Intel's Mobile Processor Roadmap May Force Graphics Changes for Apple's 15-Inch MacBook Pro in 2017

While many Mac notebook users have been long awaiting refreshes for the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lineups based on Intel's 6th-generation Core "Skylake" processors, a recently leaked April roadmap for Intel's processors beyond Skylake posted to the AnandTech forums raises questions about future updates for the 15-inch MacBook Pro in particular.

intel_coffee_lake_roadmap
The update bottleneck for future Mac notebooks is primarily related to the performance of Intel's integrated graphics, and it appears that an emphasis on processing cores over graphics by Intel may force Apple to make some changes to its graphics strategy down the road.

The MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro run exclusively on integrated graphics bundled with Intel's chips, while since late 2013 the 15-inch MacBook Pro has come in two versions, a lower-end configuration with only integrated graphics and a higher-end configuration that adds a dedicated graphics chip for higher performance. 15-inch MacBook Pro models equipped with both types of graphics can automatically switch between the two depending on whether better performance or better battery life is required.

Given the importance of integrated graphics for Apple's notebooks, Apple has typically used chips including Intel's "GT3" or "GT3e" tier for graphics performance, with the "e" suffix on GT3e denoting embedded DRAM on the chip for improved performance compared to the GT3 tier. These tiers are powerful enough to provide reasonably strong graphics performance for a notebook.

Looking at Intel's roadmap for chips beyond Skylake, the 15-inch MacBook Pro runs into a problem as Intel appears to have no plans for any quad-core chips with integrated graphics higher than the "GT2" tier, which typically has about half the raw power of the GT3 tier, to be launched in the next-generation "Kaby Lake" processor family.

As a result, the currently available Skylake "H-series" chips appropriate for the 15-inch MacBook Pro that we're expecting to see in an update as soon as next month may remain Intel's lead offerings for these types of high-performance mobile chips until the introduction of new "Coffee Lake" chips in the second quarter of 2018. Even then, initial Coffee Lake chips will include only GT2-level graphics that may not be powerful enough for Apple's needs.

macbook_pro_13_15_sierra
The situation is a bit better for the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air, which use 28-watt and 15-watt versions of the "U-series" processors respectively. The leaked roadmap indicates that Kaby Lake versions of these chips with GT3e graphics are scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2017, making them available for updated notebooks perhaps in the middle of next year following Skylake updates within the next month or two.

Rounding out the Mac notebook lineup is the MacBook, which was updated in April with Skylake processors. Kaby Lake versions of those "Y-series" chips have already been launched, so they are ready to be used in next-generation MacBooks whenever Apple decides to release them. Those Kaby Lake Y-series chips will be part of Intel's lineup until late 2017 when new Cannon Lake chips based on a smaller 10 nm process are scheduled to debut.

So what exactly is this Coffee Lake family coming in early 2018? As outlined by The Motley Fool, it appears to be based on the Cannon Lake architecture that has been under development for some time, but manufactured on the current 14 nm process rather than the next-generation 10 nm process of Cannon Lake.

What Intel seems to be doing here with respect to Cannon Lake and Coffee Lake (aka 14-nanometer Cannon Lake) appears to be the result of good planning and an honest internal assessment of the health of the company's upcoming 10-nanometer manufacturing technology.

As I have written before, I believe that the reason that Intel is keeping its high performance notebook and desktop processors on its 14-nanometer technology is cost. By late 2017/early 2018 (when Coffee Lake is expected to launch), Intel's 14-nanometer technology should be quite mature, while the company's 10-nanometer technology will have barely just begun production.

As a result, Coffee Lake would be Intel's fourth processor family to come from its 14 nm process, following Broadwell, Skylake, and Kaby Lake.

It's not entirely clear how Apple will deal with the apparent high-end integrated graphics stagnation at Intel when it comes to future MacBook Pro updates, but there are a few possibilities including a return to dedicated graphics chips across the 15-inch MacBook Pro lineup or perhaps significant enough improvements in Intel's GT2 tier to make it a viable primary option for low-end configurations. It's possible Intel will also be able to release some additional "refresh" Skylake chips with faster CPU speeds to extend the lifecycle of that family, but there's only so much that can be squeezed out of the current design.

With the MacBook Pro set to receive a redesign at its next update as soon as next month, Apple could also be planning larger changes to the machine's internals than the largely drop-in chip upgrades we've seen in recent years, a shakeup that could make predicting Apple's plans from Intel's roadmaps a bit more difficult.

Related Forums: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, MacBook

Top Rated Comments

Porco Avatar
70 months ago
Here comes a thread filled with complaints over the lack of a new MBP and other new Macs. Because if we've learned one thing over the years, it's that complaining on MacRumors is how we get Apple to change things.
It's a forum, people express their opinions. Complaints and praise are both valid opinions to hold and express. Sometimes it's ok to just say what you think to vent a little, without expecting Tim Cook to be reading and have an epiphany. ;):D

Hopefully Apple will come up with solutions to this to suit everyone, but it seems clear their entire computer range is in need of updating, and it would be nice to think they'd been busy working on something special rather than just ignoring their existing line-up.
Score: 52 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mtneer Avatar
70 months ago
Actually I would be happy if Apple updated the Mac's to today's processors, let alone worry about what is going to happen in 2018.
Score: 43 Votes (Like | Disagree)
skinned66 Avatar
70 months ago
Solution: Stop using ****** Intel graphics.
Score: 40 Votes (Like | Disagree)
OldSchoolMacGuy Avatar
70 months ago
Here comes a thread filled with complaints over the lack of a new MBP and other new Macs. Because if we've learned one thing over the years, it's that complaining on MacRumors is how we get Apple to change things.
Score: 32 Votes (Like | Disagree)
rawweb Avatar
70 months ago
Seems smart to just return to dedicated graphics. Seems most people would prefer it anyway.
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Good User Name Avatar
70 months ago
So it seems that Apple really should just go for dedicated graphics chips then.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

airpodsinear 1

AirPods Save Woman's Life With Feature Everyone Should Know

Friday January 21, 2022 2:13 am PST by
Apple's AirPods have been credited with saving a woman's life after a potentially fatal fall, People reports. When a 60-year-old florist in New Jersey tripped and hit her head in her studio, she lost consciousness and awoke heavily bleeding. With nobody around to call for help, she realized she had her AirPods in, and used a "Hey Siri" command to call 911. An operator was able to stay on the ...
iphone 13 earpods

Apple to Stop Including EarPods With Every iPhone Sold in France From Next Week

Friday January 21, 2022 3:21 am PST by
Apple will no longer include EarPods with every iPhone sold in France, starting on January 24, according to a notice posted by a French carrier (via iGeneration). Apple was previously required to include EarPods in the box with the iPhone due to a French law that required every smartphone sold in the country to come with a "handsfree kit," but the law has now been changed in favor of reducing the ...
peloton tv workout cardio

Apple Floated as Potential Buyer of Peloton

Friday January 21, 2022 6:11 am PST by
Following months of bleak news about Peloton's "precarious state," including the revelation that it has halted production of its bikes and treadmills, Apple is being floated as a potential buyer of Peloton's troubled fitness business. Yesterday, CNBC reported that Peloton will temporarily stop production of its connected fitness products due to a "significant reduction" in consumer demand, a ...
Questionable Design Decisions

Apple's Most Questionable Design Decisions in Recent Memory

Sunday January 23, 2022 2:59 am PST by
Apple has always emphasized the depth of thought that goes into the design of its products. In the foreword to Designed by Apple in California, a photo book released by the company in 2016, Jony Ive explains how Apple strives "to define objects that appear effortless" and "so simple, coherent and inevitable that there could be no rational alternative." But every once in a while even Apple...
Spring 2022 Apple Products Feature

New iPad Air, Macs, and iPhone SE With 5G Likely to Be Announced at Apple Event This Spring

Thursday January 20, 2022 8:32 am PST by
Earlier this week, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman tweeted that Apple "will be holding a spring event" to announce a new iPhone SE and other hardware. In a recent edition of his newsletter, Gurman said the event is likely to occur in March or April. Gurman did not elaborate on what "other hardware" will be announced at Apple's purported spring event, but rumors suggest at least four products are...
Upcoming Products 2022 Feature

Gurman: Apple Preparing 'Widest Array of New Hardware Products in Its History' for Fall

Sunday January 23, 2022 10:32 am PST by
Apple is working on a number of new products that are set to launch this fall, and Bloomberg's Mark Gurman says that it will be "the widest array" of new devices that Apple has introduced in its history. In his latest "Power On" newsletter, Gurman explains that Apple is working on four new iPhones (5G iPhone SE, iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max), an updated low-end MacBook Pro,...
apple watch series 7 aluminum colors yellowbg

Apple Watch Charging Bug Fixed in watchOS 8.4 Release Candidate

Thursday January 20, 2022 4:01 pm PST by
The watchOS 8.4 release candidate that was seeded to developers and beta testers this morning addresses an ongoing bug that could cause some Apple Watch chargers not to work properly with the Apple Watch. Back in December, we reported on a growing number of charging issues that Apple Watch Series 7 owners were facing. Since watchOS 8.3, there have been a number of complaints about...
safari icon blue banner

macOS Monterey 12.2 and iOS 15.3 Release Candidates Fix Safari Bug That Leaks Browsing Activity

Thursday January 20, 2022 1:30 pm PST by
The macOS Monterey 12.2 and iOS 15.3 release candidates that came out today appear to address a Safari bug that could cause your recent browsing history and details about your identity to be leaked to malicious entities. As shared last week by browser fingerprinting service FingerprintJS, there is an issue with the WebKit implementation of the IndexedDB JavaScript API. Any website that uses...
apple college discounts

Apple Walks Back UNiDAYS Verification Requirement for U.S. Education Store

Friday January 21, 2022 12:43 pm PST by
Earlier this week, Apple began requiring that customers taking advantage of educational discounts in the United States verify their status as a teacher, student, or school staff member through UNiDAYS. The requirement was a major change as Apple had never asked customers to go through a verification process in the United States before, and now, just three days after verification was added,...