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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  • cheinonen - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Why do people treat Apple like they're the only person that uses Foxconn? HP, Dell, and others use them as well. I'm not excusing anything at Foxconn, but to single out Apple as only being able to do this because of who they use for manufacturing, when most other top companies use the same vendor, is ridiculous. Reply
  • james.jwb - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    @jabber

    Your comment pretty much applies to 80% of everything you buy, period. You are living in a bubble and possibly even a hypocrite to get on your high horse about this product, or Foxconn so singularly.

    But hey, it is being heavily talked about at the moment and it is in your face, so good for you for having this fleeting feeling of misplaced superiority that will no doubt disappear just as quickly as the misplaced headlines.
    Reply
  • jabber - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    Fully aware that any electronic device has blood sweat and tears on it so I am fortunate enough to purchase it.

    I have been very aware of this for years.

    However, it's been pretty apparent that many havent been aware of this and seem to wish to keep their heads in the sand so they dont have to feel guilty about it.

    "I dont care what goes on as long as I get my new iPhone upgrade gimme gimme!"

    The suicides at Foxconn are not necessarily Foxconn's fault.

    It's OUR fault!

    Our fault for wanting to only pay the minimum for more and more good such as these Macbooks, motherboards, GPUs etc. etc.

    I just hope from events this past few weeks might make a few people think a little bit more before they purchase their next unnecessary electronic gadget.

    Same goes for cheap, shoes, clothes, jewellry etc.
    Reply
  • zorxd - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    95% of mac users don't use their GPU. The Intel GMA HD GPU would have been more than enough for this kind of laptop. The Geforce 320M is too slow for gaming anyways so I don't see the point. Reply
  • jabber - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Noooo, dont be silly. The Geforce 105M in my Dell is more than enough to play a lot of the games I mess around with such as BF2 and Eve online. Eve plays at high settings and gives around 60fps.

    We dont all play Crysis and Call Of Donkey Modern Warfare 4 whatever.
    Reply
  • Ninjahedge - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Maybe more would if it HAD a GPU to begin with.

    If the current Mac users do not buy their machine to game on (or any other GPU intensive task) because there is no good GPU present, what is to say they will not buy and utilize it if it is included?
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    Not true, the OS X desktop has always leaned heavily on the GPU. The other thing is OpenCL which shipped with OS 10.6. Apple has to be prepping some major GPU computing in the next version of OS X, especially since it is a part of 10.6.

    I believe this is the "thing" Anand is waiting for, we'll see. It makes sense why Apple would put such a relatively high baseline on their GPUs, otherwise they'd just go with the Arrandale's anemic graphics and call it a day.
    Reply
  • bang222 - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    They took away support for jumbo frames in the Broadcom ethernet chip.

    :-(

    Big minus if you tune your NAS.
    Reply
  • CharonPDX - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    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.


    Uh, I call bull.

    Apple fit a three-chip solution in the first MacBook Air. Yes, the CPU was on a smaller mount, but it was still a three-chip solution on a microscopic board. If they really wanted to, they could slap a three-chip solution in the 13" MBP.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    1) The MBA had the CULV C2D and GMA950 or 9400M. That's two!

    2) The MBA is 13" but it also using a SFF chip, has low power and low heat, thereby needs less venting and can use a smaller fan and heatsink.

    3) The MBA has a 1.8" drive, not a 2.5" drive.

    4) The MBA has no optical drive whilst the MB and 13" MBP do.

    — MBA internals: http://s1.guide-images.ifixit.com/igi/WPhHIikf5jBW...
    — MBA MoBo: http://www.ifixit.com/igi/KJJyYGCKwbfhmAJI

    — 13" MBP internals: http://s2.guide-images.ifixit.com/igi/FkpKKrqQlYsg...
    — 13" MBP MoBo: http://s1.guide-images.ifixit.com/igi/XaPYhlwqukef...

    If you're going to call "bull" then i assume that you have detailed info as to where all this extra room is that a Core-i chip + dGPU + additional fan would go in this system.

    it seems to me that the only way they could add the items you think are so easily included which altering the dimensions of the internal space is to reduce the size of the battery (which is still too lower than most people would like it to be at) or remove the optical drive (which oft goes unused, is slow, mote prone to break due to moving parts, and takes up 25% of the internal space). I'm going with the latter.
    Reply

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