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Predicting MacBooks with the Ivy Bridge schedule

Intel’s Ivy Bridge release schedule gives us some strong guidance for Apple’s computer lineup,1 especially by paying attention to the TDP wattages (maximum power consumption and heat output) of the lineup. Some easy guesses:

The big question is the 15” line. The hot 45-watt quad-core CPUs and high-drain discrete GPUs have made the current 15” MacBook Pro fairly mediocre, especially with Lion’s half-assed GPU-switching mechanism that ensures that the discrete GPU is almost always running.

If the next 15” MacBook Pro adopts more of an Air-like design, as is widely rumored, I don’t think a 45-watt CPU with a discrete GPU is feasible. Something has to give: either it needs to retain its current bulk (rather than going “Air”), or it needs to use lower-wattage CPUs by downgrading from quad-core to dual-core, or it needs to drop the discrete GPU by downgrading the 3D performance, or it will need a significantly advanced, low-wattage CPU that Intel hasn’t listed in these plans (unlikely).

My guess is that they pick two: they make a 15” Air that drops the Pro’s discrete GPU and downgrades to dual-core 17-watt CPUs, effectively pairing Air-class performance with a larger screen. In a 15” Air-like chassis, this could be very cool-running and quiet with a great battery life and a significant weight savings from the 15” MacBook Pro.

Apple could plausibly launch such a 15” Air in June with the 1.8 GHz i5-3427U and 2.0 GHz i7-3667U, also bringing those CPU options to the 11” and 13” Airs in a minor simultaneous update.

To placate pro users and buy some time until Intel makes lower-wattage quad-core CPUs, Apple could keep selling the current-style 15” MacBook Pro with fast, hot CPUs and GPUs alongside the 15” Air. In this update, they could quietly discontinue the 13” MacBook Pro since so many people are buying the MacBook Air instead. And then, in a future update, they could quietly discontinue the 15” MacBook Pro, leaving only the 11/13/15” Airs to satisfy most customers and the huge, heavy 17” MacBook Pro for high-end needs.

  1. And of course, the new Xeon E5 means new Mac Pros any day now. ↩︎