2GHz Dual-Core Powerbooks?

The Register has an article talking about the new Intel Core (nee Yonah) processor line, expected to debut in Apple computers next month. The processor breakdown is interesting – we have dual cores at 2, 1.83 and 1.67 GHz, a single core at 1.67 GHz, and low-voltage dual cores at 1.5 and 1.67 GHz. In that whole lineup there’s only one single-core CPU.

<p>So the guessing game is really about which processors will land in which products.    Some things are easily excluded - the PowerMac line and the iMac line are both already using 64-bit chips and Apple won’t be pulling them down to the 32-bit world.  The 64-bit version of Intel Core isn’t going to be here until next autumn.</p>
<p>So that leaves us with the perpetual performance/cooling/battery life deck chairs to shuffle.</p>
<p>First, performance: Apple isn’t going to release slower computers than the G4 versions - slower from a user’s perspective, not clock frequencies.  With some of the software emulated at 60% of the speed of the G4 version, this sets our bar pretty high for minimum performance.  Single Cores need not apply.</p>
<p>The G4 1.66GHz is top of the line now.  Regardless of the horsepower of the Intel Core line compared with the PowerPC G4 line, the marketing department won’t allow a whole new line to be released at lower clock speeds than the old line.  This guarantees that the PowerBook line, at least, will be using the T-series 1.67,  1.83,  2.16GHz  flavor of Intel Core.  They maximally dissipate at least as much power as the <a href="http://lowendmac.com/musings/05/0308.html">1.67GHz Powerbook G4 does</a> so battery life is in play.  </p>
<p>The good news is these new CPU’s excel at power management.  Intel is betting the company on low-power chips and they seem to have done an excellent job.  Reportedly these things can dynamically slow the clock, as various laptops since the Powerbook 140 have been able to do, but they can also shut down parts of the chip that are unnecessary and even switch off a core.  Apple has higher density batteries this year than they did last year, so battery performance should be as good or slightly better than in the past.  If they can figure out how to cram a 17 display into a Powerbook and run it on a battery then they should be able to handle a few more watts.  The slowest Intel Core T runs at ~25W where the old Powerbook runs at 27W, so this is well within the comfort zone.  Expect much better battery life on the slowest Powerbooks and marginally better on the high end.</p>
<p>So Powerbooks at 1.67, 1.83 and 2.0GHz, all dual-core.</p>
<p>Now, iBooks - in the distant past Powerbooks were much more powerful than iBooks, G4 vs. G3, better memory, better bus, etc.  But as the G4 stagnated, the iBook caught up, leaving only clock speed  and external expandability as a differentiator.  So, which way will Apple go - will it stick the iBook with a single core to hamstring performance - no, that would feel slow, especially emulated Rosetta applications.  iBook users love the rugged polycarbonate case, the no-frills design, the good wireless, didn’t need the latest connectivity and expandability - and are often students.  </p>
<p>Enter the Intel Core L-Series.  A lower-power dual-core version, available in 1.5 and 1.67GHz versions.  The iBook currently tops out at 1.42GHz so everything is a step up in clock frequency.  This allows Apple to use the lower power chips - tipping the scales at 15-24W, and focus on power, power, power.  With better batteries we might be looking at a laptop that can get a student through a 7 hour day on a single charge.  This changes everything in education.</p>
<p>So, iBooks at 1.5 and 1.67GHz on the low-power dual-core chips.</p>
<p>The eMac is history, only available to education customers right now, so that only leaves the Mac Mini’s fate hanging in the balance.  The Mini doesn’t face the same challenges as the iBook so they can skip the low-power chips.  So, where would this leave the Mini?  On one hand, you don’t want the $500 chip off the old block running circles around the $2500 Powerbook - but on the other hand you want to have a unit that will wind up in the living room that can handle HDTV - El Gato says you need a 2GHz dual CPU to handle that much processing.  I think Apple can do it at 1.83GHz and won’t step on the top-end of the Powerbook line, purely for marketing reasons.</p>
<p>So, a Mac Mini at 1.67 and 1.83GHz on the Intel Core T series.</p>
<p>This means Apple isn’t building any more single-core computers other than a legacy iMac.  Yeah, they could save a few bucks by sticking the lone single-core Intel Core T in the Mini, but Steve Jobs would rather declare the uniprocessor universe (and most of its competition) dead than save a few bucks.  Right-on, Steve. </p>
<p>Check back next month to see what really happened.