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.

Haswell – Intel SDP Unit (Software Developer Preview) – The Keyboard fights back

Well, since my initial review of the Ultrabook, I’ve been using it for pretty much all my computing needs. From writing C++ and C# code, through standard surfing and the likes, through to heavier duty 3D work, and the Haswell just keeps on going.

First of all, let me just say that the keyboard on this generation of Intel SDP is a whole lot better than the one that shipped with last years SDP. This one actually feels solid and responsive, and it features a nice little backlight. Intel really has upped the game for what are effectively demo units here. My only, admittedly minor, niggle is the fact that the keyboard is designed for the US market. When I change it to the UK settings, the \ key is missing.

Writing code using this Ultrabook is a pleasant experience. The screen resolution is good, and the screen itself is bright and very pleasant to use. Unfortunately, the 4GB memory means that there’s sometimes a slow down when compiling a C++ application from scratch using Visual Studio 2012. Once you’re past the first compilation though, the compile process is responsive enough, so this isn’t a huge issue. As I’m a heavy user of Visual Studio and WPF, I’m pleased to see that the responsiveness of the WPF designer window is nice and snappy – there’s no hold up in the system making me wish I was using a different machine. Even the dodgy upper case menus in Visual Studio don’t distract me while I’m looking at this glorious screen.

Visual Studio running on the Ultrabook.

One thing I’ve tried to do is keep the settings of the machine as default as possible (except for the keyboard layout – that’s’ a compromise too far). This has allowed me to test the claims that the Haswell gives me long battery life. Well, it’s true – using it for a mixture of DirectX development, 3D work and WPF development has allowed me to get just over 7 hours on a single charge. It’s not quite the potential 12 hours, but my day to day usage is pretty atypical, so I wouldn’t be unduly worried about the battery life if I were looking to use this on a really long journey. The reason that I mentioned the defaults is because Windows 8 suddenly tells me that I’ve got about 5% battery life left, and then it shuts down – there’s not enough time for me to get the unit plugged in then.

Now Pete – surely it can’t be all sweetness and light, can it? Where are the niggles that must exist here, or are you playing nicey-nice with Intel here? Well, there is one thing that really gets me annoyed and that’s the Trackpad. If I click on the left hand side of the Trackpad (anywhere on the left), I can trigger a click – and that’s exactly what I’d expect. Clicking or tapping on the right hand side doesn’t trigger anything. This has caused me quite a bit of frustration. It’s my issue to deal with though, as the Trackpad is a multi touch unit so it’s something I’m going to have to work on.

You may wonder what applications I typically have running on the Ultrabook, to see how this compares to what you would use. Well, on a day to day basis, I typically have up to 4 instances of Visual Studio 2012 running simultaneously. I also have a couple of instances of Expression Blend running, as well as Chrome, with a minimum of 10 to 12 fairly heavy web pages in them (if you’re really interested, these pages are Facebook, Code Project – several instances covering different forums and articles,, GMail, Twitter, The Daily Telegraph and nufcblog.org). I also usually have Word, Excel, Photoshop, Huda and Cinema 4D running, along with Intel’s Perceptual Computing SDK and Creative Gesture camera. As you can see, that’s a lot of heavy duty processing going on there, and this machine copes with them admirably.

Okay, to whet your appetite – I’ve been using the Ultrabook, off the charger, just editing documents and web pages for the last two hours, and I still have 91% battery life left. That’s absolutely incredible.



Haswell – Intel SDP Unit (Software Developer Preview) – 1st impressions

The reveal

Bonk, bonk bonk bonk bong….

That’s the sound that greeted me when I opened the box from Intel™ featuring a developer preview Haswell Ultrabook™, and there’s no geek in the world who wouldn’t want to repeat that sound, so after opening and closing the case for ten minutes or so, I decided to actually get the Ultrabook™ out of the box.


Okay, this is the Ultrabook™ packaging (outside of the cardboard it was shipped in). Little did I know the simple joy I was to receive upon opening this box.


I’ve opened up the packaging, and this is the sight that greets me. I’m keen to start the unit, but I want to see what other goodies the box has inside.


Is that a carry case for the Ultrabook™? Nope, it’s just packing material to keep the unit from getting scratched.


Ahh, that’s more like it. Cables and a USB drive (containing the Windows reinstallation media). The reflection in this image is from the plastic covering that protects this layer.


Okay, the plastic is off and I can see the quick start guide as well as the power supply and USB drive. That PSU is tiny. Consider me seriously impressed.


What have we here? Ah, Mini HDMI to Full, to VGA and a USB to Ethernet. Thoughtful of them to supply this.


Well, there’s the keyboard. Nice.

After starting the machine up, it’s a simple matter to configure Windows™ 8. Windows really suits a machine like this.

Day to day

Well, the first thing to do with a machine like this is to take it out for a drive. In my case, this means installing Visual Studio Ultimate 2012. As you might expect, I have several computers, so I have a lot of reference there on how long this actually takes to install. On my old I7 with a spindle hard drive, it took up to an hour to install. The question then, is how long would it take to install on this machine with the same feature set. Start to finish, the whole process took 8 minutes. Yup, you read that right, 8 minutes start to finish. I couldn’t ask for a better initial impression than that.

The good

This unit is fast. Oh, it’s so very fast. Okay, the boot up time is a tad slower than my I7 Lenovo™ Yoga 13, (by less than half a second), but once you actually get going, the machine is very responsive. While it’s a fairly entry level I5, it is more than capable of coping with my day to day development tasks. Opening up a XAML page in Visual Studio 2012 and showing it with both the designer and code view open, the code view updated Intellisense as I typed, and the designer refreshed itself snappily – those of you who develop XAML based apps know how slow this can be – it was an absolute joy to behold.

The unit is running Windows 8 Pro (Build 9200), and Windows works well on it. The screen is responsive to the touch, and Windows feels snappy and responsive.

The machine is light. Maybe it’s not Mac Air light, but it’s heading in the right direction, and it’s thin. If you were going to use this only on your desktop, this wouldn’t matter but if, like me, you travel a lot, you’ll really appreciate them.

That battery life. Oh boy, 6 hours spent doing a lot of fairly intensive development and the battery still has plenty of life to give yet. This really has hit the sweetspot with regards to providing me with portability. I can easily see myself whiling away journeys using this.

The niggles

This is going to sound churlish considering I’ve received this unit as a “favour”, but I do wish it had more than 4GB of RAM and a bigger hard drive than it has (a 128GB SSD).

The shift keys are on the large side, but I have no doubt I will soon get used to them.

There’s a lot of real estate lost around the screen, but I’ve no doubt that commercial units will take care of this, using all the available space.

It’s hard to put my finger on what the exact problem is, but the keys don’t feel quite right to me. There’s a bit of play to them that doesn’t make them feel that stable. Obviously, as this is not a commercial Ultrabook™, I’m not unduly worried – I would expect a commercial Ultrabook™ to have a more solid feel to the keys.

So, where are we at?

I’ve been asked to write the reviews as unbiased as I possibly can be. This review is my initial impression only. My next review will cover using this machine on a daily basis. As I do a lot of Ultrabook™ related work as part of my daily development routine, this will be my primary device, so I’ll let you know how this compares.

Disclosure of Material Connection:

I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe my readers will enjoy. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”