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.

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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
Related Forum: MacBook Air

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Top Rated Comments

jhvander Avatar
166 months ago
Oh good!!

I thought they might be getting slower this time.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MetalMoon Avatar
166 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?
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DESNOS Avatar
166 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. ^.^
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Nostromo Avatar
166 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"?
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Dreamer2go Avatar
166 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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Northgrove Avatar
166 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
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)