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

  • adamjohari - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    this is slightly off topic, but i wish some of you guys know the answer to this. right now i'm using a mac mini with a logitech mouse, and the movement of the mouse is just terrible. i did some research online and it says it's because of the mouse acceleration is different in macs. my question is, if i were to buy the magic mouse... would the acceleration be any different than me using my logitech mouse right now?

    thanks in advance. again, sorry for diverting.

    adam
    Reply
  • Jamor - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    I've never noticed a difference between mac or other mouses and I've used mainly logitech mouses on my macs. There are logitech mouse drivers which I've never bothered to install, might help you though. Also try fiddling with system preferences/mouse settings. Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    The acceleraiton would be no different, that is an OS related thing. However you may find the Logitech has faster tracking than the Magic Mouse.

    You can get little programs that "fix" OSX's different acceleration curve, one is called MouseFix or something like that.

    Good luck
    Reply
  • stormmonkey - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    I'm very happy with my 2010 13" MBP and just Tuesday upgraded to Seagate's new Momentus XT. Aside from a 20mb/sec average read speed increase over the stock drive, it's caching to flash storage gives a great overall boost to everyday use. Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    "For the past 1.5 years every single Mac has shipped with some form of NVIDIA graphics, standard, regardless of price."

    I was just on Apple's website and found iMacs that have Radeon GPUs in them.
    Reply
  • hallubalooza - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    I know this wont mean anything to anyone who already has their mind made up. But I have a ridiculous desktop for running games and any intense windows apps. However I also have a 13" macbook pro that is awesome. It stays charged for a very long time even running a virtual machine (vmware fusion is great) for when i need to do something in windows xp or 7. I have it partitioned with windows 7 which I can either boot into if I really need the extra performance for something or I can load it in vmware to get any files I may need. It has some useful terminal commands built in and the trackpad is hands down the best I have ever used. Using any other laptop feels gimmicky compared to the multitouch and all the stupid hand swipe gestures that surprisingly increase productivity! It does cost more, but it isnt plastic and I really feel that people complain about the glossy screen just to find something to complain about. I would never buy an apple desktop but I feel that the 13" mbp is a great computer. Reply
  • howmoney - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    best buy com hardware

    http://www.com-hardware.com
    Reply
  • Hrel - Saturday, June 12, 2010 - link

    If someone could do a review on the laptop that I
    currently suspect is the best "bang for your buck" out
    there. It's made by compal, and available on Cyberpower.com who's
    machines you've reviewed before.
    If you'd like it configured like I did, which I think is the best bang
    for buck, do this:
    Go to the website.
    mouse over 15.6" Laptops and click on the $999 Xplorer X6-8500. It has a 1080p screen.

    (I'm not sure why the people who run this site do this, but even though the other
    configurations use the same chassis when personalized they
    come out to cost more than this one; annoying since it makes me configure all 3
    or 4 machines built on the same base chassis to figure out which one is
    cheapest/best for me.)

    Then I configured
    it with the Core i7-620M CPU. (to get it over 1K so I can take advantage of the 5%
    off.) 4GB 0DDR3-1333, hopefully 7-7-7-21, probably not, but
    hopefully.
    ATI MR HD5650 1GB GDDR3
    320GB 7200rpm HDD (I did this cause I'm gonna take that HDD out
    and use the Seagate Momentus XT 500GB, thanks for that
    review!!)
    Everything else on that page I left untouched.
    The only thing I did on page 2 was switch to Intel wifi with bluetooth;
    Though I'm curious if the MSI option is
    equal/better; 17 bucks isn't nothing.

    It has HDMI out and a fingerprint reader. This page says 3 USB ports,
    the specs sheet says 4USB ports; not sure which is true. (I do wish
    they were USB 3.0 ports, but I was hoping you guys would test some stuff and
    tell me if that even matters for use with an external hard drive, mechanical
    disk 7200rpm. Transferring large files like movies and games mostly.)

    On page 3 I select "none, format only" for
    the OS. And select "LCD perfect assurance" cause even 1 dead pixel is
    unacceptable to me.
    This brings the total to $1008.90 after 5% off, or $992.75 if
    you get the MSI network card.

    So yeah, I really hope you guys can get a hold of one of these
    for review; as a loner or given as a review unit or maybe
    someone will just buy one and review it cause it's really tempting me right now...
    like a lot!
    If you're review is good I'm gonna start
    saving up and hopefully be able to buy it around Christmas. Thanks
    guys! A loyal reader. - Brian
    Reply
  • CompSciSTL - Saturday, June 12, 2010 - link

    Have you installed Windows 7 on the new 13" MBP? I'd be curious to know what kind of battery life you get using Win 7. Reply
  • paihuaizhe - Sunday, June 20, 2010 - link

    (nike-alliance).(com)=>is a leading worldwide wholesaler company (or u can say

    organization)
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now