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Why there's hope for a new Air

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by will, Apr 17, 2010.

  1. macrumors regular

    #1
    I want to replace my 2007 MBP with a MacBook Air, so I'm keen to see new model. I was disappointed when Apple didn't update the Air this week. However, I can think of a big technical reason to delay the update: the power efficiency of Intel's current 32nm Arrandale CPUs.

    If we consider the current Air, it uses 1.86 GHz (SL9400) or 2.13 GHz (SL9600) Core 2 Duos with 6 MB on-chip L2 cache. Both these CPUs are built on a 45nm process and have a TDP (thermal design power) of 17W. There are no faster Core 2 CPUs available at this TDP.

    If we look at the new Arrandale CPUs, the fastest CPU available with a similar TDP is the 18W Core i7-640UM, which runs at only 1.2 GHz. Admittedly this includes graphics, but if Apple stuck with Intel's integrated graphics, performance would be worse than the existing GeForce 9400. If we couple this with the much lower clock speed of the Arrandale CPU (1.2 GHz) compared with the existing Core 2 CPU (2.13 GHz) I think it's clear such an upgrade wouldn't be an improvement. The Arrandale does have hyperthreading and Turbo Boost, but that isn't enough to compensate for its huge clock speed disadvantage.

    In summary an Air built with current Arrandale CPUs would either be slower or more power hungry than the existing one. So there is no good reason to release a new Air at this time: yes 4GB of ram and larger SSDs would be nice, but Apple will save them for a proper revision.

    What happened to the hope part you ask? The bad news is that Intel's current 32nm process isn't yet very efficient, the good news is there is plenty of scope for improvement. To quote Anandtech: "...we see that idle power for Intel's 32nm part isn't very good. It's actually worse than the 45nm Lynnfield platform from earlier this year. Intel confirmed that there is a lot of optimization that has to happen with Arrandale. It looks like there are some silicon level tweaks that are on the roadmap to be implemented but we won't see them until the middle of 2010." (Arrandale review at Anandtech).

    Apple will still need to decide what to do about graphics, but having a faster CPU with good power consumption would be a big step forward.

    There is always the possibility Apple could discontinue the Air, but I'm choosing to be optimistic. I think we'll see a significant update to the Air this summer.
     
  2. macrumors 604

    chrono1081

    #2
    I don't think Apple will discontinue the air. Its too popular.

    Macrumors is the only place it seems unpopular. I saw more MBA's out in the wild back home then I ever thought I would.

    I myself cannot wait for an update to the air. Give me 4 gigs of ram and I'm sold.
     
  3. macrumors newbie

    #3
    I'm considering to switch to mac recently since I've enough troubles with windows. I was thinking to buy a MBA due to its size/weight, but chose to wait the next update. However, I am now struggling between the new 13" MBP and the current MBA. I have no idea why Apple didn't refresh MBA together with the MBP since there should not be more difference in the spec between them. I will buy it immediately if Apple update the current MBA to 4 GB, 320m and ssd as standard with up to 7 - 8 hours battery life. And I think most of the people who are waiting the update will buy the new MBA as soon as it's released.

    Personally, I believe the next update of MBA will come very soon because there should be significant drop in sales due to the new 13" MBP. Otherwise, I will assume that Apple discontinues the air.

    Let's see if it would happen in June.
     
  4. macrumors 601

    Scottsdale

    #4
    I believe Apple will use the same model for the MBA that has been successful since October 2008. Apple uses one base chipset/configuration system across five products (13" MB, 13" MBP, 13" MBA, Mac mini, and 21.5" iMac). Since Apple sells the most 13" MBPs, it was wise and obvious to introduce that update first. When Apple gets caught up with demand for the 13" MBPs, I suspect it will start production of the MBAs, MBs, Mms, and 21.5" iMacs. The MB, Mm, and iMacs are all due for an update too.

    The one thing that could throw off the current strategy is if sales expectations are not high enough for the MBA. However, with the reports here and those I have personally heard, I believe the MBA is a 4 GB RAM update away from being much more successful. I don't believe Apple will go with ultra low voltage CPUs giving us less power and performance, and I don't believe Apple will stick us with sole use of Intel's GMA for graphics. So it seems that the C2D SL9x00 and Nvidia 320m are what's in the pipeline for the MBA. We just have to be patient for an update. The longer the wait takes, let's say it's after WWDC, the more likely Apple skips the last Nvidia chipset update and goes straight to Intel or AMD.

    Intel is done making Core 2 Duo CPUs at the end of 2010. Apple is going to be forced to update all of its C2D Macs in early 2011. A year from now we should be on to the next MBAs or even two updates into the next MBA. Either way it seems that Apple will most certainly update the RAM and drive space. Those are the two reasons most cite for not buying an MBA, and Apple has to be listening to those reports which are obvious and all over these forums.
     
  5. macrumors 68000

    gwsat

    #5
    What most worries me about what Apple might do to update the MBA is simply substitute 4GB of hard wired RAM for the current 2Gb. I know from my own experience that I can easily run Fusion and Windows 7 in Unity mode with 6Gb of RAM but cannot do so with only 2Gb. I have yet to see anybody unequivocally represent that they have been able to do so with 4Gb of RAM. Thus, I would hesitate to pay the high price of an MBA but not know for sure that it would do what I needed it to do.
     
  6. macrumors 6502a

    Alchematron

    #6
    10" Air

    Built in 3G or 4G

    Matte screen

    Silver keys

    Silver or black casing option

    And I am so friggin in! :D
     
  7. macrumors 601

    Scottsdale

    #7
    I pray to God no 10" display. But it's obvious the iPad is Apple's netbook alternative so there is no way in Hell we're getting a 10" MBA. I believe we're at least 20X more likely to get a 15" MBA than a 10" MBA.

    I would like 3G/4G. I would pay $500 extra for some aluminum capped silver keyboard keys. Seriously, I have thought about having them produced from a Chinese supplier. About $500 is the minimum and that's if every key is the same shape. Obviously would be almost nothing to make a bunch of them. The setup fee is the major cost outlay. The aluminum is inexpensive.

    It would be nice if Apple used a black aluminum to differentiate further the coolness of the MBA over other Macs/ultraportables.

    I need 4 GB of RAM in the short run or two RAM slots for the long run. 4 GB is enough for OS X and Windows 7 now, but with apps requiring more and more resources/RAM, 8 GB would be better for a two or three year primary machine. I also want a glass trackpad. And an Nvidia 320m with the same SL9600 seems like a given. The lack of USB 3.0 will be a huge disappointment.
     
  8. macrumors newbie

    #8
    how do we know for sure that the i7-640UM wouldn't be as fast as the SL chips?
     
  9. macrumors 601

    #9
    Massive clock speed difference when Turbo Boost isn't used.
     
  10. macrumors 601

    Scottsdale

    #10
    Plus, the SL9x00 CPUs could be de-throttled. I believe the TDP savings from the 320m, or even underclocking the 320m so the CPU could run full out, would be options. I can see Apple advertising 30% faster CPU performance from the same SL9600 CPUs, and 80% faster GPU performance. So, we can get even faster performance from the same SL9x00s... why wouldn't Apple go this route especially since the 13" MBP got the C2D and Nvidia 320m. We definitely wouldn't do well with an ultra low voltage compared to where we could be with the SL9x00 CPUs. Either C2D or Core i7 will be best in the MBA in low voltage variants.
     
  11. macrumors newbie

    .summerfree

    #11
    Hmn...purely speculating here, but what are the chances that we could see some AMD action in the next MBA revision? Taking into consideration that "Apple&AMD in 'advanced discussions'" rumor, perhaps AMD's working on something better for the MBA than Intel can provide.

    Sounds plausible. Seeing the 13" MBP's 10 hour battery in the next MBA revision would be nice to see too!
     
  12. macrumors newbie

    #12
    How exactly could Apple get the 10-hour 13in MBP battery inside an MBA? Surely that's just fantasy. A 5-hour battery (and I mean the full 5 hours) would be enough for me, plus a bigger SSD. But wouldn't 4 GB of RAM mean people would run more apps at the same time and thus cause serious overheating? Isn't that one reason why the MBA has stuck at 2GB RAM? I'm worried that the existing 2 GB is not enough for Aperture 3 and have a few other things open at the same time.
    Incidentally, at the two Apple stores I went to today in Tokyo, all the English keyboard 13 in MBPs were sold out - I asked about English keyboard MBAs and they said of course we have them - I was even offered a 10% discount but I don't think that's enough as it's currently about 25-30% overpriced for what it is. I will get the new 13 MBP and hope that Apple does something at some point with the MBA that doesn't mean EOL as it's a thing of beauty.
     
  13. macrumors regular

    #13
    I have considered this option, the downside is that Intel don't currently make a 17W TDP Core 2 Duo faster than the 2.13 GHz SL9600. I can't see Apple shipping a new update with the same CPUs: it would look awful from a marketing point of view.

    Given the 45nm (P1266) process is already mature and Intel are focused on 32nm (P1268) Core i parts I doubt Intel will be working on a new stepping of the C2D SL series. However, Intel have made parts specifically for Apple before. Perhaps we'll see Intel eek out another speed bin, creating a 2.4 GHz SL9800 on the existing E0 stepping? Given the price of the Air, CPU price isn't that big an issue. The current SL9600s are around $300 officially, but Apple no doubt pays less. If Intel could make a 2.4GHz part at a reasonable premium it could make sense for Apple.

    This doesn't change the fact that C2D is now last generation tech. The 32nm Arrandale parts have the potential to offer better performance and lower power consumption, once the P1268 process is more mature. The fact that Apple won't want to use Intel's IGP does complicate things though, as the IGP adds to the power budget, whether you want it or not.

    So I agree that your approach could well be the right one at present. Perhaps the next Air update will be C2D with GeForce 320m.
     
  14. macrumors regular

    #14
    Arrandale's advantage over Penryn at the same clock speed varies, but even if we take a heavily multi-threaded CPU-bound benchmark it isn't enough to close the clock speed gap.

    To give an example, we can compare the Penryn MacBook Pro with the new Arrandale one in Geekbench. Geekbench is a pure CPU benchmark, it doesn't look at graphics or general OS performance. Geekbench scores scale linearly and larger numbers are better, so a score of 2000 is twice as fast as 1000.

    Intel Core 2 Duo P8800 @ 2.66GHz - 3739
    Intel Core i7 M 620 @ 2.67GHz - 5423
    GeekBench results for MacBook Pro

    That's a 45% increase in a very CPU-intensive benchmark.

    Looking at Photoshop as a real world example of a CPU-intensive process we can take Macworld's recent benchmark results. In the Photoshop test a 2.53 GHz Penryn takes 48 seconds and a 2.4 GHz Arrandale takes 43 seconds. If we adjust for clock speed that makes the newer CPU 18% faster.
    Macworld MacBook Pro benchmark results

    Returning to the original question, a 1.2GHz Core i is going to be slower than a 2.13 GHz Core 2 Duo. The C2D has a 78% clock speed advantage. Yes, it is throttled somewhat and the Arrandale CPU can use Turbo Boost, but neither of these things are going to close such a large gap.
     
  15. macrumors regular

    #15
    AMD isn't currently competitive in mobile CPUs, especially low voltage ones. That may change in 2011 with the arrival of Llano, but that's a long way off. If Apple are considering AMD CPUs I'd expect it to be for cheaper desktops. AMD will sell you a quad core Phenom for under $100.

    I don't think we'll see 10 hours in the next Air, but longer battery life should be possible. Apple claims 10 hours for the 13" MacBook Pro on a 63.5 watt-hour battery. The current Air has a 40 watt-hour battery. So the Air's 40 Wh battery ought to be able to deliver 6-6.5 hours on the same basis if a new model uses similar internals to the 13" MBP. Given the Air should have a more efficient CPU, 7 hours shouldn't be out of the question.

    In order to achieve 10 hours life, the Air's battery would likely have to be almost 60 Wh. I don't think this is compatible with the size/weight of the Air.
     
  16. macrumors 6502a

    #16
    Something has to give, to make up for more space. Apple doesn't go backwards making mobile devices thicker than before.

    Even of the battery were super optimised to get 6 solid hours, it's paultry compared to apple's own standards of advertising 10 hours (new MBP 13" and iPad).
     
  17. macrumors 601

    #17
    They've done that only twice in my memory: October 2005 PowerBooks and March 2009 iMacs (which was a CPU update but a really tiny one). For both updates I have the feeling that Apple was backed into a corner (PowerBooks with no G5 and a stagnant G4, iMacs with no faster mobile dual-core CPUs) and did what they could. Note that the next updates in both cases were larger than normal (MacBook Pro, quad-core Core i5/i7).

    If the upcoming revision to the MacBook Air uses the same CPUs, I don't think Apple will be content and so I think they will try to give a large bump the next update. Concerning the AMD rumor, 20 W dual-core Llano or 30 W dual-core/quad-core Llano looks good for 2011.
     
  18. macrumors 601

    Scottsdale

    #18
    No, Intel isn't going to make another SL9x00 Core 2 Duo. Intel has a roadmap showing no more C2D CPU advancements and complete stoppage of the C2D production at the end of 2010. I think we will get the SL9600 in the high-end MBA and Apple will give us up to a 30% clock speed/performance advantage by de-throttling the CPU. You realize that the MBA's CPU is currently throttled? Apple doesn't have to change the CPU to give us more performance gains. In addition, a 30% advantage is better per clock speed as an upgrade to Arrandale. As long as it's faster to the end user, we will love the gains. The marketing factor is there as 30% faster will be how Apple markets it. I don't see any way Apple goes to an ultra low voltage SU C2D CPU. Maybe in Arrandale if Apple wanted to give it a dedicated graphics card. When Apple cannot select to include an integrated chipset/GPU with the Intel CPU it will be more likely to need to save TDP with the CPU to add a dedicated GPU. Apple isn't going to get many upgrade buyers by moving from a 2.13 GHz CPU to a 1.6 or worse yet 1.2 GHz Arrandale. The marketing improvements are most important. People will be ecstatic with a little CPU boost, little GPU boost, 4 GB of RAM or more, and a bigger SSD!!! Apple doesn't have to do a lot with this update other than do no harm. Harm seems to be an ultra low voltage CPU in terms of performance and loss of the idea of performance by going backwards in clock speed.

    In 2011, when Apple cannot fall back on a C2D CPU, it will have to choose an Intel C2D successor, either another Intel CPU or an AMD CPU, or even something else (probably further off from an ARM Cortex A9 - but in the long run an SoC model could find its way into Macs - especially an Apple branded CPU in Macs). With the AMD rumors, and the ATI advantages and potential for a complete system, Intel may have just screwed itself by denying the Nvidia chipset/GPU license to move forward. Intel was so hellbent on getting the chipset/GPU business back with its CPUs, like it lost from Apple, that Intel may have just cost itself ALL of Apple's business. Not just losing out on the GPU/chipset but by losing out on every CPU too. I imagine Nvidia lost its license due to Intel wanting to be inside of Apple's Macs with GPU/chipsets. What a mistake if the end result is Apple leaving the Intel for AMD... making Intel lose more than just the GPU/chipset but also the most grand CPU loss too. I believe there is a lot of value in branding just to be inside of the Mac. That is a lot of business/money. The "bully" often loses the big picture when trying to get business back by not competing but by forcing out competitors. I would certainly welcome a new MBA with an AMD CPU and more importantly an ATI graphics system! I certainly hope Apple is seeing something in AMD's roadmap that shows an improvement in the entire system's performance - meaning it includes the ATI graphics potentials with the CPU to gain the biggest advantages by switching away from Intel. Although, certainly any ATI advantage is gigantic over the GMA IGP included with Intel CPUs.

    For now, I expect C2D SL9600 at a 30% advantage and an Nvidia 320m with at least a 50% graphics performance boost. That would be in an update before or at WWDC. Beyond WWDC I guess anything is possible. I just don't see it taking long at all to upgrade the MBA, MB, Mac mini, and 21.5" iMac with the same model as used in the 13" MBP. So if it's beyond WWDC I guess Apple could be moving forward to the future of the next MBA (meaning Arrandale or AMD/ATI or whatever). We just have to remember that Core 2 Duo is only going to be around for another eight months. Apple will surely use that to determine what CPU it's using in this update based upon when the update is finally ready.
     
  19. macrumors 65816

    SkippyThorson

    #19
    Then you want a P-P-P-P-Powerbook! :)
     
  20. macrumors newbie

    .summerfree

    #20
    Yeah, 6-7 hours would be a reasonable and acceptable improvement in the next revision. The current MBA's battery life has always been the dealbreaker for me, considering that every other laptop in the Apple lineup advertised 7 hours.
     
  21. macrumors member

    #21
    Fact: In the past, every single update of the MB, MBP and MBA also included a CPU upgrade.

    I believe that Apple actually has a really hard time improving the MBA, especially looking at how it stuck with the C2D processors with the 13" MBP.

    Now, working with the assumption that Apple continues this policy of making a CPU upgrade a necessary criterea for releasing an updated model, this could mean three things for the MBA:

    1) Intel Core i7 ULV 640UM ULV + Intel HD graphics

    The reduced power consumption and updated processor are very nice BUT I doubt that Apple would go that way. Offering inferior graphics, even in an ultra-portable model, would mean that the price of the MBA would have to drop - something Apple clearly doesn't want, especially considering that the MBP 13" with its phenomenal battery could eat up a large chunk of the MBA's market share.

    2) No MBA update until Q3/4 2010

    Without an improved CPU available from Intel, Apple will probably not update the MBA for a whole while now. The MBA Rev. C is still a nice product and sales could probably still be stable for the next half year or so. Apple could wait what happens in the NVIDIA-Intel licensing dispute or work on another solution to improve the MBA. Until then, there could be no incentive for Apple to upgrade the MBA.

    3) Custom Intel Core 2 Duo LV + (underclocked) GeForce 320M

    Apple, in its quest for basing the MBA on a more up-to-date platform, convinces Intel to develop a custom LV Penryn, based on the SL9600, with 2.26 or even 2.4Ghz. With the GeForce 320M GPU, a glass trackpad, 4GB RAM and a 7hrs battery this could make a nice update! Given that Apple decided that the 13" MBP will continue to utilize C2D CPUs for very good reasons, and given the fact that Intel had developed a custom CPU for the MBA before, this update seems likely.
     
  22. macrumors 601

    Scottsdale

    #22
    I disagree. I believe Apple can effectively market a new MBA with the same SL9600 CPUs at a 30% improvement over the old ones. Apple uses the TDP saved from using the 320m to allow that de-throttling of the CPU. In addition, the 320m could give us an improvement while still greatly improving the GPU performance.

    In addition, Apple puts 4 GB of RAM and a larger SSD in the high-end model, and it sells more MBAs than it ever has in the past. The RAM limitation and drive space are the two main factors would be MBA buyers are taking the pass and are buying an MB/MBP and iPad instead.

    Apple could however make us wait out this update if sales don't warrant an update. However, with the comments I read and hear about the MBA, I believe just an update to the RAM and drive space would quadruple sales. So many people just cannot accept 2 GB of RAM in 2010. If it waits out this update, it would probably go with an AMD CPU and ATI graphics. Otherwise, going to Intel HD graphics is the same thing as it could have done right now. I guess we're going to get 2X the HD graphics performances on the next generation Intel chips, but it's still going to be grossly inferior to Nvidia's offerings. The AMD transition could be a factor right now... I guess.
     
  23. macrumors member

    #23
    Oh, I totally agree with you that Apple could do that. All I was saying is that there is just no precedence where Apple released a Macbook (Air, Pro, ...) update without updating the CPU. Probably because there was always a better one available - which is just not the case now, as the SL9600 is the last C2D LV and using the i7 ULV poses similar problems as with the 13" MBP!

    Of course Apple could update the MBA based on the SL9600, but maybe they have some sort of policy not to release an update without updating the CPU? Who knows...:rolleyes:

    I'd rather that somebody had found a prototype of the next MBA in a bar instead of the next iPhone.
     
  24. macrumors 68000

    gwsat

    #24
    When I first saw the news reports of the mysterious iPhone prototype, I,too, was disappointed that it hadn't been a prototype MBA instead. Great minds and all that. :)
     
  25. macrumors member

    #25
    They don't need viral marketing for the MBA. Whatever machine they will present, given 4Gb of Ram and the new Nvidia, I'll (and most of us will) be in, no time.

    iPhone is at the fourth generation, probably they expect some slow down in sale (as everybody as at least one in his pocket already) and they set up one of the best viral marketing campaign ever.
     

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