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
POST A COMMENT

93 Comments

View All Comments

  • jasperjones - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    I find it highly inconsistent that AT doesn't test MBPs like any other laptops. Why do the charts compare the MBP to other MBPs instead of comparing it to laptops from Acer, ASUS, Lenovo, etc. that have been tested on this site? Reply
  • synaesthetic - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    I assume because those laptops cannot (legally or for drivers/compatibility reasons) run OSX. Reply
  • DaveninCali - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Back on May 20th, I commented that the reason why we don't have discrete graphics for the 13" MB and MBP was because of space constraints. In response, I got this from Jarred Walton,

    "The "motherboard space" argument is absolute garbage."

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/3733/apple-macbook-u...

    How can an Anandtech staff member tell me my argument is complete garbage just 2 weeks before the editor-in-chief reviews the MBP saying that the reason we don't have discrete graphics is motherboard space? That doesn't make sense to me. Don't you guys talk to each other.

    Of course, you can say that Apple can completely redesign everything but that doesn't make the reason why there is no discrete graphics because of space constraints any less valid. That's the reason given the current design.

    So what will you give up if you redesign the motherboard for more space to accommodate discrete graphics? Smaller battery and therefore less battery life? 1.8" vs. 2.5" HDD therefore less disk space? Etc.

    What say you Mr. Walton?
    Reply
  • synaesthetic - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    I enjoyed reading this review, Anand. Too often Apple product reviews are fanboy drool-fests that do little to point out the product's shortcomings. I, too, am very disappointed in Apple for making this new 13" MBP such an incremental upgrade.

    Yeah, the new IGP is "nice," but I've heard from people who have it that the 320M (also used in some HP laptops) is bunk and the Windows drivers are even *more* bunk. Lots of crashes, games refusing to run properly, etc. It's nice to see that in OSX, it runs quite well.

    I'm a longtime PC user, and while I've been meaning to pick up an older 13" MacBook so I can learn OSX for professional reasons, I am hardly a fanboy of either. I do not like Steve Jobs, his attitude or his company, and I *do* think that Apple products are generally *a bad deal.*

    I was pleasantly surprised with the massive upgrade they gave the iPhone 4 over the 3GS; I figured, due to the iPad's existence, that they would make the iPhone 4 a weak incremental upgrade. But instead they virtually invalidated the iPad's existence by tossing an A4 SoC and forward-facing camera into the new iPhone! (Here's hoping we get an iPod Touch 4, too, but I'm not holding my breath.)

    What irritates me about Apple is that they are not cost-effective. You pay so much for so little computer. It makes me sad.
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    It depends on the machine. The majority of the 27" iMac's price is in the display. The same 27" display is $1100 from Dell, it'll be around $1500 from NEC. The 27" iMac starts at $1700. Given the performance, display quality, and all-in-one design, I'd hardly call it a bad deal.

    Similar thing with the notebooks given their extremely light weight without compromising battery life and performance. Then you have the best trackpad on the market with multitouch gestures (some of which even work in Windows via Boot Camp), the best keyboard outside of a Lenovo, the best international power adapter and airline seat adapters out there, and you can see why some people would want to drop a few extra dollars on them (or not even spend much more if we're comparing with a Sony or a business class Dell or HP).
    Reply
  • osideplayer - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    I am actually an avid PC user who was considering getting a MAC because of the new GPU's recently installed. I loaded a SSD with Ubuntu instead, but it's good to know I would have made a good decision. Considering I am graphics oriented and nobodies probably reading this anymore, so I guess im gonna go fart. Reply
  • vicbdn - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    If Sony and Alienware can fit an i5/i7 and discrete graphics in the vaio Z and m11x, what is stopping Apple from doing that in the 13 in macbook? Sounds like B.S. to me. Reply
  • vicbdn - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Forgot m11x doesn't have a dvdrom drive...so nvm about that. Reply
  • overzealot - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    You say that memory is entirely responsible for the faster load times/app performance.
    I think the increase in disk density (and, therefore sequential transfer rate) probably makes a decent impact as well.
    Reply
  • evilpaul666 - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    Apple's strangely, poorly threaded iTunes is going to use OpenCL to transcode video in a future update.

    Wild speculation on my part, yes, but that's what its OpenCL everywhere push is all about.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now