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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  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    I have a brand new Macbook on my desk here at work, as well as newish (Phenom X3) desktop with Windows 7.

    For a while it's been the case that I don't really care which OS I use for random tasks.

    On balance, I prefer windows simply because I can game when I want to.

    I never have the huge number of problems people seem to run into. Infact, I've had to force the Macbook off by holding down the power button more than once, so neither is perfect.
    Reply
  • Ninjahedge - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Been there, done that.

    After my mother had her laptop crash consistantly when using school scheduling and grading software that the schools tech staff could not fix (many lost days in productivity) I have to say Apple is not necessarily always golden.

    Does that mean that PC is better for this? Not necessarily (as I do not have any direct experience with that. Apple has done a good job flooding the Education segment with their products from almost day one. Hell, I still remember "computer" class on an Apple IIe!!!!!)

    The only frustrating thing I find about the Mac is simply, well, simplicity. One person put it on another post it is the difference between "tone" and a 40 band graphic equalizer. Apple has a good amp, and a simple "tone" knob". PC's have that equalizer. Problem with PC's is that 4 BILLION different companies make those equalizers and YMMV (The Yiddish Equalizer puts Bass on the RHS!!! ;) )

    Anyway, that 1 day thing is a crock. I DO AGREE however, that you need to use BOTH for more than a few minutes to get a feel for them, their OS, their available programs and hardware and how they fit your lifestyle.

    If either stank, they would not be around this long.

    Period.
    Reply
  • The0ne - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Don't blame you guys for wanting some simple and stable to run on. You have what is essentially given as-is to you. You work within its limitation as well, as with all Apple products. So while this type of "closed" product is good for some it's not so great with others.

    Then you have the Windows OS PC side where you should expect issues. That's because just about everyone has a thing for it. If they screw up the PC screws up. But there's great flexibility there and you do have spend time to find the right products; which in itself is a fun thing for some :)

    So other than bashing one of the other, just enjoy how the PC suits your needs currently. And if you need should change, as it usually does, just pray that whatever product you have will allow it :) This to me the the most crucial.
    Reply
  • gcor - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    That's a rather insulting reply.

    In the past I've been professionally employed as a systems engineer, integrating Windows, unix and mainframe (IBM, Fujitsu, etc) systems. I've architected, designed and developed large scale multi-tier transaction processing systems across all these platforms, including middle ware products.

    From there I moved into the R&D of a 3G mobile network, actively architecting, designing and implementing parts of one of the most successful 3G networks currently being operated.

    If this makes me one of the people you consider a "moron" and that Windows is "clearly too taxing on their mental abilities", then so be it.

    Thank you for your considered and polite input to the debate.
    Reply
  • BlendMe - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Do any of you remember Anand's first Mac article?

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/1500

    Good stuff!
    Reply
  • effortless - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    I do not see how people can even allow themselves to complain. The MacBook Pro 13 features great construction quality (UniBody), has got premium speakers and a premium display, along with the best battery in the business. After all, nearly 10 hours web browsing with that performance behind is an incredible unmatched ratio.

    That it is thin and does not all excessive bulk anywhere (pretty much a flat surface), is to me more important than some ultra-portables weighing a few 100g less. Volume is what matters when you put it into a bag or similar.

    Otherwise everything about it just reeks of quality. I've tried the trackpad and the keyboard, and they both instantly became my favorites among the few notebooks I've tried with chicklet keys.

    Additionally, if you go to college, you can get an iPod Touch, eligible for upgrade to the new iOS4, for free. Considering how the trends state that you get more money in return when selling your Mac, than a PC, I personally consider the price tag a steal.

    I am really not weary to understand the hate against Apple. Sure, they do not support all standards, as they place bets only on the horses they in the future predict will be predominant. An adapter can solve pretty much any video output issue, whereas you have BootCamp in case you need Windows for something. Since let us face it, few among you have heard about people returning from OSX to Windows, as the former is simply superior in terms of user interface. Then what is there left to complain about? That they use dirty tricks in their marketing? I think most businesses do, and Apple has made a clear effort to actually improve their products to become eco-friendly and efficient. So even if their thoughts are somewhere else entirely (money & profit), these changes to apply to changes in reality.
    Reply
  • The0ne - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    No complaints from me this time. The review was nicely done with little to no "ohh, woww, OMG" type of personal inputs. That I can live with as I'm actually reading a review rather than having to sort through all the irrelevant, persuasive comments.

    This time, I don't see how some could bash the review hahaha Nice work Anand.
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    The PC fanboys seem absolutely threatened by any Mac reviews on this site, its lunacy.

    I myself use and like both Windows PCs and Macs, so whatever
    Reply
  • Exodite - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    It seems clear to me that the new 13" MBP is really the best the new lineup can offer.

    While many of my pet peeves remain, such as the glossy display, poor resolution, lack of good connectivity choices etc. the improved graphics performance, battery and bumped minimum specs actually puts it back in the running as an option for a truly portable computer.

    While the lack of a 'modern' CPU is an issue on paper I have to say nothing about the actual performance seems that bad to me.
    Reply
  • sil0nt - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Anand,

    I'd like to see an SSD comparison on one of the Mac platforms to understand which drives hold up the best in the non-TRIM aware OX S. There are some benchmarks out there, but none with your rigorous testing methodology.
    Reply

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