Thoughts on the Core 2 Duo in the new MacBook Air

My pet theory is that Apple's choice of the Core 2 Duo for the MBA has something to do with the graphics, although it's more likely that it simply couldn't source the Core i3 in enough quantity.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

I've been critical of Apple's choice of the Intel's Core 2 Duo processor for the new MacBook Air (and MacBook and Mac mini). I'm at a loss as to why Apple would ship a computer with two-year-old silicon at its heart.

It just seems silly to me that Apple would ship an “updated” MacBook Air with a processor that was released in Q3 2008. Plus the C2D is bigger, slower and hotter than the current generation Intel Core i3-530 processor.

Ranting aside, the mystery of exactly which Core 2 Duo chip is in the new MacBook Air may finally be solved. After running into a dead end with Apple PR (they don't return emails) I've determined that Apple's using the Intel SU9400and SL9400 processors in the MacBook Air 11.6 and 13.3-inch models, respectively.

Here are the MBA processor specs from Apple:

Notice how they mesh exactly with the Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 and SL9400 specifications:

Mystery solved. Apple's most likely using the Intel SU9400 in the 11.6-inch MacBook Air and the SL9400 in the 13.3-incher. (You can compare the two C2D processors here).

My pet theory is that Apple's choice of the Core 2 Duo processor for the MBA has something to do with the graphics. The newer Core i3 processor includes Intel HD graphics architecture on the chip -- technology that Apple didn't plan to use.

Apple ships the 2010 MacBook Air with a discrete graphics processor (GPU) -- an NVIDIA GeForce 320M with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM -- rather than using the integrated graphics that comes on the Intel chips. Perhaps Apple didn't want to pay more for the newer chip, only to get better graphics that it wasn't going to use? Again, just a theory.

My problem with Apple's chip selection it that even though the performance bump from the Core 2 Duo to the Core i3 is marginal, the Core i3 has several other advantages.

The i3 processor is better at multi-tasking.

Whereas each individual processor (or core) on models in the Core 2 Duo range could handle just one processing thread at a time, Hyper-Threading allows the Core i3 to run two processing threads simultaneously on each core -- allowing it to perform four things at once, instead of the usual two.

Some of the other key differences between the Core i3 and Core 2 Duo:

  1. The Core i3 is based on the 32 nm version of the Nehalem architecture. The Core 2 Duo is based on the Core architecture, which is a derivative of the P6 architecture used all the way back in the Pentium Pro, Pentium II, and Pentium III.
  2. The Core i3 has HyperThreading technology.
  3. The Core i3 contains the SSE4 and AEX instruction set.
  4. The Core i3 has a graphics core on the processor.
  5. The Core i3 has a built-in memory controller.
  6. The Core i3 has a built-in PCI controller.
  7. The Core i3 uses a Direct Media Interface bus while the Core 2 Duo uses the aging Front Side Bus.

Conspiracy theories aside, it's more likely that Apple simply couldn't source the Core i3 in enough quantity to ship in the MacBook Air's timetable.

What's your pet theory? Should Apple have held up the new MBA until the Core i3 was available?

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