Earlier this week Apple announced its MacBook Air, and within hours we had the mystery of its "60% smaller" CPU uncovered. Or at least we thought.

It turns out there's even more depth to the CPU in the MacBook Air, it's even less conventional than we originally thought. Here's what happened over the past couple of days.

When Apple first made the announcement, we sent an email off to Intel to see exactly what CPU was used in the MacBook Air. As is usually the case with companies that work closely with Apple, including Intel, we got the usual "you have to ask Apple PR" response.

Intel, surely responding to tons of similar requests, put out the following official response:

"Intel provides its customers with a range of technology choices. If a customer requires a different technology feature-set, then where possible, Intel will work with them to develop a solution to meet their respective market needs, as we have done in this case."

But by then we'd already pieced together the puzzle and published our article.

 

The CPU in the MacBook Air is a 65nm Merom based Core 2 Duo, with a 4MB L2 cache, 800MHz FSB and runs at either 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz. The packaging technology used for this CPU is what makes it unique; the CPU comes in a package that was originally reserved for mobile Penryn due out in the second half of 2008 with the Montevina SFF Centrino platform. Intel accelerated the introduction of the packaging technology specifically for Apple it seems.

After our article went live, Intel followed up with some more detail on the CPU and chipset:

"The MacBook Air uses the Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor and Intel 965GMS chipset with integrated Gfx using a new miniaturized package technology. This new CPU and chipset allows for approximately 60% reduction in total footprint. The Core 2 Duo Processor TDP is 20 watts. The Macbook Air is using existing Core 2 Duo technology with a lower voltage spec in a new miniaturized packaging design. It is not a ULV processor."

The CPU and chipset are both reduced in footprint, we assumed that this might be the case but lacked the visual evidence from Apple to back it up (at least until we can get a MacBook Air in house and take it apart). If you look back at our Montevina SFF diagram from IDF you'll see that the overall platform footprint reduction of 58% comes through reducing both CPU and chipset size, so it makes sense that Intel applied the same technology to the 965 and Merom chips in this case.

 

The line about lower voltages threw us, we originally assumed that the Core 2 Duos used in the MacBook Air were the L7700 and L7500, both Low Voltage 65nm Meroms running at somewhere between 0.9V and 1.2000V. A little more digging revealed that the chips used in the MacBook Air weren't LV parts after all, but they were lower voltage than the standard mobile Core 2 processors.

The 1.6GHz chip in the MacBook Air runs at 1.0V - 1.25V, while the 1.8GHz part runs at 1.1125V - 1.25V. Note that this is less voltage than a standard mobile Core 2 Duo, but more voltage than the Low Voltage chips. The TDP of these not-quite-low-voltage Core 2s reflects the increased voltage; while the L7700 and L7500 have a 17W TDP, the chips used in the MacBook Air are rated at 20W (standard mobile Core 2 Duo chips are 35W parts).

CPU Core Clock Speeds Voltage TDP
Intel Core 2 Duo 65nm Merom 1.80GHz - 2.60GHz 1.0375V - 1.3000V 35W
MacBook Air CPU 65nm Merom 1.60GHz - 1.80GHz 1.0V - 1.25V 20W
Intel Core 2 Duo (Low Voltage) 65nm Merom 1.40GHz - 1.80GHz 0.9V - 1.2000V 17W
Intel Core 2 Duo (Ultra Low Voltage) 65nm Merom 1.06GHz - 1.33GHz 0.8V - 0.975V 10W

 

Why did Apple and Intel opt for a hotter than necessary chip for use in the MacBook Air? Here's where our trail goes cold but we suspect that in order to bring the smaller CPU/chipset packaging to market earlier, some tradeoffs had to be made. Remember that CPU packaging controls far more than how big the chip is, but also governs FSB frequency, power delivery and getting data in and out of the chip itself.

The shiny die connects to hundreds of pins on the bottom of the package. The more pins that need to be connected, the higher the FSB frequency and the smaller the chip the more strain this puts on the packaging technology itself. It's quite possible that one side effect of the small form factor CPU package is worse power delivery, requiring that the chip be given a higher than normal operating voltage.

The bigger concern however has nothing to do with packaging technology or operating voltages, but overall thermals. The MacBook Pro runs very hot and while the 20W TDP of the MacBook Air is significantly lower than the 35W TDP of the Pro, it's high for such a small chassis. We won't know for sure how hot the Air will get until it's in our hands but the SSD route seems like an even better bet now that we know a little more about what we're dealing with. Cutting down heat in that thin chassis will be very important, and moving to solid state storage is the only real option you have there.

A Discussion of Specs
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  • Mathue - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    What, you can't operate a screwdriver? Reply
  • plinden - Friday, January 18, 2008 - link

    Nope, I took a look at one yesterday at the expo.

    It's not seamless. The bottom has about a dozen screws. I spoke to a rep and he told me everything's soldered to the board and only an Apple tech could change anything. So your warranty would be invalid if you changed the HDD or battery or RAM yourself.

    That said, since the insides are so easily accessible and an Apple tech can replace the HDD, battery and RAM (from my experience of Apple "geniuses", they're good but not with any technical skill better than I have) you could probably change things yourself if you had any level of soldering skills above beginner.
    Reply
  • 8steve8 - Thursday, January 17, 2008 - link


    here is a good table of ultra laptops

    http://steve8.selfip.info/?p=41">http://steve8.selfip.info/?p=41

    personally id like a 4gb penryn air with uefi 2.0
    2gb ram when ram is practically free.... well that sucks.
    Reply
  • michal1980 - Thursday, January 17, 2008 - link

    You get some of the other laptops pointed out in the other thread. Because a 3/4 inch thick laptops around 3lbs that come with all the ports, and disk drives exsit on the market.

    Yet once again the media, and to some degree Anandtech, seem to potray apple as some revolutionary company that is doing things no one ever has done before.

    And yes the ipod when it came out set a standard... But the ipod time is over. And now apple is just making 'pretty' things. And without even saying they are first, let the media do it.

    For example: after every mac event or launch, the local news stations cover it, and talk about all these great new apple product.

    Then the next day on local radio the talking heads that dont know much about tech,ooh and ahhh over apple, and the new air.

    Dell/hp/sony/toshiba/asus can launch a product.... and the media is silent.

    Whats this media love affair with apple?

    Apple can start selling apples tommorow, and the media and the drones will ohh and ahh, saying that they've never seen an apple before and it tastes so good.
    Reply
  • yesno - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    The media love affair with Apple is that it takes technologies that already exisit, and packages them in a form that is actually useful.

    There are fewer iPhones than Windows Mobile phones, but far more data traffic from iPhones than from Windows Mobile. Not just a litte bit more.

    Why? Web browsing on a cell phone certainly isn't "new." But Apple is the first company to make the experience pleasant, easy, and accessible to people who don't want to futz around with engineer-desinged usability nightmares.

    One example on the Macbook Air is Apple's implementation of remote drive sharing and Netbooting, which is, by far, the slickest and best implemantation of that old technology that I've ever seen.

    They're even better at making useable Unix tools than other companies. The command syntax of hditutil, for instance, is much better than your typical cryptic Unix syntax.

    I know A LOT about hardware, software, and technology. I know more than anyone else that Apple's technologies aren't usually "new" in the sense that no one has ever done thing "x" before. And yet, I will usually buy an Apple product rather than a competing product, usually paying more for the privilege. Because I know that it work the first time around, well and intuitively. My time is valuable.

    Just like I set up Linux machines for people, but wouldn't use one for my ordinary desktop environment, it is possible to know and understand technology and still prefer Apple products.
    Reply
  • rADo2 - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    "seem to potray apple as some revolutionary company that is doing things no one ever has done before" - but isn't that true? There is **no other company** that cannot fit Ethernet port, at least 3 USBs, PCMCIA card reader, DVD-RW writer, flash card reader, and many other neccesary things into 3 lbs. computer.

    Apple did it first!

    It is the first company that created a notebook that cannot have external mouse and USB dongle connected at the same time, the first company that created a notebook that cannot play DVDs and/or insert CDs, and the first company that prevents you to connect to hotel internet (via Ethernet port).

    You see, Apple is first for many things :-) (it does not matter all of them are negative)

    Unlike e.g. Toshiba, less than 2 lbs. in its R500, DVD-RW, Ethernet, card reader, PCMCIA, all included.

    http://toshiba.com/R500">http://toshiba.com/R500
    Reply
  • lemonadesoda - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    I do agree with your "business use" missing features. Most people with deep pockets dont want TWO laptops, just one. And that means a laptop that can be used on business and travel.

    No ethernet port is a big omission.
    No PCMCIA port is a big omission too. (Even if only to add environment certified high security wifi, or an ethernet card).

    ...although a LOT cheaper to build.

    But 2 USB ports are needed as a minimum! Especially when without the ethernet and PCMCIA.
    Reply
  • Mathue - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    Man, you are incredibly bitter for someone who hasn't even seen this notebook in person. Seriously, you need to walk away from the online tech news for a bit. Reply
  • michael2k - Friday, January 18, 2008 - link

    Does it help that Anand wants one too? Reply
  • Griswold - Friday, January 18, 2008 - link

    You hit the nail on the head. One possible explanation for this type of mass behaviour could be that apple managed to plant this little seed into the minds of the general public and the media drones, that tells them to think that apple and its products are, without exceptions, "cool and hip". And because most people want to be considered "cool and hip" instead of boring and square, they love to talk about it, hoping to catch some of the imaginary shining light that surrounds the product for themselves and of course to cater to the alleged public demand to hear about amazing thingies all day long. Similar to the funny things people will do and say to get associated with movie or music stars...

    This has nothing to do with the actual quality of the product (and apple does have nice products), its rather a brilliant marketing feat they pulled off at some point in time that enhances the value of their company and products without spending too much on marketing - the media drones will do it for them. Brilliant, just brilliant. And perhaps the best thing apple has ever achieved.
    Reply

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