Inside the 2016 MacBook Pro -- CPU choices

Posted:
in General Discussion edited September 2016
While no update is expected at the Sept. 7 Apple event, a long-awaited refresh of the MacBook Pro has two obvious main processor choices -- but what it has selected to use will dictate if the computer releases sooner, or later.




Relatively speaking, it has been a long time since the MacBook Pro was last updated. Even then, some of the choices made in the 2015 revisions lead to some collective head-scratching, with Apple choosing to continue to use the Haswell processor, long after its replacement.

Other than a brief period of time in 2005 and 2006, Apple wasn't known for using the newest processors in its consumer goods.

Jobs, NExT, PowerPC, and Intel

Upon Steve Jobs' return to Apple, he brought with him NeXT materials and source code, which included the NeXTStep operating system. While thoroughly unsuccessful on a commercial basis, it was the launching pad for Tim Berners-Lee's intial web browser efforts.

It had versions for not only the PowerPC, but Intel architecture as well. Apple's 1997 purchase of NeXT and NeXTStep paved the way for not just OS X, but iOS, and a much later Intel version of OS X.

Dropping the bomb

Apple invested a great deal of money in the early part of the 21st century debunking the megahertz myth. IBM and Motorola's long-term failure to keep up with Intel, even with multiple processors, ultimately proved to be PowerPC's undoing.

In June 2005, Apple CEO Steve Jobs demonstrated a preview version of OS X 10.4.1 "Tiger" that was running on an early development Intel Mac. Early development kits were a single-core 3.6GHz Pentium 4.
As attractive as Kaby Lake is, waiting until early 2017 for a refresh in the MacBook Pro line is unacceptable for the pro user
At the demo, Jobs said that OS X had been leading a "secret double life." For five years, every release of OS X had been compiled for both PowerPC and Intel hardware.

The Core Solo and Core Duo processors debuted on the Intel Mac mini in 2006.

Modern Intel

Intel originally developed the Core-series processors that debuted on Apple hardware on "Tick-Tock" development cycle, with major advancements such as a smaller processor die on the "tick," with refinements and power requirement reductions on the "tock." In the summer of 2015, Intel informed investors that it was moving to a "tick-tock-tock" cycle, as it was having difficulty with the rapid rate of development of the chips, and experienced problems with the shift to a 10nm manufacturing process, from the 14nm process used to develop the fifth generation Broadwell.

The current MacBook Pro line last updated in 2015 utilizes Haswell and Broadwell processors, depending on model.

Skylake

Skylake is the sixth generation of the chip family. It repeats the 14nm fabrication process as used in Broadwell. It comes in four variants, is the first chip to discontinue native VGA support, and has rudimentary Thunderbolt 3 support with limited 4K capability without the "Alpine Ridge" Thunderbolt controller chip.

Advantages from Broadwell to Skylake are primarily in energy consumption and native graphics performance. Apple uses Skylake processors in the 2016 MacBook.

Kaby Lake

The seventh generation of the Intel Core-family chip is called Kaby Lake. It uses the same 14nm process as Skylake, and adds native USB 3.1 Generation 2 support, bringing full 10 Gbps speeds to the protocol.

Skylake and earlier processors require a discrete controller chip for the faster USB 3.1 Generation 2, with the 2016 12-inch MacBook still being limited to 5 Gbps with inclusion of USB 3.1 Generation 1.

Also included in the seventh generation Kaby Lake processor is full, integrated support for the 40 Gbps Thunderbolt 3, which uses the same connector as USB 3.1 type C, as well as the ability to use "passive" cabling for 10 Gbps speeds. Thunderbolt 3 has sufficient bandwidth to drive a pair of 4K displays at 60Hz, and contains HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.2.

Expected in Kaby Lake are integrated graphics speed improvements over Skylake, but the magnitude of the speed boost isn't known at this time, beyond Intel marketing claims in the low-end laptop and tablet chips.

Notable in Kaby Lake is support for Intel Optane technology. Optane is Intel's name for next-generation storage, with future speeds of possibly up to 1000 times faster than flash memory, and significantly less latency than NAND SSDs.

Kaby Lake will ultimately have five classes of processors, with two classes for mobile devices and tablets; one for laptops; and two spanning servers, high-power workstations, and desktops.



At present, only the mobile device and tablet classes are shipping, and only very recently were details made public about the technical specifications. Processors suitable for the MacBook Pro (and desktop-class processors) aren't expected until the end of 2016 at the earliest.

So, which processor?

The days of Apple getting the first shipments of a new processor are well behind it. We have little faith that Apple will be the first vendor to supply a Kaby Lake desktop replacement laptop. That leaves only Skylake available for a September release, unless CEO Tim Cook has something up his sleeve.

While it is accurate that the first quad-core Skylake processors suitable for a MacBook Pro have only recently started shipping, there were other options before the April release of that particular model. A laptop Xeon processor was available in January, which could have been used, which met all the criteria that "power users" demand from the hardware -- but Apple chose to not use it.

Compounding the problem of a long update period, the forthcoming Kaby Lake S-series has significant features that would be great to have in a refreshed MacBook Pro. Full, native support for Thunderbolt 3, and full speed USB 3.1 Generation 2 are big, but given Apple's inclusion of integrated graphics in the MacBook Pro, the improvements that Kaby Lake will have would be greatly welcomed.

From a benchmark perspective, the 2012 Retina MacBook Pro with a 2.3 GHz i7 processor is only slightly behind the 2.2GHz i7 mid-2015 Retina MacBook Pro. That isn't Apple's fault, though -- Intel's delivered their end of the bargain with new processors, but the new silicon hasn't been that compelling from a sheer speed point of view.

The last few iterations of Intel chips have seen only slight increases in performance, most in battery life. Apple's battery technology and control over the hardware has mitigated the negative marketplace effect of not moving to a newer processor in the interest of long battery life, but that time is soon to be over.

Apple is bleeding Mac users, mostly from the content producing side from lack of updates because of the infrequent updates. The loss and overall market perception of the Mac lines for professionals has gotten so bad, that HP's line of workstations was promoted with a network access function to allow macOS users left in the dust to do "heavy lifting" remotely.

It's well past time for Apple to update. Cook and company can't wait for Kaby Lake if it wants to retain the "pro" user cadre, but it may already be too late.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 93
    qwweraqwwera Posts: 264member
    Whatever Apple chooses in the short term, intel is all but to the curb for future Macs. First Apple can't rely on whatever whims Intel imposes. Secondly, Intel has said publicly that the x86 is not a priority anymore with the death of the PC. Third, and most importantly, Apple has spent a lot of money on the A series. And the A series is not going to sit still. It's constantly improving. Faster I'd say than the X86 ever did. They have way too much invested in the A series to just follow Intel off the cliff they are marching towards.
    eqapbkkcanucklolliverbsimpsenTurboPGTjony0brian greenredgeminipa
  • Reply 2 of 93
    I am a pro user since 2000 and i believe Apple's story became unbelievably self centered, egostistical, no longer "havin a dream" to create greatest products but continuing the milking process of people who wants to show off. Well, i can not believe that i say this (even to my self) but with this non-professional attitude, i am out of Apple's citizenship. 
    What is this?
    Compare Dell or HP to a Mac Pro? I mean is this a joke?
    Compare Alienware to Mac Book Pro?

    I am missing the days we had Final Cut and FC Library, Shake.. even QT Pro, even Pages 9.
    Now we have bunch of non sense crApple. They are supposedly updated but for any pro user they were seriously downgraded.
    And the sad part is Adobe CS not great either for Professional updates.
    What, microsoft? God no. Google? Nope, definitely not.
    God help us. 

    And we pros loved Apple, we made Apple what it is.
    Now, Apple lost us! 
    lmagooewtheckmanxzudigital_guyaltivec88oldbluegmc50loquiturbrian greenmacapfeldigitol
  • Reply 3 of 93
    "So, which processor?"

    A10X please
    brian green
  • Reply 4 of 93
    You're kidding right? Browsing on Dell's site I see a Lattitude with 8Gb of RAM and 128 Gb of SSD for $1,619.00.
    TurboPGT
  • Reply 5 of 93
    netroxnetrox Posts: 717member
    It's really upsetting that Apple is not being ahead of its game in processor speed. I love Macs and I will NOT go Windows for personal use. I love Apple designs - minimal, clean, and consistent. I have looked at competition and find them poorly designed and "tacky" despite having better performance. It's still Windows - a horrible operating system (I use it everyday). If Apple doesn't want to up its game on laptops and desktops then it should start licensing its software to PC companies.
    brian greenviclauyycdigitol
  • Reply 6 of 93
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,812member

    Apple is bleeding Mac users, mostly from the content producing side from lack of updates because of the infrequent updates. The loss and overall market perception of the Mac lines for professionals has gotten so bad, that HP’s line of workstations was promoted with a network access function to allow macOS users left in the dust to do “heavy lifting" remotely.
    And Apple should redouble its efforts in this market because...? Does the mass PC market follow and buy whatever the “pros” are using? Does the mass PC market even need this kind of performance these days? Does the spec quoting crowd have any influence over the mass market? Apple chose to ignore the gamer hardware market years ago with no ill effect. Finally, what percentage of sales do the “pro” and “gamer” markets account for? Apple also exited the server market years ago. I see this hand wringing as yet another example of a few techies wanting Apple to upgrade just for the sake of having the latest and greatest. In my own non-pro typical user universe my late 2013 iMac 14,2 is running El Capitan quite well and speedily. The fact that processing a Handbrake re-encode takes a minute longer does not concern me.
    edited September 2016 chiasuddenly newtonmwhitelolliverTurboPGTnolamacguynetmage
  • Reply 7 of 93
    I just get the feeling that Intel is out of step with respect to Apple and processors available.  Microsoft went with Skylake early and had multiple problems with power management and other issues - which made me think that Skylake (other than a few niche areas) was maybe having a few problematic issues early on.  The Mac (mid range) often relies on Iris level intel graphics, and those chips are often missing from the earlier release of chips because of the size / yield issues.  If Apple is going to continue using Intel chips then they will have to work on a PowerVR replacement for graphics and either get chips without Intel graphics or have it disabled.  Either way the relationship is nearing a breaking point.  At a certain point I think Apple will have to seriously have to entertain Macbook line running their own Apple processors, or Intel allowing Apple to tape out their own graphics to a base Intel stock processor (using the Intel foundary).
    fastasleeplolliverbsimpsentmaybrian greenHerbivore2qwweranetmage
  • Reply 8 of 93
    foljsfoljs Posts: 327member
    While it is accurate that the first quad-core Skylake processors suitable for a MacBook Pro have only recently started shipping, there were other options before the April release of that particular model. A laptop Xeon processor was available in January, which could have been used, which met all the criteria that "power users" demand from the hardware — but Apple chose to not use it.

    Whether it meets the criteria that "power users demand" is inconsequential.

    MacBook Pro buyers are not constrained to "power users" that go for bulky, hot, and battery-draining "gamer-laptop" style rigs.

    Unless it met the criteria for an Apple MBPr -- over 7 hours or battery life in a slim casing, no overly hot, etc, it wouldn't be added ever.
    mwhitelolliverRayz2016qwweranetmage
  • Reply 9 of 93
    If Apple switches from Intel to their variant of ARM what does this mean for?
    1. Windows (BootCamp, Parallels/VMWare/VirtualBox)
    2. Running other OS's in VM's like Linux, etc?
    3. Software that relies on x86, including various unix command line tools, brew/nix, Java/Eclipse/IntelliJ, databases like Postgres/etc?
    4. Specialized, complex, professional GUI software beyond that which can be safely ported with a recompile such as Adobe CS/Microsoft Office, etc?
    I think Apple knows they're in a pickle with the Intel situation but switching to ARM would cause a slew of problems with the above use cases.
    mwhitelolliverbrian greennetmagefrankeed
  • Reply 10 of 93
    If Apple switches from Intel to their variant of ARM what does this mean for?
    1. Windows (BootCamp, Parallels/VMWare/VirtualBox)
    2. Running other OS's in VM's like Linux, etc?
    3. Software that relies on x86, including various unix command line tools, brew/nix, Java/Eclipse/IntelliJ, databases like Postgres/etc?
    4. Specialized, complex, professional GUI software beyond that which can be safely ported with a recompile such as Adobe CS/Microsoft Office, etc?
    I think Apple knows they're in a pickle with the Intel situation but switching to ARM would cause a slew of problems with the above use cases.
    1 & 2 would be unsupported (ARM Linux would run fine, Intel would have to be emulated if supported meaning running about 50% slower).
    3 & 4 - not a problem since the clang compiler currently uses generates LLVM bit code which then is translated into either ARM or Intel.   Unix software is written to support Unix not x86.   IntelliJ and Eclipse are written in Java... you know -- cross platform.... we deploy all our java applications to Power based servers .... Postgress is written in C (Clang) - cross platform based on Unix primarily.  

    GUI applications in apple rely in standard Apple based APIs not on a specific processor (i.e. Apple compiler generates LLVM code which then is translated to ARM or Intel depending on platform).   It is much easier and simpler now than pre-LLVM days when they switched to Apple.... probably because they want processor independence.
    edited September 2016 fastasleeplolliverbsimpsenoldbluegmc50brian green
  • Reply 11 of 93
    I suppose that Oracle has made inroads getting the JVM onto ARM but in the meantime the transition would suck for JVM devs on macOS.
  • Reply 12 of 93
    I suppose that Oracle has made inroads getting the JVM onto ARM but in the meantime the transition would suck for JVM devs on macOS.
    The transition would be non-existent.  Java running on ARM/macOS is no more difficult than running on Intel/macOS.  Java is already available for Linux ARM -- macOS ARM would likely have a larger marketshare...
    edited September 2016 lolliverbsimpsenbrian greennetmage
  • Reply 13 of 93
    How Apple considers a Mac that can only have 16GB of RAM a "pro" computer is beyond me. 
    oldbluegmc50viclauyycqwweratoranagaGymkhanarepressthis
  • Reply 14 of 93
    19831983 Posts: 1,158member
    With all the hassle Apple apparently has with Intel and the fact that they for what ever reason prefer AMD's discrete GPUs over Nvidia's...why don't they just buy out AMD (a lot cheaper than Nvidia) and have instant access to that company's GPU and x86 line of CPUs, then use the expertise they've gained from their A series SoC's to improve them, and finally be fully vertically integrated in the CPU and GPU department by owning the technology.
    edited September 2016 oldbluegmc50viclauyycnetmagerepressthis
  • Reply 15 of 93
    I am a pro user since 2000 and i believe Apple's story became unbelievably self centered, egostistical, no longer "havin a dream" to create greatest products but continuing the milking process of people who wants to show off. Well, i can not believe that i say this (even to my self) but with this non-professional attitude, i am out of Apple's citizenship. 
    What is this?
    Compare Dell or HP to a Mac Pro? I mean is this a joke?
    Compare Alienware to Mac Book Pro?

    I am missing the days we had Final Cut and FC Library, Shake.. even QT Pro, even Pages 9.
    Now we have bunch of non sense crApple. They are supposedly updated but for any pro user they were seriously downgraded.
    And the sad part is Adobe CS not great either for Professional updates.
    What, microsoft? God no. Google? Nope, definitely not.
    God help us. 

    And we pros loved Apple, we made Apple what it is.
    Now, Apple lost us! 
    Misdirected anger much?
    First, del and Hp are not any faster then the mac pro at all.
    The race for speed ended in 2012, when cpuS could no longer get any faster, and only chipset upgrades were remaining.

    And why are you compering a gaming laptop to a desktop replacement?
    fastasleepmacxpressmwhitelolliverwilliamlondonHerbivore2netmage
  • Reply 16 of 93

    netrox said:
    It's really upsetting that Apple is not being ahead of its game in processor speed. I love Macs and I will NOT go Windows for personal use. I love Apple designs - minimal, clean, and consistent. I have looked at competition and find them poorly designed and "tacky" despite having better performance. It's still Windows - a horrible operating system (I use it everyday). If Apple doesn't want to up its game on laptops and desktops then it should start licensing its software to PC companies.
    CPU speed doesn't matter nowadays.
  • Reply 17 of 93

    netrox said:
    It's really upsetting that Apple is not being ahead of its game in processor speed. I love Macs and I will NOT go Windows for personal use. I love Apple designs - minimal, clean, and consistent. I have looked at competition and find them poorly designed and "tacky" despite having better performance. It's still Windows - a horrible operating system (I use it everyday). If Apple doesn't want to up its game on laptops and desktops then it should start licensing its software to PC companies.
    CPU speed doesn't matter nowadays.
    Especially since the vast majority of users have their processors idling 80% to 90% of the time..... but then some people just have to have their processor idle at 95% of the time :open_mouth: 


    fastasleepmwhitelolliverwilliamlondonstompyuraharabrian greennetmage
  • Reply 18 of 93
    xzuxzu Posts: 139member
    First, del and Hp are not any faster then the mac pro at all.

    But a Mac Pro still is premium priced starting at $2999 with very old, non-replacement graphics and little expansion..... 

    Puhleeze... http://imgur.com/5P0suqc

    Maybe Apple should just license OS X it does run much better on other peoples hardware. 
    oldbluegmc50calebbenbekke
  • Reply 19 of 93

    macgizmo said:
    How Apple considers a Mac that can only have 16GB of RAM a "pro" computer is beyond me. 
    macgizmo said:
    How Apple considers a Mac that can only have 16GB of RAM a "pro" computer is beyond me. 
    Thats the limit on 4th generation chipset for the MBP, so would not be able to upgrade ram if you wanted to.
    fastasleepwilliamlondonnetmagerepressthis
  • Reply 20 of 93
    xzu said:
    First, del and Hp are not any faster then the mac pro at all.

    But a Mac Pro still is premium priced starting at $2999 with very old, non-replacement graphics and little expansion..... 

    Puhleeze... http://imgur.com/5P0suqc

    Maybe Apple should just license OS X it does run much better on other peoples hardware. 
    Although the current Mac Pro is getting a little long in the tooth - it is still more expandable than the old Mac Pro by far (I have the 2008 Mac Pro).  I currently have two 5770 graphics cards sitting in the case and it leaves one smaller / lower bandwidth PCIe slot which is taken up by a SAS controller to an external hard drive chassis (at lower bandwidth than I would like).... and it was full.  The picture - the largest of the cables (three of them with large boxes on the cable) are actually DVI conversion cables which I would still have on the larger box with the more modern graphics card options (which use smaller connectors).  The rest of the cables are either USB or thunderbolt.... and the only savings I can see is if you had maybe a few hard drives that could have been internal -- but then I have been told hard drives are so out these days (I have 10 of them connected - they would have to be external anyways  )

    Call me crazy, but I actually like the design - I just wish they had a mid-level version of it (above a Mac Mini but with iMac level components).  I would be able to pop off all the connections and pop it in my bag and take it with me when I go back to my sisters place for 6 weeks this year (transporting my Mac Pro to Thailand was ... entertaining to say the least).
    edited September 2016 macxpresslolliveroldbluegmc50williamlondonbrian greennetmage
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