Don't buy a new PC or Mac before you read this

Is the laptop, desktop, or tablet you plan to buy stuck with a last-gen CPU? That may be a reason to wait -- or a way to get a great deal. Here's how to tell.

 

(Credit: CNET/Sarah Tew)
Editors' note: This article was originally published June 27, 2013, and was updated August 22, 2013, to reflect that many more systems are now available with Intel's latest processors, with still more to come later this year.
 
Before swiping your credit card on a new ultrabook, all-in-one, or convertible, you're going to want to dive a little deeper into the spec sheets. That's because the latest Intel CPU upgrade, introduced in June and code named Haswell (but officially known as "fourth-generation Core i series") offers significant battery life improvements in the laptops we've tested so far. So, unlike the more ho-hum Intel updates we've seen in years past, there's a real-world payoff in seeking out a Haswell-equipped laptop.

But, many popular laptops, such as the Lenovo Yoga 13 and Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display, still use third-generation Intel CPUs, with no official upgrade plans yet announced. If better battery life isn't a big concern, for example if you're going for a desktop PC, or if you have a "desktop replacement" laptop that you don't tend to disconnect from the power cord, this could work in your favor, and you could score a nice discount as more pre-Haswell PCs make their way to the discount bin.
How do you tell which is which? That's the tricky part.

The current laptop landscape

As we move into the Haswell era, the market is in flux. Many "new" laptops and hybrids, such as the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S or the Toshiba Kirabook, all still ship with processors from Intel's third-generation Core i series, the same parts that have been found in most PCs since spring 2012. On the bright side, some popular systems, including the Acer Aspire S7, have added Haswell parts.
Need a 14-hour laptop? Get the new 13-inch MacBook Air.
Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, because any current laptop will have more than enough processing power for everyday tasks, such as Web surfing, HD video playback, social media networking, and working on basic office documents. For that reason, in years past, having the latest and greatest processors wasn't especially high on my priorities list. Frankly, the average consumer wouldn't feel much of a difference in surfing the Web on a laptop with a budget-minded Intel Core i3 versus one with a high-end Core i7.
But with a growing number of Haswell PCs (and Macs) tested, the battery life results from them so far has been very impressive. The Haswell-equipped PCs also offer Intel's better integrated graphics, either the HD 5000, HD 4600, or HD 4400, rather than the now-outdated Intel HD 4000 graphics found in third-gen Core i-series systems.
Case in point: the 2012 version of Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air ran for 7 hours and 27 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. The 2013 version of the 13-inch Air, with a Haswell CPU, blows that out of the water, with an astonishing 14 hours and 25 minutes on the same test. Sony's Haswell-powered Vaio Pro 13 ran for nearly 9 hours, and even the gaming-oriented Razer Blade, ran for more than 7 hours.

How to choose

The natural question this raises is: should you hold off on buying a particular PC if it still has a third-generation Intel Core i-series processor and wait for the Haswell version? Some popular systems, including the Lenovo Yoga line, the Microsoft Surface Pro, and Apple's MacBook Pro have not publicly announced street date for updated versions with the newest Intel CPUs.
This new Acer Aspire S7 looks the same as the previous model, but its new Intel CPU ran for about 1 hour longer.
I suggest approaching with caution, although I'm not ruling out buying a non-Haswell system altogether. Below are some guidelines that represent my current thinking on the subject; feel free to add your own suggestions and ideas in the comments section below.

Desktops and larger laptops: Buy now

Considering the modest gains in actual application performance (including the HD 5000 graphics), if you're holding off for performance reasons, don't. For a traditional desktop or all-in-one with no battery, the last-gen processor isn't a big deal. The same goes, to a lesser extent, for 15-inch and larger laptops, which by their nature spend most of their time tethered to a desk and power outlet. On the bright side, some gaming laptops, such as the Alienware 14 and Toshiba Qosmio X75, have already moved to Haswell.
 
Ultrabook-style systems: Seek out a Haswell version

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About Doru Somcutean

Hello, my name is Somcutean Doru and I'm from Romania.

I really like to read reviews and see what's new about technology, on D-BLOG I share with you articles/reviews that I find interesting. I also write some reviews in romanian...

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