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January 2010 will mark the four-year anniversary of Apple’s (s aapl) first Intel-based (s intc) Mac, the MacBook Pro. With Snow Leopard officially dropping support for PowerPC Macs and the next version of iLife and iWork likely to do the same, a perfect storm is brewing where Apple can begin to really push OS X to maximize the potential of the Intel hardware it supports. 2010 looks to be a big year in terms of hardware updates from Apple; here’s our roundup of predictions on what’s to come.
Just like where it started four years ago with the first Intel Mac, the biggest and most exciting updates will happen to the MacBook Pro. The good news? With the classic MacBook seeing updates recently that peg its specs a little too close for comfort with its older brother, the new MacBook Pro update should arrive sooner rather than later.
In terms of processors, I predict Apple will adopt the mobile variant of the Core i5 and Core i7 quad-core processors currently found in the latest iMacs. Though these mobile variants, also referred to by their codename Arrandale, only feature two cores, they also come laden with Intel’s better-than-previously-integrated-but-not-quite-as-good-as-a-standalone graphics chipset. Rumor has it that Apple isn’t a fan of this implementation (as right it shouldn’t be, desiring a dedicated professional graphics card for its high-end portable). How this will shake out is still a mystery.
For the past three years, Apple has followed a steady trend of doubling both the entry-level amount of RAM and the maximum RAM that its high end portables can support. It’s a great tactic on Apple’s part as it combats only incremental performance gains with every new processor release. 2010 should be no different, with standard models of MacBook Pros shipping with 8GB of RAM with a ceiling of 16GB.
The big news for the MacBook Pros will be the inclusion of the first Blu-ray drive. It’s been a long time coming but Apple is ready to go for it and ready to do it right. Blu-ray Superdrives will be available as an option (if not standard) on the 15” and 17” MacBook Pros.
Taking advantage of the brilliant resolution of Blu-ray, the 15” MacBook Pro will also feature a gorgeous 1920 x 1080 resolution display, packing the same number of pixels as the new 21.5-inch iMac and the current 17” MacBook Pro. Of course, this also means the 17” will get a display bump as well. 2560 x 1440 seems like a bit of a stretch, but one can always hope, right?
In regards to storage, I predict we’ll see MacBook Pros starting with 500GB hard drives on the low-end 13” model and maxing out at 1TB or 1.5TB hard drives on the high-end 17” model. Before the year is out, the high-end models might even have an option for a 2TB drive.
The MacBook Air, due to it’s ultra slim and lightweight profile, will only see modest updates in 2010. Processors will be bumped to 2.26GHz and 2.53GHz (up from 1.86GHz and 2.13GHz). Hard drives on the portable will see modest size increases to 250GB SATA and 256GB solid-state drives. The next iteration of the MacBook Air will also ship with 4GB of RAM standard. Though it will be difficult for Apple to upgrade the processors, hard drives and RAM while still maintaining a profit, the price point of the MacBook Air is in a sweet spot at the moment that Apple doesn’t want to disrupt.
As a completely outlandish prediction, I predict that Apple will also release a standalone external USB Blu-ray drive for MacBook Air users and legacy users who wouldn’t mind the accessory. Price point? I’m betting $299.
Everyone’s favorite little portable recently saw an overhaul just a few months ago. For 2010, the MacBook specs will tend towards the current MacBook Pro offerings. Standard RAM will increase to 4GB (though this may remain the max for this model) and the portable will ship with either a 320GB or 500GB hard drive as standard.
The Mac mini will likely see modest processor increases (2.53GHz on the entry-level and 2.6GHz on the high-end) as well as 4GB RAM and 320GB hard drives standard. Build to order options will include 1TB drives and the Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server will ship with two 1TB drives. I also predict that Blu-ray drives will be a build-to-order option as Apple is starting to recognize the importance of the Mac mini in the living room as a more robust alternative to the Apple TV.
The iMac saw a nice update in 2009 that shifted the aspect ratio of the displays from the Apple-familiar 16:10 to the more HD-familiar 16:9. As such, the entry-level iMac is capable of displaying 1080p video, if only there were a source to play it. Similar to the MacBook Pros, I also predict the iMacs will receive built-in Blu-ray drives on the high-end models, if not standard across the entire line. The iMacs will also see a shift towards the quad-core Core i5 and Core i7 chips reaching clockspeeds similar to the current Core 2 Duo iMacs (a little over 3GHz). A subsequent update later in the year could bring about even faster processors in the neighborhood of 3.2GHz to 3.5GHz. 8GB of RAM will become standard on these Macs with the ability to upgrade to 16GB if desired.
Mac Pro & Xserve
There is still life left in the Nehalem architecture as the Core i9 “Gulftown” processor will make its debut in these high-end Macs at some point next year. Manufactured on a highly efficient 32nm die, this six core processor will boost a clock speed of around 2.8GHz and outfit the Mac in both single and dual processor varieties. This essential “12-core” MacPro or Xserve will feature 8-10GB of RAM as standard and a maximum ceiling of 64GB of RAM. You don’t have to take my word for it though, just start saving pennies now.
The Elusive iTablet
And saving the best for last, we arrive at the iTablet. While many constantly peg Apple’s unreleased tablet as occupying the space between the iPod touch and the MacBook, I predict it is between the iPod touch and MacBook of 2010, not 2009. As such, I predict the iTablet to function like a Mac and run OS X. I predict the tablet to utilize an Intel Core 2 Duo processor around the 2GHz mark. Personally, I feel Apple will disappoint many if the device functions more like an iPhone (in terms of hardware specs, besting out the 3GS 600MHz processor with 256MB of RAM). While I wouldn’t expect the tablet to function as a workstation for heavy video rendering, Apple has shown a history of utilizing hardware that can pack a punch and really maximize the OS. I predict the tablet will feature between a 7” and 10” screen (personally I’m leaning towards the latter, despite rumor sites). The iTablet will also feature support for 802.11n for fast streaming of content like iTunes Extras across your local network, support for Screen Sharing for remotely administering other Macs and the ability to connect to an external display through a micro-DisplayPort connector. I also feel the iTablet will ship in two versions, differentiated by storage size (like every other Apple product ever) and feature a solid state drive like the iPhone and iPod touch. Though the iTablet may not feature a screen with high enough resolution for HD, I do believe it will support playback of HD video through an appropriate video out connector.
Rumors of Intel and Apple co-developing LightPeak technology are becoming more commonplace and I predict we’ll see some announcement related to this in 2010. This high-speed optical connection might be essential to products like the iTablet that would benefit from its singular connection for power, data transfer, and HD video output. Or perhaps the technology could become employed in MacBook Pros, allowing use of one LightPeak connection to an iMac that provides power to charge the laptop, video signal carried to the iMac’s display and audio carried to the iMac’s internal speakers.
The white elephant still remaining in the room is of course Apple’s Display lineup. With a 24” LED display and a 30” display that barely beats the resolution of Apple’s new 27” iMac, I predict Apple will definitely be refreshing its display lineup. In particular, I expect the price of the 24” LED Cinema Display to drop to $699 and a new 27” LED Cinema Display, matching the same resolution as the iMac (remember, it’s 16:9, not 16:10) to arrive at $1299. I also predict Apple will introduce a new, high-end 32” LED display at $1799, the price point of the current 30” display.
All of these predictions are merely speculation, based on Apple’s history, rumor sites and published roadmaps from companies that Apple sources components from. While this article solely represents my opinion of what could be around the corner in 2010, I’d love to hear what you think or would like to see. Share a comment or two with your thoughts!