Major updates to Mac Pro and Macbook/Air/Pro lineups imminent

As Rumors has previously reported, a new generation of 32-nanometer Intel chips (Arrandale for mobile, Gulftown/Westmere-EP on the desktop) are ready for Apple to build several new Macs around. Several factors have kept Apple from being the first to adopt these chips, but sources now report that the time for their announcement is approaching.

Some widely published reports about the 2010 Mac Pro were based on information deliberately falsified by a single source, but other than the specific date given, much of the information that has been reported is essentially accurate: a new lineup of Mac Pros with a high-end 12-core (dual sockets, 6 physical/12 logical cores per chip) model have been under development in Cupertino for some time and are now close to being ready to ship. The 12-core model will be extremely expensive, and few workloads will fully utilize anywhere near that many CPU cores; in fact, many users rarely need more than 4 physical/8 logical cores such as on the Core i7 iMac. The high end of the Mac Pro family will continue to evolve, but expect to see some of the most important changes happening at the entry level rather than the high end.

As for the Macbook, Macbook Air and Macbook Pro, the Intel “Arrandale” chip family (Mobile Core i3, i5, i7) has been available for some time but Apple has delayed the announcement of products based on them for a number of reasons. These reasons are now largely outdated or have been addressed — such as a large supply of existing Core 2 based models which has now dwindled to near-critically low levels — and although even Cupertino hasn’t set a fixed announcement date yet, it is reported to now be less (likely much less) than a month away.

We will be posting more detailed analysis of each product lineup in the coming days, but here is a quick summary of the systems we anticipate seeing in the near future, based on recent reports of prototypes. Not all of these configurations will necessarily become shipping products:

Mac Pro

  • Most models move up to Xeon 5600 family, though some variants may use other Xeon chips. There has been much discussion of non-Xeon chips, which will be addressed in an upcoming article on the Mac Pro, but little reason to expect such a move based on the best evidence available to us.
  • Quad-core (single socket) based on Bloomfield or Lynnfield Xeon chips using existing 45nm technology, to reduce entry-level pricing. 1-3 configurations all costing less than current equivalent quads.
  • Six-core (single socket) Gulftown system as a new mid-range option. Comparable to existing quad core pricing or slightly higher.
  • Eight-core (dual socket) based on Westmere-EP, substantial performance gains over existing octo-core systems
  • 12-core (dual socket) based on Westmere-EP. 1-2 configurations.
  • All configs will support 2 or 3 channels of DDR3-1333 memory, a substantial gain over 1066MHz memory used in existing systems.
  • New AMD (ATi) 5000-series and nVIDIA 400-series graphics cards. The AMD Radeon 5870 is a leading contender due its superior price-performance attributes and leading benchmark numbers.

Macbook

  • Core 2 based model similar to existing one, but with a few changes to possibly include faster CPU clock speed. Arrandale (Core i3) prototypes are in development but there is reason to believe that these will not ship until later in the year.

Macbook Air

  • Low-voltage Arrandale processors with two physical and four logical cores via HyperThreading. “Official” clock speeds may be substantially lower than current Core 2 systems, but have very aggressive Turbo allowing them to nearly double those clock speeds when operating temperatures/power dissipation are low and/or only one core is in use. Overall performance should be considerably improved over Core 2.
  • Integrated Arrandale graphics core with performance similar to or better than the current nVIDIA 9400M GPU.
  • Battery life improvements
  • Some prototypes retain the current 13-inch 16:10 display, but most have 16:9 widescreen displays.
  • New, improved SSD storage options.

Macbook Pro

  • All models almost certainly based on new Arrandale CPU/GPU chip (see below), with high-end models adding discrete graphics processors by AMD up to and including the mobile 5870 which is considerably faster than the nVIDIA 9600M-GT in the current lineup. Arrandale’s on-package GPU chip is clocked differently in different chip models, so performance varies but should never be less than the current nVIDIA 9400M.
  • Co-developed with AMD and Intel, Apple will employ a new software technology that intelligently switches between the Integrated (Arrandale) and Discrete (AMD) graphics processors in systems which have both. This will save power, and in some cases, allow both GPUs to be used together for a substantial performance boost.
  • All three models (currently 13, 15 and 17 inches) will be revamped with slightly modified enclosures that sport wider 16:9 displays. The change in shape has several advantages including making more room for bigger batteries and improving cooling characteristics which will allow for faster CPUs and GPUs. No major changes in overall display size expected, despite some prototypes with 12 and 14 inch panels.
  • A quad-core “Clarksfield” CPU has been seen in prototypes, but there are many reasons to doubt its suitability for a production system. In our opinion, the odds are against it; we will examine this further in an upcoming MBP-specific article.
  • New, improved SSD storage options.

Given that Apple itself is still waiting on the results of initial production test-runs of these machines by its overseas manufacturing partners (avoiding a repeat of issues seen in early 27-inch iMacs is something the company considers vitally important) and other key “milestones” which must be verified before announcement/shipping dates can be set, Rumors is not quite ready to begin making predictions for those dates; but with the possible exception of the Macbook or Mac Pro, expect them within days or weeks, not months. More specific predictions will have to wait until Apple itself has made those decisions and our sources can pass the information on to us.

Roadmap documents acquired by Rumors in mid-2009 suggest that Apple originally expected to update its laptop lineups earlier this month, and the Mac Pro in early to mid April — but there have clearly been changes to its plans since that time, as there always are when the rubber actually meets the road.

Stay tuned for much more on this and all things Apple in the days ahead — embargoes are falling like dominoes and we have much more to report on several topics very soon. In the meantime, you can always reach us to ask questions, submit comments, or dish the dirt by emailing us (rumors@macosrumors.com), following @MacOSRumors on Twitter, or simply submitting a comment using the form below.


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  • http://xerces.com/ dalaixerces

    This is something we're still trying to get clearer answers about….but it's our current impression that Optimus is meant to work with an nVIDIA-nVIDIA pairing, not an Intel-nVIDIA arrangement. It could be adapted, theoretically, but may not have all of the same benefits. AMD/ATi has apparently been working on a solution intended specifically for pairing with Intel's Arrandale IGP.

    If anyone has evidence to the contrary, we'd be interested to hear it. Even with our friends in Cupertino, there's plenty that we don't know for certain on any number of topics — and for Apple itself, many of these things have been moving targets in recent months. Which helps explain the delay.

    The Arrandale IGP is a big step up from previous GMA designs, and we've been told specifically that all but the very slowest-clocked (166-266MHz, whereas the Air could use chips with IGPs clocked at 500MHz+ and the Pros 700+) versions will match or exceed the performance of an nVIDIA 9400M.

    As for the CPU, even a low end ultra-low voltage Arrandale should be very competitive with the fastest Core 2 mobile chips. So I don't think you have too much to worry about with the new Air.

  • scottsdaleone

    Again, thanks for the reply.

    Actually, if we read Nvidia's website, several Asus models are the first notebooks to use Optimus. In several of them, the ION2 platform is used with Nvidia chipset and dedicated graphics. However, Nvidia makes a point to say that the Nvidia can be used with Intel's chipset and that is the main point to keep Nvidia relevant in a post Nvidia chipset world (aka Nvidia chipsets aren't licensed for Nehalem CPUs).

    If we take the U30Jc as an example… it has an Intel chipset, Intel Core i3 CPU, and an Nvidia 310m… most importantly, it uses Optimus.

    CPU – Intel Core i3 I3-350M / 2.26 GHz
    Chipset – Mobile Intel HM55 Express
    Integrated Graphics – GMA IGP
    Dedicated Graphics – Nvidia 310m

    I definitely don't have any inside information, but I sure hope that the Optimus technology makes its way into the new Mac notebooks. If Apple uses the Arrandale CPUs, it seems that Apple would have to want to keep battery performance great, but using Intel's IGP just seems too inferior from what Apple has used since October 2008. I really think the 310m is about what Apple would use (in MB, 13″ MBP, and MBA – along with Mac mini & low-end iMac) and it supposedly is about 25% faster than the 9400m. Hopefully Apple would choose to use 512 MB RAM, but it's much more realistic that they would use 256 MB RAM – as they like to go as cheap as possible. The higher end MBPs would probably use a 330 GT.

    So, here is my HOPE perspective. I hope Apple uses either an ATI dedicated or hybrid solution in all Mac notebooks or uses Nvidia Optimus in them. I just don't want to be “STUCK” with Intel's GMA IGP.

    Thanks again for the insight.

  • jvis

    “All models almost certainly based on new Arrandale CPU/GPU chip (see below), with high-end models adding discrete graphics processors by AMD up to and including the mobile 5870 which is considerably faster than the nVIDIA 9600M-GT in the current lineup. Arrandale’s on-package GPU chip is clocked differently in different chip models, so performance varies but should never be less than the current nVIDIA 9400M.”

    I'm slightly confused, does this mean that the 13″ range of Macbook Pros will only have the Intel IGP's? Is there a chance of them adding a low-end discrete option into the 13″?

    Thanks

  • http://xerces.com/ dalaixerces

    Of course no one (even some of the people working on this at Apple aren't privvy to these sorts of “big picture” decisions in anything more than general terms) can say for certain what the exact final specs/model lineup will be….but from what we've heard, quite consistently, there will be at least one 13-inch model with discrete graphics. This was one of the objectives of the present development effort, and the greater energy/thermal efficiency of the Arrandale chipset helped make such a machine possible.

    The changes to the display (moving to 16:9, though it's possible that some models may stick with 16:10), and associated changes to the enclosure, also help make it possible to squeeze more into that little notebook.

    Most if not all Macbook Pro models will be moving to Arrandale, so they will all have the on-package integrated GPU….but Apple has been trying to produce a 13-inch model with discrete graphics for some time, so we expect that they'll be able to deliver.

  • R. Vail

    I'm still hoping Apple might again offer a 20″ monitor (1680×1050), updated with LED backlighting and a faster screen response rate. Not everyone wants a 23″, 24″, or bigger screen size.
    To be offered along with a single (6-core Gulftown) CPU Mac Pro.

  • R. Vail

    I'm still hoping Apple might again offer a 20″ monitor (1680×1050), updated with LED backlighting and a faster screen response rate. Not everyone wants a 23″, 24″, or bigger screen size.
    To be offered along with a single (6-core Gulftown) CPU Mac Pro.