A closer look at Apple's move to NVIDIA chipsets, DisplayPort

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
Apple's graphics options on all new MacBooks are substantially improved due to the use of NVIDIA chipsets over the Intel graphics provided on earlier models; we examine the significance of this and the choice of DisplayPort as the foundation for Apple's video output future.



NVIDIA to go



At its notebook announcement, Steve Jobs said NVIDIA had presented Apple with a new chip it had in development that incorporated the company's high performance graphics platform into a part that would also handle the general interface of a computer's main Intel processor, a task typically performed by a series of components referred to as a chipset.



NVIDIA had planned to sell the part for use in desktop PCs, but Jobs said Apple wanted to use the part in its new notebook design. The result was the GeForce 9400M, a single chip of which 70% is devoted to GPU functions. It provides as much as 6.2 times the graphics performance of the Intel chipset, integrating its own Intel GMA X3100 graphics processing unit, that Apple had been using in its entry level MacBook since late 2007.



The integrated 9400M part even delivers 55% of the 3D graphics performance of the dedicated NVIDIA 8600M GT GPU Apple had been using in its MacBook Pro; the integrated intel parts used in the MacBooks only delivered 11% of the performance of the dedicated NVIDIA CPU available on the Pro line. "In graphics intensive applications, our customers will notice a world of difference," said Bob Mansfield, Apple's Senior Vice President of Mac Hardware.



The new integrated GPU and 'chipset on a chip' appears to be larger than the MacBook's Intel Core 2 Duo processor itself, and leaves the rest of the compact logic board filled with smaller components rather than a series of other large support chips. On the main logic board (below top), the Intel CPU is black, while the NVIDIA part is a shiny silver (below bottom in detail).











Dual GPUs on the MacBook Pro



In general purpose graphics tests, the 9400M part delivers 82% of the high end, dedicated NVIDIA performance used in the previous MacBook Pros. In addition to the Nvidia GeForce 9400M GPU integrated into all of the new portables, which draws 256MB from the installed RAM (plus another 16MB to drive an external display), the MacBook Pro also incorporates an independent NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT GPU, which has its own dedicated 256MB or 512MB of graphics RAM.



This gives the MacBook Pro the ability to use integrated graphics when running off the battery to increase its lifespan, or to tap the dedicated GPU for even faster performance when power consumption isn't as critical. Switching to the dedicated GPU delivers as much as a 2.3 times boost in performance over using the integrated 9400M, but trims battery life from 5 hours down to four. Windows-based notebook owners will recognize this as the Hybrid SLI feature that NVIDIA introduced earlier this year.



Apple hasn't yet outlined if it is possible for the system to team the processing power of both GPUs for use at once, either at the present or in the future under Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, which is being designed specifically to spin processor intensive tasks off onto multiple GPUs. Snow Leopard's OpenCL intends to open up the processing potential of GPUs for general purpose math, not just video or graphics related operations.



Introducing DisplayPort



The MacBook, MacBook Pro, and revised MacBook Air also get a mini DisplayPort connector. Jobs announced that the format wasn't limited to the MacBook range and would be placed "on all our machines." The new port replaces the existing full-sized DVI port on MacBook Pros, the Mini-DVI port used on the MacBook (and iMac systems), and the Micro-DVI port of the MacBook Air.







The relatively new DisplayPort standard (now being adopted by a number of PC makers) is backwardly compatible with VGA, DVI, and dual-link DVI displays. On the entire new MacBook line, it also now provides full support for the 2560x1600 resolution of Apple's 30-inch Cinema Display, thanks to the greater graphics muscle afforded by the NVIDIA 9400M GPU.



DisplayPort offers a variety of advantages over DVI, including a more compact connector lacking the rows of pins on DVI cables that are easy to bend; the use of a digital micro-packet signaling protocol that will enable the standard to support higher resolutions than DVI in the future; and streamlined chip-to-chip communication between the video output on the system and the display. DVI requires more control circuitry in external displays and a separate standard is required to connect to the internal display, but DisplayPort addresses both internal and external links, resulting in cost savings and slimmer display housings.



Moving to Mini Display Port



Attaching an existing Cinema Display or other VGA or DVI display to the mini DisplayPort connector requires a converter cable, but Apple's new 24" Cinema Display released alongside the new laptops now includes a mini DisplayPort connector, signaling a shift for all of the company's displays to the new standard.



The new 24" screen also supplies a MagSafe connector for charging a laptop without having to plug in a separate power adapter, as well as a USB connection to support its iSight camera and integrated USB hub.







The 24" Cinema Display is detailed in:



Apple unveils 24-inch LED Cinema Display



The new MacBook line is outlined in:



Apple unveils new 13" MacBook

Apple debuts new 15" MacBook Pro

Apple refreshes 17-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 76
    crebcreb Posts: 276member
    Super nice products!
  • Reply 2 of 76
    I think is a first for a notebook to sport dual graphic GPU's, well at least the way Apple did.

    Since it has it in both MB Pros I think the overall product offering it represents great value and top notch performance when needed. I guess this kind of structure will prevail and grow larger when Snow Leopard comes in next year. Dam if I only have the money hehehe

  • Reply 3 of 76
    mactelmactel Posts: 1,275member
    I like the 24 inch display, but where's the 32 inch display and how about a 40 incher?
  • Reply 4 of 76
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by MacTel View Post


    I like the 24 inch display, but where's the 32 inch display and how about a 40 incher?



    Apple will release bigger displays when manufacturing comply with its specifications.

    By now bigger LED panels are or too expensive or can't deliver the quantities needed for fill orders to other/all Brands (Dell, HP, Viewsonic, Apple, etc)



    But hopefully that will change next year
  • Reply 5 of 76
    zandroszandros Posts: 537member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by plokoonpma View Post


    I think is a first for a notebook to sport dual graphic GPU's, well at least the way Apple did.







    It's not, Sony has done it before. Anyway, how exactly to the MBP switch between the chips? Is it a hardware switch (not likely), a software switch (in energy saver preferences, more likely) or is it automatically set according to the whims of Apple (also likely)?



    /Adrian
  • Reply 6 of 76
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    In the past, NVidia's OS X drivers haven't been that great. The current Mac Pro has a choice of ATI 7600 or Geforce 8800 and the 7600 was faster at CoreImage (LOL), and even after driver improvements came along it was only about equal. So those drivers still have a ways to go.
  • Reply 7 of 76
    dhagan4755dhagan4755 Posts: 2,152member
    This "mini" port shit is annoying! Why didn't Apple use the regular Displayport size? Adapters/dongles are such a pain in the ass.
  • Reply 8 of 76
    dogcowdogcow Posts: 713member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by DHagan4755 View Post


    This "mini" port shit is annoying! Why didn't Apple use the regular Displayport size? Adapters/dongles are such a pain in the ass.



    Agreed..



    Could someone post a comparison of Full DVI, Displayport, and Mini Displayport?
  • Reply 9 of 76
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Zandros View Post


    It's not, Sony has done it before. Anyway, how exactly to the MBP switch between the chips? Is it a hardware switch (not likely), as software switch (in energy saver preferences, more likely) or is it automatically set according to the whims of Apple (also likely)?



    /Adrian



    If I can recall they used SLI on a gaming laptop, x2 of the same kind/speed. Not a 9400 + 9600 that renders in a whole new way to deliver performance and battery management.

    It has an automatic mode that can be set on Preferences/Energy. As all Apple laptops you can override this.
  • Reply 10 of 76
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    The relatively new DisplayPort standard (now being adopted by a number of PC makers) is backwardly compatible with VGA, DVI, and dual-link DVI displays.



    I would love to hear something final on this alleged backwards compatible DisplayPort. I realize there's DVI - Female to DisplayPort Male adapters, and that you can plug old displays into the new MacBook's. But from what I understand, going the other way around is not possible. I can't take the new Display Port LED display and plug it into my existing Macbook Pro.



    From what I was reading here about Bridging the DisplayPort, that's what I understood. http://www.edn.com/index.asp?layout=...leid=CA6574650



    And in the tech specs for the LED display ( http://www.apple.com/displays/specs.html ) Apple says, "Compatible with MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro systems with Mini DisplayPort"
  • Reply 11 of 76
    normmnormm Posts: 637member
    DisplayPort uses low voltage signaling levels that are incompatible with DVI, VGA, etc. so an adapter requires more than just a cable. For going from DisplayPort output to a conventional display, the GPU would normally take care of the logical protocol conversion (encoding it in a DisplayPort data stream) and a separate adapter would deal with the electrical conversion. The conversion from DVI, VGA, etc. to DisplayPort would be slightly harder because the adapter would have to do the whole conversion, both logical and electrical, and would have to include the scaling circuitry which is present in ordinary displays but not in DisplayPort displays (since, for such displays, the GPU is responsible for image scaling).



    It's interesting that future versions of the DisplayPort protocol will be able to incoporate other serial data streams -- such as a USB connection -- into the very fast DisplayPort serial protocol, so that only one connector will be needed for connecting all the data streams to the display. This will make the display connection simpler (e.g., the triple cable on the new display would become a double cable). This will also, however, make bridges to older display protocols more complicated.



    This is all very nice but I have a longstanding interface wish that I'm hoping to see someday which would be very easy for Apple to provide. Presumably the Mac laptops will stay awake when closed and connected to the new display. It would be nice if the laptops could also be set to keep their wireless network awake whenever they are simply connected to AC power: this would allow the nice screen sharing and file system mounting software in the Leopard finder to be used to access their data from any nearby Mac desktop, without plugging the laptops into a display at all. This would be particularly nice for the Air, which has no hard-wired connection.
  • Reply 12 of 76
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Dogcow View Post


    Agreed..



    Could someone post a comparison of Full DVI, Displayport, and Mini Displayport?



    Here's DisplayPort and DVI together:



  • Reply 13 of 76
    It is possible Apple offers a mini DVI to Display Port to those of us that have an iMac or other system with mini dvi?

    I really hope so, that display must look awesome with my iMac...
  • Reply 14 of 76
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by DeaPeaJay View Post


    And in the tech specs for the LED display ( http://www.apple.com/displays/specs.html ) Apple says, "Compatible with MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro systems with Mini DisplayPort"



    I'm afraid we can't join this particular LED Cinema Display club. This product is precisely for the new generation of notebook products. Not us "old school" folks.



    Seriously, if this new display is only for the new notebooks, I think it's brilliant! Indeed, if I were to buy a new MB or MBP it fulfills my need for an uncluttered desktop! Only thing is I Just wish they'd address the glossy/matte issue.



    -YipYipYipee
  • Reply 15 of 76
    zandroszandros Posts: 537member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by plokoonpma View Post


    If I can recall they used SLI on a gaming laptop, x2 of the same kind/speed. Not a 9400 + 9600 that renders in a whole new way to deliver performance and battery management.



    Sony, not Alienware. They used Intel integrated graphics and a discrete NVIDIA graphics card on their SZ series. The other difference was the physical switch used to toggle between the discrete and the integrated card. And, if I remember correctly, it induced a second long screen blackout. So, Apples and NVIDIAs solution is doubtlessly more elegant, but it's not a first.



    Edit: Reading the new thread, the solution actually isn't very elegant. Major disappointment.



    /Adrian
  • Reply 16 of 76
    stompystompy Posts: 367member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Dogcow View Post


    Agreed..



    Could someone post a comparison of Full DVI, Displayport, and Mini Displayport?



    The mini port is less than half the size of the regular port, still not sure why the size reduction is so critical...



  • Reply 17 of 76
    I have a laptop with hdmi out and it is awesome for connecting to my HDTV. With it, I can download shows (including iTunes) and watch them on the TV with the audio automatically running through the HDTV. It has completely changed the way I watch and movies.



    This mini displayport is the only thing keeping me from ordering a new MBP. Does anyone know if the mini displayport will carry audio? What about an adapter for mini displayport to hdmi - do these exist? Do you think apple or anyone else will make them?
  • Reply 18 of 76
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by c3fcc View Post


    I have a laptop with hdmi out and it is awesome for connecting to my HDTV. With it, I can download shows (including iTunes) and watch them on the TV with the audio automatically running through the HDTV. It has completely changed the way I watch and movies.



    This mini displayport is the only thing keeping me from ordering a new MBP. Does anyone know if the mini displayport will carry audio? What about an adapter for mini displayport to hdmi - do these exist? Do you think apple or anyone else will make them?



    hdmi is just dvi + sound. So displayport to dvi and then dvi to hdmi will do it.
  • Reply 19 of 76
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Joe_the_dragon View Post


    hdmi is just dvi + sound. So displayport to dvi and then dvi to hdmi will do it.



    And a separate cable for audio, of course. Put that optical-out to good use.
  • Reply 20 of 76
    I can't wait till this NVIDIA chipset and DisplayPort trickles down to the Mac mini.

    Hopefully they will finally include the option for some type of secondary display output.



    And hopefully they will kill the stupid ComboDrive.
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