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Opinion: After the Core 2 Duo chip, what's next for Apple laptops?

Hitting the sweet spot between too slow and fast enough is critical

By Dan Turner
August 27, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - It's always a bit of a delicate dance, running the laptop division at a computer company -- certainly at one that's as vertically integrated as Apple, and certainly when the next generation of the company's popular MacBook and MacBook Pro lines are being prepped for release.

You want to make a powerful, full-featured laptop, but not one that obviates your company's desktops. In the past, when competent CPUs ran large and hot, and solid graphics required large and dedicated boards, this wasn't much of an issue. But based on rumblings about Intel's new laptop CPUs and various low-power graphics solutions, we may be seeing the last signs of a tipping point -- to use a marketing term -- after which time laptops may be all most people need.

As Computerworld blogger Seth Weintraub has already pointed out, Intel's new Nehalem is near, even though it was recently rebranded as Core i7 and may have a model code-named Bloomfield (Note to Intel: We surrender! All the code names are too much!). And tech know-it-alls are drooling over the speedy goodness, as Seth outlines.

Now in use: Core 2 Duo

The current generation of the MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air -- referred to collectively as "the MBs" -- are built around Intel's oddly named Core 2 Duo processors, which range in speed from 1.6 GHz to 2.5 GHz. (If you want to get into more baffling detail, the part designation for the 2.4-GHz CPU in the MacBook is T8300, while the 2.5-GHz CPU in the MacBook Pro is T9300.)

These are all from the "Penryn" clan of processors, as per Intel's family tree; the previous MBs used "Merom" processors. The newer chips are built on a 45-nanometer process, compared to the older generation's 65nm, offering better energy efficiency and a higher top-end speed.

To add to the marketing-name soup, these models are also based on Intel's "Santa Rosa" chip set -- with "chip set" encompassing the CPU plus the motherboard chips as well as the hardware for wireless connectivity. And Santa Rosa is the fourth generation of what Intel calls "Centrino." Which, to bring things in a circle, is a blanket term for chip set.

Code names: stop the madness!

Now let's try unpacking code names for the future. Ready?

Nehalem -- Core i7 -- is the CPU, like a Core 2 Duo, that fits into the Calpella (again, Intel -- really?) chip set. Compounding the issue is the fact that CPUs and chip sets can mix and match: for example, the Penryn CPU can go into the Santa Rosa and Montevina chip sets, and the Santa Rosa chip set can support both the Penryn and Merom.

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