Anticipating Apple's 'Arrandale' MacBook

MacBooks based on Intel's new Core i5 processors can't be too far off.

MacBooks based on Intel's new Core i5 processors are expected to appear in the not-too-distant future. Here's some guesswork--updating a previous post--based on my discussions with Intel at the Consumer Electronics Show last week just after the chipmaker announced the new mobile chips.

Apple MacBook Pro
Apple MacBook Pro Apple

Simply put, Arrandale is a Core i3 or i5 (update: or Core i7) central processing unit (CPU) package that includes graphics silicon. Until Arrandale, Intel graphics was in a separate package--referred to as the chipset. Making it part of the CPU results in lower power consumption and, consequently, better battery life. Arrandale's graphics also offers a step up in performance over the prior-generation Core 2 integrated graphics.

I should add that any laptop with a new Core i series processor is going to be faster than a laptop with the previous-generation Core 2 chip.

Turbo Boost: Why faster? For one, with the mobile Core i5 Intel's Turbo Boost is now available to mainstream laptops. This feature automatically overclocks a 2.26GHz Intel Core i5-430M processor, for example, to 2.53GHz on the fly as required by the application. (This is not possible with the Core i3 chip, however.)

One possibility is Apple getting an i5 (and/or i7, i3) made to order, as it did with the specially-packaged Core 2 Duo processor in the original MacBook Air. Or Apple could simply bypass Intel's integrated graphics by attaching an ATI or Nvidia graphics processor. The latter will likely happen in some form. Silicon Valley rival Hewlett-Packard is doing this already. Last week, HP updated its Envy 15 with the Core i5-540M Processor (2.53 GHz, 3 MB L3 cache) and Core i5-520M Processor (2.40 GHz, 3 MB L3 cache) and ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5830 graphics chip from Advanced Micro Devices.

Of course, Intel is not revealing when and how Apple will use the new Core i mobile processors, but in an interview on the CES show floor with Intel Senior Vice President Sean Maloney, he made a strong argument for why laptop suppliers are opting for these new processors to the tune of "500 new design wins," initially, according to Maloney.

High-performance but thin: Intel is offering standard processors--that is, the high-performance variety, not the "ULV" lower-performance versions--in special packaging that allows them to be squeezed into thin one-inch designs, Maloney said. "You don't have to compromise performance. You can fit our high-performing, standard power (Core i processors) into one-inch designs. That's new," he said. Would Apple opt for that?

"If you look at some of these i5, i7 notebooks, they're tiny but have workstation-like performance," he added.

Another enticing prospect is Apple finally squeezing a quad-core chip into the 17-inch MacBook Pro in the form of a Core i7 processor--or at least the just-announced two-core version of the i7, the 620M.

Then there's the low-end Core i3, also announced at CES. Would Apple put this in the low-end MacBook? That's a tough call. It may, but attach a discrete graphics chip from ATI or Nvidia.

USB 3.0 And what about USB 3.0? HP and Asus were showing laptops with USB 3.0 connectors at CES. Will Apple follow suit or opt for another technology such as Light Peak, as was speculated widely last year?

Whatever Apple does, the mobile Core i series has arrived. And Apple's competition is already off and running.

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