my desktop; laptop is 15 inch rMBP with Ivy Bridge) and it's not that bad. It's significantly slower than the Bridges in single threaded apps but even so it's fast enough that I never notice, much like jwcalla never notices with his i7-870. And the Phenom II x6 has 6 real cores that do decently well in heavily multithreaded apps, really extensive compiles being the only thing that I ever do that would benefit at all from extra speed. 6 real cores holding their own reasonably well there. Even if an Ivy Bridge were 50% faster per core on the compiles (and it probably is), the x6 has 50% more cores so it kind of evens out ...
  • rabbatabba - Sunday, June 2, 2013 - link

    Anyone know if x264 is properly optimized for AVX2? Naiively, one might expect a 2x speedup for SIMD integer dominated code over the AVX1-only 2700k provided that the rest of the system is able to shuffle around data.

    I am very curious as to the real-world performance gains of integer (and floating-point FMA) SIMD code in Haswell compared to previous generations.
  • Klimax - Sunday, June 2, 2013 - link

    It has support for AVX2. Not sure in how many places, but over months there was stream of AVX2 code paths.
  • plopingo - Sunday, June 2, 2013 - link

    No need for me to upgrade with my I7 960@4.2ghz
    maybe next time :D

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