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Waiting for Ivy

February 10, 2012 - Dave Hecei
While we’re waiting for the next iPad to be announced – hopefully sometime in the first week of March – let’s sit back and speculate about the timeframe for the next versions of Macintosh models. Shipping in April are the next generation of Intel processors, code named Ivy Bridge. New Macs should soon follow.

The new Ivy Bridge processors (CPU) will still carry the Core-i series naming scheme. This includes the low- to mid-line i5, and high-end i7 (looks like the i3 is gone). These are going to be available in dual-core and quad-core configurations. The delivery date for desktop chips is April, with laptop chips arriving in May. The supposition is then that there should be new desktop Macs sometime late April and new laptop updates near the end of May or beginning of June.

Only Apple knows which Macs will get updated first – and they’re not talking…yet. If Apple still has plans for the Mac Pro workstation-class desktop, then my money would be on a new Mac Pro arriving first. The Pro was completely passed over in 2011 and hasn’t seen a refresh since the middle of 2010. Hopes are high for a new Pro tower, especially now that Apple has updated Final Cut Pro X, bringing back many of the pro features lost when they killed Final Cut Pro 7 (actually the whole Final Cut Studio 3 suite).

No matter if a new Pro comes to fruition or not, new iMacs will be out soon after Ivy Bridge hits Apple’s factories. While clock speeds won’t jump dramatically, probably only bumps from say 2.5 to 2.7, or 3.1 to 3.4, the actual benchmarks should show a decent increase in speed. The new Ivy Bridge chips will be a good bit faster at the same clock speed as the current Sandy Bridge chips.

CPU based tasks, like Photoshop filters, 3-D rendering, etc., might see a 50-200% improvement. The other thing to remember is that Ivy Bridge has added even more tech onto the chip itself. Like Sandy Bridge, Ivy has its own graphics chip onboard. It labeled as the Intel HD Graphics 4000. This new GPU supports OpenCL 1.1 and OpenGL 3.1.

It has been said that Thunderbolt support is built into the Ivy Bridge chipset, along with USB 3.0, but it’s doubtful that Apple would finally add that to any Mac. Thunderbolt is Apple/Intel’s new high-speed data port. Ivy Bridge is also based on a much smaller 22 nm (nano-meter) die and the first to use the new “3D” transistor design. Sandy Bridge has a 32 nm die. The smaller the die, the less power required, which means less heat generated. The other added benefit is faster throughput for the same clock speed.

Since the only other Mac desktop is the mini, you would think that it might get updated in April too. Unfortunately the mini is based on the MacBook platform, it uses the mobile version Intel processors. The MacBook line will likely get updated first, with the mini being the last one out the door. Please remember, this is only a guess on my part.

With mobile Ivy Bridge chips coming in May, the first to get updated will likely be the best selling Mac. You guessed it (I hope), the MacBook Air. It was last updated in July of 2011 so an end of May/beginning of June time slot sounds about right for a new Air. The biggest question is whether or not Apple has indeed created a 15-inch model, which is the current ‘rumor du jour’. If the price is right, I can see a 15-inch Air being the biggest selling laptop of 2012. The only problem is that with a 15-inch model they won’t be able to sell 13s, unless there is a big price differential. People will buy the 11-inch for the small size, or the 15-inch for the larger screen and longer battery life (just think of how big of a battery they could put in a 15-inch frame).

So, for laptops the Air is likely to be first, the MacBook Pro second, and the mini third. The only thing that Apple could do to confuse people is to bring both a new Air and a new MacBook Pro out at the same time. I think they’re far to savvy for that to happen.

Place your bets, and let’s see how I do. Hurry up summer.


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