Setting Expectations

An old middle school friend of mine is obsessed with Apple these days. She’s always asking me Mac questions or trying to get an idea of what’s coming down the pipe (Steve: if you’re listening, she’d drop her Palm in a heartbeat if she could edit Word/Excel docs on the iPhone).

Lately she’s been asking me about the updated MacBook and MacBook Pros, mainly trying to figure out when they’d be shipping. I told her it’d be late February at the earliest, but more likely March. It seems as if Apple is a very good customer of Intel’s and thus a late-February launch of mobile Penryn was possible. Instead of being elated, she was disappointed by the new notebooks.

How on earth could you be disappointed? We’re talking 45nm Penryn inside the MacBook and MacBook Pro, this is a huge deal. But no, she was disappointed because the upgrades seemed, at least on the surface, as silly and minor. Larger hard drives and slightly faster processors? She wanted a new design, a backlit keyboard on the base MacBook, she hadn’t the faintest clue of what 45nm high-k + metal gate transistors could mean for the new models.

And thus I find myself starting another Apple notebook review with a conversation about expectations.

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
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  • steveyballmer - Tuesday, July 08, 2008 - link

    ... being a mac!

    get real people! Vista is the thing!

    http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com">http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com
    Reply
  • alisonkay2008 - Friday, March 07, 2008 - link

    You can get the best Macbook Pro Case at Macbook Pro Case Reply
  • alisonkay2008 - Friday, March 07, 2008 - link

    Sorry... the link didn't work.
    http://www.macbook-pro-case.com">http://www.macbook-pro-case.com
    Reply
  • JAS - Tuesday, March 04, 2008 - link

    FWIW, MacWorld Labs is reporting that the new "entry level" MacBook Pro is about 10% faster than the model it replaces.

    http://www.macworld.com/article/132330/2008/03/mac...">http://www.macworld.com/article/132330/2008/03/mac...

    On this third year anniversary of my current laptop, I'm headed over to the Apple Store to purchase the 2.4 gHz model. Thanks to Anand for providing his helpful analysis.
    Reply
  • brunerd - Tuesday, March 04, 2008 - link

    Quick note about the Exposé key and some modifier keys:
    If you hold down Command when pressing Exposé (F3) it shows Desktop
    If you hold down Control when pressing it, it shows just the App Windows

    So you don't have to resort to fn-f12 or fn-f11 to get the above behavior.

    Thanks for the write up, nice to know it's running cooler.
    Reply
  • louieking - Tuesday, March 04, 2008 - link

    I was very disappointed that you did not compare the new Penryn 2.6GHz, 200GB- 7200RPM model with the 2007 Merom 2.6GHz, 200GB- 7200RPM model. I don’t think the tests were comparing apples for apples. I think most people interested in your reviews would have wanted to see the difference in overall performance (processing times, battery life) as it relates to lower voltage demands of the Penryn. This would have shown true comparison in battery performance since I suspect that the Penryn version would out-perform in all tests and still have better battery life by a few minutes. Lastly, I think many folks would have been intrigued with a test that showed Firewire 800 download speeds as it relates to battery life. This is an everyday task that would make a difference for a professional MacBook Pro user.

    PS. It’s not too late to WOW the world with your review since you usually beat everyone else to the punch.

    Thanks for your insight.
    Reply
  • azca - Monday, March 03, 2008 - link

    Hint: you can use a tiny driver/software to control the frequency of the intel cpus to show better comparison in your charts:

    http://www.coolbook.se/CoolBook.html">http://www.coolbook.se/CoolBook.html

    Please, if you can, use this for your next review so that you can have better apple-to-apple comparison.

    You can also use the program to undervolt the cpu and hence measure the thermal output and lifespan of battery etc.

    Thank you.
    Reply
  • Pete248 - Monday, March 03, 2008 - link

    While the MacBook Pro keyboard isn't bad, I'm really wandering, why Apple didn't switch to the new keyboard they now use in the MacBook, the Air and the external keyboards.
    Having tried both side by side, the new keyboard feels more definite than the MacPro keyboard. And its probably less susceptible to dust, crumbs and water - the later killing the MacBook Pro keyboard easily - even in traces.
    With a new keyboard I would have pulled the trigger for a purchase, now I'm holding back to see what comes within the next 3 months.

    Reply
  • Wolfpup - Monday, March 03, 2008 - link

    The review says Intel's upcoming video would help the Macbook Pro with Blu Ray playback. Presumably that should have said help the Macbook, as the Pro doesn't use integrated video, and has already had a GPU that accelerates Blu Ray playback for most of a year.

    [quote]MelCarnahan, 2 hours ago
    The author claims Apple picked the right CPU partner in Intel, yet these Intel CPUs could not come close to matching a 32nm Quad Core IBM Cell processor with 2000 MHz FSB. It is disingenuous to compare these Intel egg fryers with a single core PowerPC with a 133MHz FSB. Clearly the Cell processor is superior both in performance and battery life. Only those who wish to use their Yonahs to fry eggs prefer Intel. [/quote]

    Is this some kind of joke? If so, I don't get it. There's so much wrong with this post I don't know where to start, and someone else can do a far better job explaining why, but off the top of my head:

    Cell is a TERRIBLE general purpose CPU. It gets destroyed by Netburst architecture, let alone Intel's modern CPUs. It's great for specific things, but would be terrible for a computer (and is very questionable for a game system for that matter...)

    As far as I know, Intel is a who process ahead of anything Cell is produced on. Geez, the PS3 version is only now hitting 65nm.

    I have no idea why Cell would run COOLER. If anything I'd assume the reverse is true, and certainlly it is anyway because AFAIK there's no 45nm Cell (let alone 32nm as claimed).

    [quote]The Yonah fans sound distinctly like one of those unarmored Humvees with its muffler blown off. The Merom 2.2 Macbook Pro is an improvement but still far hotter, louder and short-batteried compared to the PowerPC. [/quote]

    The Macbook Pro's I've used are dead silent unless they're pushed-but that's a case design issue. I have no idea how they compare to the G4 that was used in terms of the power they use, but I don't think it was much different, and certainly Intel's CPUs would destroy those G4s in terms of power/performance.
    Reply
  • MelCarnahan - Monday, March 03, 2008 - link

    The author claims Apple picked the right CPU partner in Intel, yet these Intel CPUs could not come close to matching a 32nm Quad Core IBM Cell processor with 2000 MHz FSB. It is disingenuous to compare these Intel egg fryers with a single core PowerPC with a 133MHz FSB. Clearly the Cell processor is superior both in performance and battery life. Only those who wish to use their Yonahs to fry eggs prefer Intel.

    Secondly, Macbook and Macbook Pro keyboards are a disaster. Forget bells and whistles and multitouch. They don't even get the basics right. These are basically what was long derided as cheap chiclet keyboards for many years. The backlighting is frivolous when you consider that even at the dimmest setting, the screen is enough to light up a room. The screen is certainly bright enough to light up both the room and the keyboard. The first and most important requirement of any keyboard is a dedicated, full-size page up and page down key. Second, full-size arrow keys. Even the first TRS-80s got this right and Apple still can't get it right. They could create a feature where you waddle your elbows like a duck while holding up three fingers and bending your knees and then the page scrolls down a page - or they could just include a proper page-up and page-down key.

    The Yonah fans sound distinctly like one of those unarmored Humvees with its muffler blown off. The Merom 2.2 Macbook Pro is an improvement but still far hotter, louder and short-batteried compared to the PowerPC.

    For solutions see: http://www.terrasoftsolutions.com">http://www.terrasoftsolutions.com

    Reply

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