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Ivy Bridge to Offer Faster Graphics and OpenCL Support in MacBook Airs

As noted by CNet, one of the areas of focus in Intel's next generation Ivy Bridge processors is the graphics processing unit (GPU). Anandtech reports that Intel expects there to be a 60% improvement in graphics benchmarks over Sandy Bridge's integrated graphics. Sandy Bridge is the current generation Intel CPU that ships in Apple's computers.

During this week's developer's conference, CNet relays that Intel also confirmed that Ivy Bridge's integrated GPU will offer OpenCL support for the first time. OpenCL is an Apple-backed framework that makes it easier for developers to offload general non-graphical work to GPUs. It was first introduced in Apple's Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, and was described by Apple:
Snow Leopard further extends support for modern hardware with Open Computing Language (OpenCL), which lets any application tap into the vast gigaflops of GPU computing power previously available only to graphics applications. OpenCL is based on the C programming language and has been proposed as an open standard.
Apple has continued support for OpenCL in OS X Lion and presently presently lists these graphics cards or processors as providing support for OpenCL:
- NVIDIA GeForce 320M, GeForce GT 330M, GeForce 9400M, GeForce 9600M GT, GeForce 8600M GT, GeForce GT 120, GeForce GT 130, GeForce GTX 285, GeForce 8800 GT, GeForce 8800 GS, Quadro FX 4800, Quadro FX5600
- ATI Radeon HD 4670, ATI Radeon HD 4850, Radeon HD 4870, ATI Radeon HD 5670, ATI Radeon HD 5750, ATI Radeon HD 5770, ATI Radeon HD 5870
- AMD Radeon HD 6750M, AMD Radeon HD 6770M, AMD Radeon HD 6970M
If your machine does not have any of these graphics processors listed, you can't take full advantage of OpenCL enabled applications. Notably absent from the list are the Intel integrated graphics systems that presently power the MacBook Airs and 13" MacBook Pros.

The quality of Intel's integrated graphics processor performance has been long discussed over the past year. Due to the small size of the MacBook Air and 13" MacBook Pro, it's not feasible for Apple to include a discrete 3rd party graphics card to boost GPU performance. Instead, those models must rely on the graphics processor integrated into the CPU/chipset itself. In the past, Apple had used the better performing NVIDIA integrated graphics, but due to a legal dispute with Intel, NVIDIA was unable to continue manufacturing those chipsets. This year's MacBook Air finally made the transition from NVIDIA graphics to Intel graphics, though was seen as a downgrade by some.

When it's launched in 2012, Ivy Bridge should bring some welcome graphical performance improvements to Apple's MacBook Air line, which is becoming an increasingly popular choice for consumers. OpenCL support is another nice addition that should also make its way into the 2012 MacBook Airs.

Related Roundup: MacBook Air
Buyer's Guide: MacBook Air (Don't Buy)

Top Rated Comments

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67 months ago
Oh good!!

I thought they might be getting slower this time.
Rating: 6 Votes
67 months ago
And by the time Ivy Bridge comes out, the wait clocks reset for next's year faster and greater clip. Will it ever end?
Rating: 5 Votes
67 months ago

I know...

I'm sitting here with my 2011 Air. A 60% graphic power would actually make playing games feasible. I mean, I didn't buy this specifically for gaming (that'd be pretty dumb), but I like to play some sandbox games for fun.

I can't wait till I can hook up an external GPU and a cheap monitor to thunderbolt. Instant gaming mac, and extremely easy to upgrade too.

EDIT: Hmm... Come to think of it, Thunderbolt itself may have been Apple's answer to all those people who wanted to customize their macs. It essentially gives you what you need to do so, but externally so you don't have to open your machine up. Interesting thought. ^.^
Rating: 4 Votes
67 months ago

And by the time Ivy Bridge comes out, the wait clocks reset for next's year faster and greater clip. Will it ever end?

Hopefully not. :p
Rating: 3 Votes
67 months ago
Now Intel's OpenGL drivers have to stop being terrible and we're all set...
Rating: 3 Votes
67 months ago
I am waiting for Ivy Bridge macbook pro (presume it's a redesign)

my Santa Rosa mid 2007 MBP is screaming of death.........
waiting is so hard!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Rating: 3 Votes
67 months ago
Great news for the Air.

But, generally speaking:

Will the day come when we won't get goose bumps from hearing the word "integrated graphics"?
Rating: 3 Votes
67 months ago

I know...

I'm sitting here with my 2011 Air. A 60% graphic power would actually make playing games feasible. I mean, I didn't buy this specifically for gaming (that'd be pretty dumb), but I like to play some sandbox games for fun.

Why is macrumors quoting wrong information? The original article said "up to 60%" and clarified it was in one specific syntetic benchmark. Another synthetic bechmark, the advantage was 30%. No ideas what the real number in games will be.
Rating: 2 Votes
65 months ago

Technically USB3 is crap, when compared to Thunderbolt. Most Macs have 4 Thunderbolt (2 full duplex) channels on the 1 port, which gives 40Gbps (10Gbps per channel) throughput!

Besides any port you like can be surfaced through a single Thunderbolt port, and WITH none of this "burst mode" for the quoted maximum bandwidth. USB2 can't guarantee 480Mbps all the time and USB relies heavily on the CPU for most of its transfer functionality, that's why it's cheap (because it's pretty dumb). Thunderbolt on the other hand, like Firewire before it, has quite sophisticated hardware controller chips that include error-correction/QoS (another overhead that USB has to deal with). All of this guarantees that quoted 10Gpbs per-channel (as long as the device can push/pull the data that fast).

Will one USB3 port be able to provide ALL of these at the same:

* 2560x1440 Video using the native GPU (USB doesn't)
* Audio Output
* 3x POWERED USB2 ports
* 1x Firewire 800 port
* 1x Gigabit Ethernet Port
* 1x FaceTime HD Camera (a USB 2.0 device, independent of the 3 USB2 ports).

I'm sure 1 Thunderbolt port could do a hell of a lot more too, it's just that's all the I/O the Apple Thunderbolt display exposes down ONE connection.

The only thing USB ever had going for it was that it was cheap (and underpowered), just like most Windows PCs really.

I am so sick of hearing this crap about this wonderport. You aren't going to have a Tbolt mouse. You aren't going to have an affordable Tbolt external drive bay. So what, you don't want to have USB around so that every time you want to plug something in, you need a $50 dongle from Apple? Especially when the USB3 functionality is built into the chips and it's crazy cheap to add the port?

Tbolt may be a great port. Right now, it's very expensive and does very little. I'm not interested in promises about how fast it will be in the future, or what will be available. I've heard all those promises before. What can it do that I couldn't do before? At the moment, the answer is "very, very little". In the future it may do more, but hoping to not have USB3 because you have Tbolt is very... odd.
Rating: 2 Votes
67 months ago

But since FCP-X requires OpenCL there is a strange situation: FCP-X even runs on older MacBook Air models, but not on current(!) 13'' MBP or some current MacMinis.

Requires OpenCL or OpenCL compatible GPU?

There is a difference. OpenCL is part of the OS whether the GPU supports it or not... That's the whole point of OpenCL; to distribute tasks to whatever processor is available at the time, this includes CPU, GPU, DSP, and any other specialized processors the system may contain.

It's a big deal to have an OpenCL compatible GPU, because it gives the system another resource for general purpose processing; a resource that needs to exist within the system anyway.
Rating: 2 Votes

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