NVIDIA will be in the new MacBooks

The world is up in arms about the newly announced October 14th date Apple has set for a refresh on its line of notebook computers. We continue to stand by our assertion that MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air will all be getting NVIDIA chipsets in them next week and we have more evidence for it.

In late July I posted an editorial that described how Apple would soon be migrating away from Intel’s chipsets (though keeping their CPUs of course) for an NVIDIA-based portfolio to included integrated and discrete graphics solutions.  This piece was linked and discussed throughout the Apple community already so I’ll just briefly rehash some what was discussed below in order to better substantiate the product integrations I think we’ll see on October 14th.

Just this week information began to seed out that the pending transition for Apple would involve the MacBook line moving away from Intel’s chipsets.  The speculation is that Intel’s recently released Montevina Centrino 2 platform was going to be passed over for the fall MacBook refresh in favor of something else: a third party chipset, custom designed chip, etc. 

Note that this does NOT mean a move away from Intel processors – the Core 2 would still be the primary CPU in a notebook using either Intel’s or another third parties chipset.

This does seem to be the most likely candidate for a change on Apple product line – the Centrino 2 launch has come and gone and Apple had plenty of opportunity to announce a line based on the new Intel technology.  They haven’t thus far and have said that the next Apple announcement wouldn’t come until the fall, likely in September, and that would make the Montevina technology a little stale and unexciting by that time.  Just doesn’t seem like Apple’s style, does it?

If we take away the honorable mention that is VIA Technologies (let’s be serious here guys), that really leaves only one company by process of elimination.  NVIDIA is a much more reasonable solution for Apple; and what do we see here, just released yesterday?  NVIDIA has announced a new line up of mobile chipsets and mobility GPUs, right on schedule: the GeForce 9800M and 9700M parts join the existing GeForce 9600M to round out a complete refresh in their lineup. 

Not all notebooks, especially those with higher battery life requirements, will have discrete mobile graphics and NVIDIA’s long-developed MCP79 chip is the likely candidate for Apple to adopt.  This mobility chipset from NVIDIA integrates a DX10 graphics core with support for HybridPower and HybridSLI technologies as well as HDMI, 1066 MHz front-side bus, both DDR2 and DDR3 memory and much more.  And though we use the term “chipset” in this instance, the MCP79 is actually just a single chip design unlike Intel’s Centrino 2 (Montevina) that has separate north bridge and south bridge chips.

Let’s not forget that Intel’s integrated graphics on their chipset has been very poor compared to the competing parts from NVIDIA (and ATI) for years and one stigma attached to Apple’s notebooks and iMacs is the lack of any gaming support.  A transition to NVIDIA chipsets and GPUs would definitely fix that problem.

Another interesting note about NVIDIA and their mobility plans is that they have been surprisingly silent for quite some time; there have been no planned media summits or technology days on these well known mobility products and that fits in with the traditional Apple mentality of keeping their partners silent as long as possible.  If an OEM asks you to pull back on promoting a product you have had in development for this long, that OEM had better be as big a name as Apple.

To me, there is no doubt that come fall you will find updated MacBooks and MacBook Pros with NVIDIA chipsets and GPUs inside.  An updated 13” MacBook and 15” MacBook Pro are the most likely initial releases according to sources – all you Apple fans should start saving now.  And if the MCP79 can run at power levels as low as I am hearing then it’s also conceivable we might see an updated MacBook Air (though less likely due to its recent release).

Well, the discussion on Apple’s notebook line is heating up again now that they have officially invited press to an October 14th event focused on MacBooks.  And just a few days ago an image on the NVIDIA website seemed to depict a new MacBook design

Apple and NVIDIA: MacBooks with GeForce chipsets are nearly here - Mobile 4
Image from NVIDIA’s website – the design looks somewhat familiar

There are a couple other interesting points that lead me to the same conclusion that have come up since our July editorial.  First, NVIDIA has been pushing OpenCL support on their integrated graphics solutions, a standard that Apple helped create.  Because NVIDIA’s IGP chipsets would allow for OpenCL acceleration Apple would gain support for the programming technology across all of their platforms.  Also, NVIDIA and Adobe have been publicly flaunting improved performance for Photoshop, Premiere and other content creation applications that Macs are often associated with.  Improving performance in these specific programs will no doubt give MacBooks and MacBook Pros additional selling potential to the professional market.

Also of note: NVIDIA will be releasing the GeForce 9400/9300 chipsets based on the MCP79 design on October 15th, just one day after Apple’s announcement.  This would agree with my logic that Apple was holding back NVIDIA on releasing anything about the product until after Apple had its chance to show off.  

UPDATE (10/12/08): I have had several emails asking about this, so I decided it was worth adding to the article: the GeForce 9300/9400 chipsets DO SUPPORT H.264 decode acceleration.  This is great for general purpose decoding with Quicktime, etc as well as substantiates the idea that Apple might be adding a Blu-ray player to some models.  

Apple and NVIDIA: MacBooks with GeForce chipsets are nearly here - Mobile 5 
Is your new MacBook Air already out dated?

All indications I have seen show a progression of NVIDIA technology with Apple products.  The most relevant items for the upcoming October 14th event include a new 13″ MacBook, 15″ MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, all using integrated NVIDIA graphics technology.  Both the updated MacBook and MacBook Pro are going to use an iteration of the MCP79MX (aka GeForce 9400/9300) chipset though the Pro model will also include a discrete G92-based mobility GeForce 9600.  The MacBook Air, requiring as low power consumption as possible, will use the MCP79U chipset, the ultra-low-voltage version of the product that will obviously have slightly slower graphics performance. 

UPDATE (10/13/08): I just got an update from a source that gave us new information about the updated MacBook Air.  Apparently, a new MacBook Air will be announced and shown at the event but it won’t be available until January 2009.  The MacBook and MacBook Pro will be available almost immediately.

All of these chipset names can be found in the most recent versions of NVIDIA’s graphics driver files; we know they exist.

Obviously there is more than a new chipset to the upcoming MacBook refresh if the rumors are to be believed.  The “brick” manufacturing process sure does sound compelling and would be a very traditional Apple move to improve aesthetics. 

Apple and NVIDIA: MacBooks with GeForce chipsets are nearly here - Mobile 6

I imagine that between now and the October 14th release date we will see more than our fair share of rumors, leaked pictures and specifications.  I will be keeping my contacts to the ropes trying to get them for you first here.  I am certain though that Apple will indeed by using NVIDIA’s MC79 in its entire line up of MacBooks to be unveiled next week – a coup for a company that many still suspect will be killing off their chipset line or exiting completely. 

UPDATE (10/14/08): Well, pretty much everything discussed here has been confirmed.  Have a look at Engadget’s live coverage of Apple’s Spotlight event for more.

If you have any comments or questions on this editorial, feel free to email me directly or jump into our technology forum to see what others are saying on it!

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