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Analysis: Intel spills Apple's future product secrets

What's in store for Apple PCs, Intel and you

Apple's famed for its secrecy when it comes to new products in the same way that Intel's known for its openness. So with the partnership between the two companies well under way, we find out whether we'll remain in the dark when it comes to new Apple products.

Confused? You're not alone. But worry not, Dunnington lore won't be on the test, that six-core beast is unlikely to ever make it into any Mac Pro.

Mac Pros use Intel's 5000-series Xeons, which fit into their dual-processor platform codenamed Stoakley. Dunnington is a 7000-series Xeon, designed for the quad-processor, server-level platform codenamed Caneland.

You're also to be forgiven if you were never informed that Intel and Apple have two different definitions for the term 'desktop processor'.

When Intel introduced its Core 2 Duo processor line, the first desktop processor out of the gate was codenamed Conroe. This chip, however, never made it into an Apple 'desktop' computer. The iMac was instead built around what Intel referred to as a 'mobile processor', codenamed Merom.

Merom's replacement, which shipped in November of last year, is codenamed Penryn, and it comes in many flavours with more to come.

For example, Intel confirmed last month that it will release a quad-core Penryn later this year. Although this chip is identified by Intel as a mobile processor, its power appetite (defined as its Thermal Design Power or TDP) is expected to be a hefty 45W.

In comparison, the TDP of the new Penryn-equipped MacBook Pro is 35W and if you've had one on your lap for any amount of time, you know it's already pushing the thermal envelope. The increased TDP would also, of course, more-quickly drain battery power.

That said, there are plenty of 17in MacBook Pro-using video editors who'd kill for those two extra cores when encoding on location, plugged into AC or not. The 17-incher also has more room for cooling technologies and batteries, should Apple care to make use of those extra cubic inches.

The core of the matter

A quad-core iMac isn't out the question either, but this talk of multiple cores begs another question. Namely, are extra cores worth the extra money, heat, and power? The answer, of course, is "It depends".

Each core needs to be fed enough data and instructions to keep it humming along efficiently, and many if not most applications these days aren't smart enough to take full advantage of multiple cores.

Intel is working on a pair of technologies to help the transition into the multicore world: Speculative Parallel Threading (SPT), which will work to exploit all cores in real time, and Transactional Memory (TM), which will ensure that the work threading its way through one core doesn't muck up the work done by another core. However, the real solution to multicore management will be highly optimised software, and that'll take some time.

What's more, multicore machines, think eight-core Mac Pros for example, work best when their storage systems can provide torrents of data to their processors. A Mac Pro can be tricked out with a fast internal RAID array. Not so a single-drive quad-core iMac.

NEXT PAGE: The maxi Mac mini

  1. Apple and Intel's plans for the future
  2. Where quad core processors fit in
  3. The maxi Mac mini

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