IDF Tech Zone: Ivy Bridge Windows 8 Tablets, Ultrabooks, 4K Video on HTPCs, Hands On with Haswell

Traditionally at IDF, Intel's Advanced Technology Zone is where all the cool stuff happens.  Whether it be public demos setup for hands-on opportunities with next generation Intel technologies or backroom sessions with Intel Advanced Engineering and Marketing teams showing early engineering samples to members of the press, this place is where we get up close and personal with many of the unveilings that Intel rolls out over the course of the conference.

Yesterday we spent time with Intel's Performance Engineering and Benchmark teams discussing what encompasses a satisfying user experience on the ultra-mobile platforms that are all the rage in the market today.  On display were a number Windows 8-driven tablets powered by Intel, as well as an Acer Ultrabook that captivated us not only with its super thin and light profile but also with the utility and fluidity of the Windows 8 user interface driven by ultra low power Ivy Bridge Core i3 and Atom processors.  Gaze upon the stills but check in with Francios for a demo just below...

Intel Core i3 Windows 8 Tablet (left) - Acer Touch-Enabled Windows 8 Core i3 Ultrabook (right)

Francios Piednoel of Intel is the master of the impressive demos and true to form, he did not disappoint.  However, it wasn't so much the Windows 8 UI demo that impressed us; we've seen that before.  The hardware, on the other hand, was more impressive, with fluid multi-tasking and gesture support courtesy of optimized hardware and drivers to support the experience within the Windows 8 UI.  The Acer Ultrabook was super thin and light at well under 3lbs; built of a composite material that had the look, feel and rigidity of aluminum but weighing in lighter and more eco-friendly in the end. Whether on a tablet or Ultrabook, multitasking with various media streams of video, images and web content occurs seamlessly without a hiccups or stutter.  Some of this responsiveness can be attributed to Windows 8's simultaneous application handling but that experience needs to be powered by a capable core processor and graphics engine, in this case either a Core i3 Ivy Bridge on the higher-end tablet and Ultrabook or an Intel Atom Clover Trail CPU in the case of the ultra-thin tablet.

Intel Demos 4K HD Video Playback on Ivy Bridge HTPC, updated Drivers to Be Released In December

Intel Haswell 4th Generation Core Processor Gaming (left), Lenovo IdeaCenter 27 w/ Win 8 Touch (Right)

Out from behind closed door sessions and on the main floor, some of the more impressive demos were of an Intel Ivy Bridge-based HTPC streaming 4K HD video over a rather expensive 4K Eizo monitor.  Intel has updated the graphics drivers for Ivy Bridge and expects to release a 4K capable version in December. 

We also spent some time playing Skyrim on an Intel Haswell powered gaming PC.  Graphics settings were dialed up at 1920X1080 with High Quality settings on the Haswell-powered machine, while an adjacent Ivy Bridge machine was set to 1366X768 at Medium settings.  Even at the higher image quality and resolution, the Haswell machine was noticeably faster and smoother. 

Finally, Lenovo's gorgeous 27-inch IdeaCenter All-in-One PC was running several Windows 8 touch-powered applications that demonstrated the future appeal of a touch UI combined with a traditional computing experience with keyboard support etc.  It's clear, Intel is behind Windows 8 full bore.  The good news is, in our opinion, Windows 8 is evolving into a more fluid, cohesive experience rather than a jarring disconnect from the Windows desktop we know and love today.  It will take a combination of ecosystem partners with optimized hardware, firmware and software to bring it all to fruition, but there was no mistaking, Intel seems hell-bent on making that happen.  More from IDF as we get even more touchy-feely with Intel's latest creations in the days ahead.