Competition is a good thing and without it, we all lose out. Unfortunately, Intel isn't facing much in the way of competition in the desktop CPU market right now, and they haven't for some time. AMD's year and a half old Piledriver-based FX processors can't hold a candle to Intel's Core i7 range. What's more, even at $200, the FX-8350 Black Edition struggles to take on the Core i5 Haswell processors.
That being the case, Intel can afford to be somewhat relaxed with its releases and the Haswell refresh is a good example. Some of the new Haswell CPUs do make a minor effort to improve on performance and value, though it is barely worth recognizing. In fact, Intel hasn't provided us with samples of the new Haswell processor, nor has the company gone as far as sending us information about the products.
Intel has been so laid back that its overclocking-focused Devil's Canyon and Pentium-K chips are yet to be released. This makes the Haswell refresh somewhat of a non-event for enthusiasts considering the Core i7-4790 isn't really any faster than the 4771 and the new price of $315 is only $5 cheaper. The i5 and i3 ranges face a similar scenario while little has changed for the Pentium and Celeron parts.
In short, you shouldn't be beating yourself up if you built a new LGA1150 system last week instead of this week. If anything, you'll regret not waiting for the 9 Series motherboards. The biggest news to come from the refresh is Intel's Z97 chipset and its enhanced storage capabilities. The boards we got from Asrock and Gigabyte were impressive and we can't wait to test their M.2 support in the coming weeks.
Like the CPUs, these new motherboards aren't fetching a price premium over their predecessors. The cheapest Asrock Z87 motherboard is the Z87 Pro3 for $100, the new Z97 Pro3 also costs $100, and the same goes for the higher-end boards. The Fatal1ty Z97X Killer we had on hand is ideal for 3-way GPU setups while the Z97 Extreme6 is better suited for two or less GPUs. Both boards are hard to beat.
The Gigabyte Z97X-SOC Force is a little pricier than those while sacrificing features like Ultra M.2, but it has more PCIe x16 lanes, making it the perfect motherboard to stack up some 4-way GPU action. The board's real focus is on overclocking and while we didn't have time to delve into that side of things, the board certainly delivers enough features in that category to recommend it if that's your interest.
What's to come after this rather uneventful Haswell launch? Sometime in the second half of this year Haswell-E will arrive to relieve Ivy Bridge-E along with the X99 chipset. This is obviously going to be a premium platform, so we expect to see CPU options starting at $300 with motherboards costing at least $200. After that, in the fourth quarter we should finally see Broadwell aka fifth-gen Core CPUs.