MacBook Air D: Why would an Nvidia/ATI chip over an Intel Core-i IGP benefit you?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by Jobsian, May 20, 2010.

  1. Jobsian macrumors 6502a


    Jul 30, 2009
    Those of us following the Intel/Nvidia, debacle will be aware that, in a nutshell, due to Intel refusing to grant a license to make graphics chipsets compatible with Core-i CPUs, manufacturers can't use Nvidias amazing low TDP graphics chipsets with Core-i as they had been doing with Core 2 Duos eg 9400m in the Macbook Air.

    The result is that if any notebook wants to use a Core-i, they have to either stick with Intel's on-board integrated GPU or they can also add a discrete Nvidia/ATI GPU.

    The problem is that the Intel graphics chipset is significantly weaker than Nvidia's chipsets, even the MBA's 9400m, which is years old. This poses a major problem in the premium ultraportable market, and even in the standard notebook market.

    Steve Jobs recently expressed Apple's decision not to opt for a Core-i in the 13" Macbook Pro specifically because of this reason (so they stuck with a Core2 Duo to include the Nvidia 320m chipset).

    The assumption by many then is that the Macbook Air can't possibly use a Core-i as it will then take a big graphics hit (up to 50% less powerful than even Nvidia's LAST GEN card). They could use a discrete graphics card however with the thermal envelope constraints, it's less likely (unless Apple either choose to tolerate the higher temps or they can muster a Toshiba-esque cooling breakthrough).

    The question I want to ask is, and I've been thinking about lately, is that if Apple do opt for Core-i only for the MBA, what impact is that going to have on our day-to-day tasks?

    Despite the increased utility of the GPU by OpenCL/Grand Central Dispatch, I'm not entirely certain how significant the reduced graphics power would be noticed by me

    Games: I won't play any graphics-intensive games on the MBA anyway, so no issue there.

    YouTube: I don't stream much else. I imagine this will be the biggest performance reduction in my own day to day tasks, and I'll just have to load less windows simultaneously. I'm under the impression that the intel IGP will be ok for even HD youtubing though I've yet to read reports of specifically Intel IGP-only youtubing on OSX. However the increased grunt of the Core-i CPU may alleviate the IGP shortcomings- I'm not certain here as to which will be processing the video here.

    Watching HD movies: As above.

    Photoshop/rendering etc: I don't use any such graphics application, so again no effect on me.

    Video editing: I only do a small amount of this, though I would certainly like the option of doing it well and as fast as possible. However I'm under the impression the CPU will take the strain, not the GPU. And here again, I'd benefit from a Core-i more than a core2duo.

    Web Browsing: Again, flash/SW-related strains possible, though uncertain as to how significant, especially given the extra grunt of the Core-i.

    Word processing/email: I do a lot of this, should have no bearing at all.

    Any other scenarios for possible performance problems if the next MBA has Intel IGP only?

    I have to say, from my admittedly brief thought on this so far, the prospect of Intel IGP only isn't looking as bad as I had feared. And I would more than welcome the added cooling (a MASSIVE factor for me) and the extra battery.

    I'd appreciate any insights illuminating why the Intel IGP- only route is more significantly detrimental than I'm imaginig so far :)
  2. aiqw9182 macrumors 65816

    Apr 22, 2010
    Intel's integrated graphics this time around are actually on par with the 9400m.

    For the 13" MacBook Pro and MacBook, it was a smart choice to go with the 320m seeing as how the current Arrandale Core i3 shows zero performance gains over the current Penryn Core 2 Duo chips being used. The 9400m is roughly half the performance of the 320m.

    However, for the Air, I think Apple will be better off using the Core i7-ULV processors with Intel's HD graphics, as the processor trade off will be better and it's not like you will be getting anything worse than the previous generation 9400m in the graphics department(other than the lack of hardware acceleration and OpenCL support).

    Edit: I lied, Intel's HD Graphics are actually worse on the lower voltage Arrandale chips than the 9400m.

    Ultimately, this is what I'm expecting to see on the day it gets refreshed, regardless:
  3. Jobsian thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Jul 30, 2009
    Thanks for the data aiqw, really does highlight Intel's comparative weakness to Nvidia's old gen chipset. However I wonder in absolute, day-to-day terms what differences will I notice...

    The clock speed on the two MBA models (which you so tantalisingly display in Apple store format!) don't feel right, it's quite a low. If Apple go Core i, I would expect Apple to go for something more akin to their Ultra Low Voltage (18W TDP) Core i7 680UM, a very exciting prospect for me: 1.46GHz, turbo to 2.53GHz!

    See thread - link
  4. Mhkobe macrumors regular

    Jun 25, 2009
    Those look to me like they could actually be close to the real specs (not just because of the excellent photoshop work). On the topic of why would we prefer nVidia, or ATI GPUs over Intel HD; Intel HD graphics perform at about half the speed of a 9400m, once sandybridge comes then they should perform at nearly 9400m type speeds, however, nVidia already has something new that is way better, and ATI has something that is way better than nVidia. So compared to ATI GPUs the intel ones have about 1/8th the performance (including speed and TDP).
  5. Scottsdale macrumors 601


    Sep 19, 2008
    I almost hope Apple waits until the Intel GMA HD has double the capabilities when it goes to 32nm or even 22nm like the CPU DIE with Sandy Bridge, IF it's only going to give us Intel GMA HD for graphics. At least we wouldn't be going backwards so far from Nvidia's 9400m GPU. I agree with you here.

    I believe we're still best off with C2D and Nvidia 320m now, then Core i7 with a better GMA in 2011. That is if Apple really intends to STICK US with Intel's GMA HD as a sole graphics solution. I still wonder how it plans to market such a Mac? Especially when Jobs already has bashed Intel's GMA and we all have seen it in action with the original MBA. Intel and graphics just don't mix well. It's too bad Intel didn't just buy Nvidia and use its technology to better compete with AMD/ATI.
  6. jedivulcan macrumors 6502

    May 15, 2007
    Yeah... the x3100 was *shivers* not great. Then again, when they fit the 9400m into the MacBook Air, they had to underclock it to about 2/3 of what you would of got in a regular sized Mac notebook.
  7. Scottsdale macrumors 601


    Sep 19, 2008
    While underclocked still 5X the capabilities of Intel's GMA. The bottom line is anyone that expects to use an MBA like they would a Mac or a MB, will need an Nvidia GPU or discrete GPU to get that performance. An Intel GMA would absolutely cripple the MBA when playing HD videos, Flash, OpenGL, any 3D graphics, OpenCL would be severely limited, and etc. Anything done that requires GPU would be limited to less than 50% of the two-year-old 9400m and 28% of the Nvidia 320m now available.

    So, we can have C2D with a 30% boost, Core i7 with a loss in clock speed of up to 40%, and GMA with at least 50% loss in graphics. Honestly, there is no way Apple is going to do this to its customers. Proof of that is the 13" MBP and MB just updated. Apple wouldn't do it to its customers again, and it was willing to stick with C2D to ensure its customers would get the GPU afforded by Nvidia over the GMA which would have been a devastating loss in everything Apple is trying to do with OS X.

    Apple built OpenCL right into OS X 10.6 to take advantage of the GPU. Apple uses h.264 to move the graphics processes to the GPU, and Apple has improved OpenGL with the 10.6.3 update... Apple is not going to stick its luxury MBA buyers with the GMA when it didn't do it to its MB buyers. Let's all quit thinking about just how terrible it would be, because it's honestly not very likely that Apple would move away from MacFive which has been so good for the MBA and its Mac customers... in addition to a solid bottom line helped by using one setup for many Macs.
  8. Mhkobe macrumors regular

    Jun 25, 2009
    Mr Jobs would say: 'a while back Intel introduced it's Intel GMA, and we at Apple found it not quite ready for use in our computers... Well, today, I would love to introduce the next Macbook Air. The guys over at Intel have worked really hard with our own engineers to create something great, and we are very proud to show it off today... (shows keynote of MBA with last slide emphasizing the incredible battery life they were able to achieve by working with intel).'

    ...I hope this day never comes, but for now, I would like to say that Apple will definitely not go for Intel GMA.

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