What makes the new MacBook Pros tick

Apple has dropped the latest and greatest silicon engines into the new MacBook Pros. Here's a closer look at what they can do.

The chips inside Apple's new MacBook Pros that were unveiled Tuesday are very different than their predecessors. Here's why.

New MacBook Pros: very different inside. Apple

32-nanometer process technology: MacBook Pros use, for the first time, Intel's Core i5 and Core i7 processors. These chips are built on Intel's latest 32-nanometer manufacturing process technology, while the older Core 2 Duo technology uses a 45-nanometer process. Generally, the smaller the geometries, the faster and/or more power efficient the processor is.

Hyper-Threading: Hyper-Threading can double the number of tasks--or threads--a processor can execute. So, a two-core processor can handle four threads. This technology is not offered on prior-generation Core 2 chips. Apple describes it as follows: "Built-in Hyper-Threading allows two threads to run simultaneously on each core, so Mac OS X recognizes four virtual cores instead of just two. When you're running multiple applications at once, the Core i5 and Core i7 processors spread tasks more evenly across a greater number of cores."

Turbo Boost: The Core i series of chips use Turbo Boost, which speeds up or slows down individual cores to meet processing or power efficiency needs. This, like Hyper-Threading, is not available on older Core 2 Duo chips. Apple describes it as follows: "If you're using processor-intensive applications like Aperture 3 or Final Cut Pro that would benefit from an extra performance kick, Turbo Boost dynamically increases the speed of one or both cores, taking a 2.66GHz MacBook Pro all the way up to 3.33GHz." In other words, processors get automatically "overclocked"--previously the exclusive domain of high-end gamers--when necessary.

Updated Nvidia graphics silicon: And where would updated MacBook Pros be without new and improved Nvidia graphics processors. Inside the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pro models is the Nvidia GeForce GT 330M discrete graphics processor, what Apple calls "the fastest graphics ever in a Mac notebook." The GT 330M increases the number of processing cores to 48, compared to 32 in the previous-generation GeForce 9600M. And the new GeForce GT 330M is up to 30 percent more energy efficient than its predecessor, according to Apple.

Surprise, surprise: Intel integrated graphics: At one time thought to be the bane of Apple's existence (Apple went out of its way to remove Intel integrated graphics technology from its second-generation MacBook Air and updated MacBook Pros)--it's back. This time Apple offers Intel integrated silicon in the form of "switchable graphics." Want high performance? The MacBook Pros tap the power of the Nvidia discrete graphics processor. Need to be frugal with power consumption (i.e., when on battery power only)? The technology automatically switches to the more power efficient Intel integrated graphics. Here's how Apple describes it: "MacBook Pro transfers the workload between the powerful discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 330M graphics processor and integrated Intel HD Graphics so seamlessly, you won't even notice. Whether you're using applications like Aperture, Motion, or Final Cut Pro, or just surfing the Web, your MacBook Pro always knows which processor to use. You don't have to log out, shut down, or change your preferences. Automatic graphics switching does it all for you."

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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