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
77 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
77 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
77 months ago
Solution: Stop using ****** Intel graphics.
Score: 40 Votes (Like | Disagree)
OldSchoolMacGuy Avatar
77 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
77 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
77 months ago
So it seems that Apple really should just go for dedicated graphics chips then.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

iPhone 14 Dummies 1 Feature

Everything Rumored for Apple's September Event: iPhone 14, Apple Watch Pro and More

Friday August 12, 2022 2:34 pm PDT by
There's just about a month to go until Apple holds its annual September event focusing on new iPhone and Apple Watch models. We thought we'd take a quick look at everything that's rumored for Apple's September event to give MacRumors readers a rundown on what to expect when the first fall event rolls around. iPhone 14 The iPhone 14 can probably be described more as an "iPhone 13S" because...
airpods pro black background

AirPods Pro 2: Five New Features and Improvements to Expect

Sunday August 14, 2022 3:28 pm PDT by
Apple's second-generation AirPods Pro are finally nearing launch, with a release expected later this year. If you are considering upgrading to the new AirPods Pro once they are released, keep reading for a list of five new features to expect. In addition to all-new features, the second-generation AirPods Pro will likely adopt some features added to the standard AirPods last year. H2 Chip ...
z fold 4 1

Hands-On With Samsung's Latest Foldable Smartphones, the Galaxy Z Fold and Z Flip

Friday August 12, 2022 12:46 pm PDT by
Samsung this week launched its fourth-generation foldable devices, the $1,000 Galaxy Z Flip and the $1,800 Galaxy Z Fold. Though there's no sign of a comparable Apple foldable device on the horizon, rumors suggest prototypes are in the works, so we thought we'd take a look at Samsung's newest smartphones to see what Apple needs to measure up to when a foldable iPhone does come out. Subscribe ...
top stories 13aug2022

Top Stories: New Battery Percentage Icon in iOS 16, USB-C AirPods Rumor, and More

Saturday August 13, 2022 6:00 am PDT by
This week brought some shocking news for iOS 16 beta testers, with Apple bringing back the iPhone battery percentage to the status bar after a number of years. Other news and rumors this week included word that Apple has started recording portions of its media event planned for next month to introduce the iPhone 14 and Apple Watch Series 8, claims about iPhone 14 Pro pricing and Apple's...
iCloud General Feature

Apple Remains Silent About Plans to Detect Known CSAM Stored in iCloud Photos

Saturday August 13, 2022 1:52 pm PDT by
It has now been over a year since Apple announced plans for three new child safety features, including a system to detect known Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) images stored in iCloud Photos, an option to blur sexually explicit photos in the Messages app, and child exploitation resources for Siri. The latter two features are now available, but Apple remains silent about its plans for the CSAM...
apple watch se

Apple Watch SE vs. Apple Watch Series 8: New Features to Expect If You've Waited to Upgrade

Monday August 15, 2022 2:44 am PDT by
The Apple Watch SE was announced in September 2020 and has been a popular Apple Watch model for customers looking for their first smartwatch or an affordable Apple Watch. Apple Watch SE customers may be wondering, however, what's in store for them with the upcoming Apple Watch Series 8 and what new features they can expect. Continue reading to find out. Apple Watch SE vs. Apple Watch Series ...