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Planning Ahead (on Notebook Purchases)
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Poobah
Picture of Chuck M
posted
Just to help you plan your purchases,(i.e., time your Mac purchases), you might
consider the following information. Some people claim that whenever you feel
like making a purchase is the right time to purchase. That's not a careful way
of buying Macs, but perhaps there are extenuating circumstances.

You have a choice of an Intel "TICK" or a "TOCK" computer. The "TOCK" will offer unusually
large improvements this year, possibly due to the dearth of past improvements. "TICK"
has always meant a new manufacturing process, with minimal speed improvements. "TOCK"
has always meant a speed "bump," with zero process improvement. Some questions to answer:
  • Can you wait 'til November, and will you have the money? There might be price increases.
  • Will the Nehalem processors demand significant changes (improvements???) in Mac OS X?


Setting Expectations

quote:
For the past couple of years Intel has been on this tick-tock model of CPU releases. Every “tock”, which happens once every two years, Intel introduces a brand new CPU architecture, in this case that’d be the 65nm Conroe/Merom based Core 2 Duo CPUs. The "ticks" happen the alternate year (when no "tock" is going on), where performance enhancements are minor but the transistor feature size goes down. Penryn is a “tick”, it’s a 45nm derivative of the Conroe/Merom architecture.



The new MacBook and MacBook Pro can be looked at as “tick” notebooks, as they are both based on Intel’s 45nm Penryn core. The CPU product name is still Core 2 Duo, but the core itself is smaller and runs cooler.

Because Penryn is built on a smaller manufacturing process (45nm vs. 65nm), Intel can cram in more transistors into the same space. Penryn is thus left with some architectural enhancements, although most of them fairly minor when it comes to real world performance (the full list can be found here). Penryn does add support for SSE4 instructions, however as we’ve seen on the PC side it’s going to take a while for developers to start using the new instructions and thus it can’t be counted as much of a performance-boosting feature today.



The two chips in the center are 65nm Merom (left) and 45nm Penryn (right) - note how much smaller the Penryn die is.

Penryn power consumption does go down considerably compared to its 65nm predecessor thanks to the 45nm manufacturing process. However the CPU is only a percentage of a notebook’s power budget, so it’s tough to say what improvement this will have on battery life (although you can guarantee that it will be positive).

As a “tick” in Intel’s cadence, Penryn is designed to at first slot into current motherboards. So with minimal effort, Apple was able to use Penryn in its existing Santa Rosa designs (Santa Rosa refers to the notebook “platform”, mainly the CPU/chipset combination).

The next tock won’t happen until the end of this year with Nehalem, also a 45nm chip but with many new features and markedly higher performance. Nehalem will require a brand new board design and thus you can expect to see larger changes in Apple’s Nehalem based MacBook/MacBook Pro updates.





One More Thing for 2008: Montevina based MacBook/Pro

quote:
Mobile Penryn will get another update towards the end of this year, with a brand new chipset - codenamed Montevina. Montevina will bring DDR3 support to notebooks, which can also help battery life thanks to DDR3’s lower operating voltage (1.5V vs. 1.8V). Montevina will also use a faster integrated graphics core (helping the MacBook) and a lower power chipset.

The Mobile GM45/47 chipsets are an integral part of Montevina and will feature the new GMA X4500HD graphics core. The X4500HD will add full hardware H.264 decode acceleration, so Apple could begin shipping MacBook Pros with Blu-ray drives after the Montevina upgrade without them being a futile addition. With full hardware H.264 decode acceleration your CPU would be somewhere in the 0 - 10% range of utilization while watching a high definition movie, allowing you to watch a 1080p movie while on battery power. The new graphics core will also add integrated HDMI and DisplayPort support.

The 4-series chipset also enables 1066MHz FSB support, so you can expect Montevina based notebooks to come with slightly different clock speed CPUs (2.26GHz, 2.40GHz, 2.53GHz, 2.80GHz and 3.06GHz at the very high end). By the end of this year Montevina will also support a 45W TDP quad-core mobile processor running at 2.53GHz.

Montevina will also add native support for WiMAX, which could be interesting given that Apple’s iPhone partner isn’t backing the standard while Sprint is.

The special small form factor CPU package that Intel supplied Apple with for the MacBook Air will also become more mainstream with Montevina. While Intel currently only offers the 22 x 22mm small form factor CPUs at 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz frequencies, with Montevina it will go up to 2.26GHz and 2.40GHz. This could conceivably allow Apple to build an even thinner MacBook without sacrificing CPU speed.

Montevina will be yet another evolutionary step on the way to the Nehalem based notebooks, but it will require a board change so Apple could also be tempted to introduce larger changes in that refresh as well.

The timeline for all of this is pretty simple; you can expect Montevina before the end of 2008 (Intel lists it as June on its internal roadmaps, but you can expect to see it in notebooks anytime in Q3). Despite being officially released this year, Nehalem won’t be in notebooks until sometime next year so the big performance upgrade will be a 2009 thing.

That leaves us with what we have today: a CPU update to Apple’s notebook lineup. Obviously CPUs aren’t the only things that get an update as Apple does include larger hard drives and some other minor tweaks in the new models, but the star of the show is Penryn and the problem is that Apple doesn’t usually draw attention to things like that.

Much of the engineering prowess behind the MacBook Air was in Intel’s small form factor Merom CPU packaging, yet Apple’s focus was on what was made possible by the CPU: an ultra-thin notebook. With Penryn, the improvements are far less clear. Performance is greater, but only really in SSE4 optimized applications (of which very few exist, especially under OS X). Battery life should be improved but Apple managed to change its methods of reporting battery life alongside the updated MacBook introduction, so it’s tough to make a direct comparison based on Apple’s information alone (luckily we’ve got a way around that called benchmarking). Needless to say, there are improvements under the hood of these new Macs, it’s just a matter of quantifying them.

With a company like Apple where improvements are normally accompanied by visible changes, if they aren’t it’s very easy to assume that nothing has changed. Today we’re going to try and find out whether or not that’s true.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Chuck M,
 
Posts: 2075 | Registered: June 23, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Poobah
Picture of Chuck M
posted Hide Post
Electronista writes:

quote:
When Apple will launch the finished notebook is unknown, although the company has to wait on Intel to finish releasing all its Centrino 2 platform's processors and chipsets in early August before it can release a complete lineup, as the California system builder is likely to need Intel's X4500 mobile integrated graphics for some systems.
 
Posts: 2075 | Registered: June 23, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Poobah
Picture of Chuck M
posted Hide Post
According to MacWorld

quote:
Intel's Quad-core Mobile Chip coming Next Month

by Sumner Lemon, IDG News Service Jul 15, 2008 9:00 am

Intel will release its first quad-core processor for laptops next month, rounding out a broad update to its mobile computing platform.


"We're bringing quad-core to mobile in August," said Sujan Kamran, regional marketing manager for client platforms at Intel in Singapore. Kamran declined to disclose specifics of the quad-core chip, which will carry Intel's Core 2 Extreme moniker.

Getting a quad-core processor into a laptop is more about bragging rights than a genuine boost in performance. Very little PC software is designed to take advantage of multiple cores and it's unclear what performance benefits a quad-core chip would offer over a dual-core chip, such as the 3.06GHz Core 2 Extreme QX9100.
 
Posts: 2075 | Registered: June 23, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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