Haswell – Intel SDP Unit (Software Developer Preview) – a death in the family

Okay, that’s possibly a bit too melodramatic a title, but that’s almost what it felt like when my Ultrabook decided to pack in and shuffle off to the great gig in the sky. This post will contain no screenshots for reasons that will soon become abundantly clear.

Some context first, I’ve been using the Ultrabook pretty much continuously since I got it. It was my default, go-to, day to day development box. Yup, that’s a lot of different ways of saying that I was using the Ultrabook very heavily. So heavily, in fact, that I was using it as the workhorse for developing my Synxthasia project for Intel ; a Theramin(ish) type of music application which translated gestures in 3D space into sound and visuals – it even took your picture at intervals and imposed that into the visuals; I was particularly proud of the fact that it gave you the ability to alter the “shape” of the sound to simulate a wah effect just by using your mouth. The SDP really is an excellent device for development tasks like this.

So, about a week before I was due to submit this to Intel; with the app heavily in the polishing stages, the Ultrabook died on me – taking 8 days of code that hadn’t been committed back to source control (I have no excuses really as I should have been committing this to source control as I went along). Remember that I said that it had the habit of giving the low battery warning and then switching off, well this is exactly what happened. Anyhoo, I plugged it in and started it back up – all was fine and dandy here, but I noticed that Windows was reporting that there was no battery present. Well, I couldn’t leave the Ultrabook permanently plugged in and I needed to go to a client site – I unplugged the unit and set off. When I tried to power it back on later on, it refused to start – all that happened was the power button LED flashed blue and that was it.

I got in touch with contacts in Intel and they provided some first line support options which included opening the unit and disconnecting the batteries. Unfortunately, this hasn’t worked – the unit still has all the vitality of the Norwegian Blue. Intel has offered to replace the device but as I have been away from the physical unit for a while, I’ve been unable to take them up on their kind offer. Once I get back home, I will avail myself of their help because the device itself really is that good.

What has become clear to me over the last year or so, is just how much Intel cares about the feedback it gets. I cannot stress enough how they have listened to reviewers and developers like myself, and how they have sought to incorporate that feedback into their products. As a developer, it’s a genuine pleasure for me to deal with them as they really do seem to understand what my pain points are, and they provide a heck of a lot of features to help me get past those problems. Why do I say this? Well, I was lucky enough to have an SDP from last year to use and while it was a good little device, there were one or two niggles that really got to me as I used it – the biggest problem, of course, being the keyboard. The first SDP just didn’t have a great keyboard. The second issue was that the first SDP also felt flimsy – I always felt that opening the screen was a little fragile and that I could do damage if I opened it too vigorously. Well, not this time round – the updated version of the SDP has a fantastic keyboard, and feels as robust as any laptop/Ultrabook that I’ve used, and all this in a slimmer device. You see, that’s what I mean by Intel listening. I spend a lot of time at the keyboard and I need to feel that it’s responsive – and this unit certainly is. The thing is, Intel aren’t selling these units – they are giving them away for developers to try out for free. It would be perfectly understandable if they cut corners to save costs, but it’s patently apparent that they haven’t – they really have tried to give us a commercial level device. Yes, I’ve been unlucky that the Haswell died on me, but given the care from Intel this hasn’t tarnished my opinion of it.

So, does the death of the device put me off the Haswell? Of course it doesn’t. For the period I have been using it, it has been a superb workhorse. It combines good looks with performance with great battery life. It’s been absolutely outstanding and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. Needless to say, I’m delighted with the help and support that I’ve had from Intel – it certainly hasn’t been any fault of theirs that I’ve been unable to return the device for them to replace. I’d also like to thank Rick Puckett at Intel for his help and patience, as well as Carrie Davis-Sydor and Iman Saad at DeveloperMedia for helping hook me up with the unit in the first place and their help when the Haswell shuffled off the mortal coil.

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