Not Arrandale, but Better Graphics

Apple is up to something. For the past 1.5 years every single Mac has shipped with some form of NVIDIA graphics, standard, regardless of price. These are all G9x based GPUs with full support for OpenCL. From the looks of it, Apple is trying to broaden its install base of OpenCL compliant machines. In preparation for what I'm not really sure, but something is coming.

The unwillingness to ship a Mac without real GPGPU support leads us to the current problem with the 13-inch MacBook Pro. There's not enough motherboard real estate to include an Arrandale Core i3/i5 CPU plus an NVIDIA discrete GPU like Apple does in the new 15 and 17-inch models. Rather than sacrifice the GPU, Apple sacrificed CPU speed.

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro starts with a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor based on the three year old Penryn core. It's an upgrade from the 2.26GHz model that shipped with last year's model, but no where near as fast as the Core i5 you get with the 15-inch MBP.


Click to Enlarge

Apple justifies the mild CPU upgrade by including a much more potent GPU: the GeForce 320M. The 320M has 48 cores up from the 16 that were in last year's GeForce 9400M. Like the 9400M, the 320M has a full fledged chipset to go along with it. A single chip for the CPU and one for the chipset/GPU, that's how Apple is able to keep its current motherboard/chassis design with the upgrade. Something Apple didn't want to sacrifice by going to the Core i5.

Looking at Intel's roadmaps, there are no package shrinks planned for Arrandale throughout 2010. If Apple wants to move the 13-inch platform to a Core i3/i5/i7 it needs to redesign its system to somehow make it fit or pray for a NVIDIA Arrandale chipset.

Is the upgraded NVIDIA GPU worth it? To find out I ran a handful of gaming benchmarks, both under Windows 7/Boot Camp and OS X (thank you Valve). We'll start with World of Warcraft running at 800 x 600:

World of Warcraft Performance - Windows 7

Performance is much better than last year's GeForce 9400M, you're looking at more than double the frame rate. Our WoW test actually went from choppy to playably smooth on the new 13-inch MacBook Pro compared to last year's 15-inch with a 9400M. The GeForce 320M also offers around 80% of the performance of the GT 330M in the 15-inch. The benefit? You don't have to worry about switching between GPUs, there's only one to deal with in this system.

Next up is Left 4 Dead under Windows 7:

Up the resolution to 1440 x 900 (we had to resort to an external display to get it this high on the 13-inch) and the performance improvement over last year's 9400M remains consistent. The new 13-inch MacBook Pro has roughly twice the gaming performance of the GeForce 9400M found in last year's. At higher resolutions the gap between the 320M and GT 330M widens however. The 320M now offers less than 70% of the performance of the GT 330M. For its native panel resolution, the 13-inch's 320M is sufficient however. Apple usually does a good job of hardware selection.

While Source engine performance under OS X isn't all that great, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is at least playable in even the most GPU intense games Valve offers:

Half Life 2 Episode 2 - OS X

The performance improvement over the 9400M here isn't as great, but still noticeable. The 320M offers 78% of the performance of the GT 330M. Overall I would call the GPU upgrade the 13-inch MacBook Pro received significant, but it's only something you'll notice if you're a gamer. If you aren't playing 3D games on your notebook, the upgrade is mostly meaningless today.

Looking forward, I suspect that Apple may stick with its GPU strategy for at least one more cycle. While Sandy Bridge (due out in 2011) will have much improved graphics performance, I don't believe it will have much of a compute focus. We may not see that from Intel until Ivy Bridge in 2012 or Haswell in 2013. Apple has been talking to AMD about Llano so that's another potential solution for small form factor Mac notebooks moved forward.

The Portability Balance General Performance: A Mild Improvement
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  • runebinder - Saturday, June 26, 2010 - link

    Huh? I have a glossy screen too, abysmal is certainly not a word I'd associate with it. I'm sitting in a brightly lit room atm and having no issues with the screen at all. In a pitch dark room it's great. Yes the colours may be more accurate on the matte, however I much prefer the glossy, the contrast ratios are better and everything looks more vivid.

    If yours looks that bad I suggest you get it looked at as it sounds defective.
    Reply
  • Aenslead - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Another rather irrelevant review of an outdated, expensive, fruit-themed, fanboi toy that still cannot convince me to try it over an ASUS or CLEVO notebook.

    That's all I have to say. Have a nice one.
    Reply
  • mathias_mm - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Seriously, I wish people like you could just get banned. Why do you care to comment on the article if you have nothing constructive to say? It really is just flamebaiting, and everyone knows the Mac users will never stop using Macs because of crap like that, just like it's quite apparent you'll never even try a Mac. Reply
  • Aenslead - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    It's my opinion and I'm entitled to express it as I see fit. I'm an avid AT reader and I will share my thoughts whenever I want, however I want, regardless of what you think. And the fact that you replied means it wasn't an irrelevant comment for you. :)

    I as well have been reading AT since it began, and don't quite fancy how now every 5/10 reviews are somehow Apple related.

    And yes, I will never get a Mac.
    Reply
  • mathias_mm - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Okay, maybe I overreacted with the whole banning thing. I'm just sick and tired of this endless flaming it always ends up with, and it always starts with someone writing fanboi or whatever, in a comment saying "I'll never have none of that" or something else that means nothing. Why is that discussion so important to so many people? Is it a matter of pride to support x company instead of y?
    And that is why i decided to comment. The comment itself remains irrelevant, but the tone and the purpose of it (or at least the effect it usually has), is relevant if you value a meaningful discussion in the comments. Which i do.

    I also fail to see how the amount of time you've been here is relevant at all. I've been reading the site for what i guess must be around the same time, some times more often than others, but that doesn't mean i can come here and post whatever. And if Anand prefers to write more about Macs, too bad for you, I really doubt he ever started the site for you in the first place.

    And I will also state you should try a Mac seriously some time. I'm not saying buy one, but try t out somehow. Can it ever hurt? :)
    Reply
  • Aenslead - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    Totally agree. I do not think someone like Anand would care to please me - he is bright enough to do whatever he pleases with HIS site, which, I must say, is the one I fully trust in reviews and comments.

    My post was not meant to be productive, constructive or helpful at all - it was a rant. I complained about something I didn't like. Sort of like "why do women get PMS?!"

    I've gone through hell with Mac's, honestly. The business I own provides support for Mac and PC users alike - my latest fight was trying to get a conventional cablemodem-router network to work with a MacBook Pro, a 27" iMac, and some PCs. the MBP kept acquiring 189.170.xx.xx addys, whereas the DHCP was enabled and configured to 192.168.1.xx - setting it manually helped, but it did not enable discovery of the MBP, and could not configure a Calendar program to share schedule with the rest of the PCs.

    I found them less intuitive, more complicated, hardly friendly-user than even a Windows 95 PC.

    I have a PowerMac G4 and a 15" MBP (GF8500, C2D) at the office for software testing and I even tried once or twice to use them as my main working machines, but failed. Linux-failure type, you know? "It's cool, but... I just don't find my way through it".

    Maybe I'm a PC fanboi. Maybe it's what I enjoy the most, besides ranting. I will take a Core i5 Alienware M11x ANY DAY over this Mac.
    Reply
  • B3an - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    Aenslead, i totally agree with you.

    And i think Apple in general get way more press and coverage than they deserve, especially on yank sites.

    Also do not like how Anand always seems to be a little bias when reviewing Apple gear, he does not point out obvious floors like he would in other hardware reviews.
    Reply
  • zer0sum - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Maybe put a little more thought into your opinion next time...
    The last ten Anandtech reviews are as follows:

    HTC EVO 4G
    MBP 13
    Acer Ferrari One
    OSX Steam performance
    AVADirect Clevo W860CU
    Value SSD Roundup
    ASrock X58
    HP ZR30w LCD
    Asus U30Jc
    Nvidia GTX465

    Throw in at least 3-4 other stories about Asus Computex, Eee Pad and tablet as well.
    Hell, they haven't even mentioned the iphone 4 yet!!

    Whilst you might find an Asus or a clevo more to your liking a lot of people buy a 13" MBP pro because it has some truly impressive features over other brands

    Design, dimensions, weight, build quality, battery life, operating system, trackpad and gestures, firewire800, applications, etc.

    For reference I have a new 13" MBP, a 2008 15" MBP and a new MSI GX640.
    There is no perfect laptop for me and they all have their pros and cons obviously...
    Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Agreed - for a technical site there's an awful lot of Apple coverage even when there's little to write about while genuinely innovative and more technologically advanced machines are ignored. Specifically I'm surprised the site has never covered the new Sony Z series - Sony have managed to do what Apple claim isn't possible by having up to an i7 processor in a 13in chassis with an Nvidia GT 330m that's smaller and lighter than the 13in Apple Macbook as well as pack in *four* SSDs and packing a 1080p display. Despite all the power it packs, its hybrid graphics setup allows for long batterylife, it also offers an extended battery. I think there's a lot to benchmark and test there particularly the likes of Trim support and general performance of the quad SSDs. Reply
  • Tros - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    Care to mention a model number? I can only find the 13-inch Vaio VPCZ1190X on Sony's website, which comes with NONE of those features, except for a disclaimed 7.5-hour battery life. If you halved pretty much all of those specs and got rid of the GT330m, that matches the Vaio VPC1190X.

    And innovative? Not really. A keyboard backlight is innovative (and Sony was beaten to the punch by a few years). Auto-adjusting screen brightness is innovative (IIRC, Alienware did this a long time ago). Utilizing an accelerometer to shutdown HDDs before crash-impact is innovative (credit to IBM ThinkPads). The multi-touch finger gestures are innovative (first saw this in X11). Switching to a LLVM compiler to transparently take advantage of GPGPU power when it's magnitudes faster/efficient than CPU computation is innovative (Apple). This Vaio laptop? This is doubling transistors among of a sea of manufacturers that believe doubling transistors is the only way to make a better PC. The 13-inch MBP gets special attention for the innovations it brings to the tech-world, while nearly all PC manufacturers depend heavily on CPU-upgrades to sell their machines. More power to AT for focusing on innovations, rather than every variant of laptop that has a few hundred more megahertz.
    Reply

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