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Apple slated AMD chip for MacBook Air?

Apple rumors are always interesting because it's about Apple--probably the most closely watched computer and device company in the world. This AMD rumor is just that--a rumor.


Here's one strictly for the rumor hopper: Apple was on the verge of coming out with a MacBook Air packing a processor from Advanced Micro Devices.

The reasoning put forward by chip-centric Web site Semiaccurate is that AMD offered better graphics horsepower. Today, the Air--and all the MacBooks--use Intel's Sandy Bridge processors.

"If you are wondering why the Air wasn't really revamped much this last time, it is because you are looking at plan B. Plan A was basically a low power [AMD] Llano in an Air shell, and that would have been a really tasty machine."

That's an interesting statement, except for the last part about a "tasty machine." If that was really true, Apple would have found a way to use it.

But let me defer to this review by PC Magazine here, where an HP Pavilion dv6-6135dx was reviewed with AMD's A8-3500M Llano chip (1.5GHz and a maximum turbo speed of 2.4GHz).

They summarized it as having "good graphics performance [but] sluggish productivity performance."

The review continues. "The dv6-6135dx achieved an impressive 40 frames per second (fps) on our Crysis DirectX 10 (DX10) benchmark and 36.7fps on our Lost Planet 2 DX9 test. Granted, both results were obtained using medium quality settings at 1,024-by-768 resolution."

That's where the upbeat discussion ends, however. "The dv6-6135dx didn't fare as well on our productivity and multimedia tests. Its PCMark 7 score of 1,632 was more than 400 points below what we saw from the Core i5-powered Lenovo IdeaPad V570-1066A9U (2,066) and almost 300 points lower than the score from the Toshiba Satellite P755-S5215, which uses a Core i3 chip. It also trailed the pack on the CPU-intensive CineBench R11.5 benchmark with a score of 1.88."

And the review goes on to cite lower multimedia performance as well. "Multimedia performance was similar; the dv6-6135dx needed 7 minutes 45 seconds to complete our Photoshop CS5 rendering test, while the IdeaPad did it in 4 minutes 10 seconds."

And The Tech Report had a similar assessment in its Llano review. "AMD has Intel utterly outclassed in integrated graphics...Where the Llano IGP [integrated graphics processor] delivers playable frame rates in some of the latest games, Intel's HD 3000 treads on the edge of uselessness."

So far so good. Until you get to this part. "The A8-3500M's four CPU cores are routinely and consistently slower than the Core i5-2410M's two cores, sometimes by margins that are borderline embarrassing."

Yes, Steve Jobs did say in his biography that Intel lacks superior graphics. "We've been telling them for years that their graphics [silicon] suck," according to Walter Isaacson's biography "Steve Jobs." That said, Intel's strategy is, as PC Magazine points out, less about raw gaming performance and more about accelerating multimedia, which has broader application in the market.

Apple no doubt seriously considers a lot of hardware options for all of its products. But an Air with the Llano chip on the verge of commercial production? That makes for an interesting rumor, nothing more.