Between packing up to move apartments and keeping an eye on Twitter’s Chirp conference, I’ve been playing around with a new 15-inch Macbook Pro, one of the many new laptops introduced by Apple earlier this week. The 15-inch devices, which use Intel’s i5 and i7 processors while the 13-inch Macbook Pro uses the Intel Core 2 Duo chip, look virtually no different than they did before, with unibody styling and the same screen size, weight and number of ports. The only visible change is in the design of the mag-safe power connector, which is now clearly inspired by the MacBook Air charger.
The real change in these new laptops is under the hood — in the stuff you can’t see. It all starts with the integrated (Nvidia’s 320M) and discrete (Nvidia’s GeForce 330M GT) graphics chips, which can be found in both the 15- and 17-inch machines. What Apple has done in this most recent update to its line-up is make switching between two graphics modes automatic, depending on the task at hand. For instance, a simple application such as Mail or Safari by default uses the embedded/integrated graphics engine, while more graphics-intensive apps such as Premiere or Aperture automatically switch to the more muscular graphics chips.
So what’s the big deal about this? First, you get a smoother performance. But the big impact is on the battery life of these laptops. While the previous generation of MacBook Pros used Nvidia’s 9400M integrated graphics engine, the new line-up uses the new Nvidia 320M. The old chip had 16 cores while the new 320M has 48. And yet the 320M, despite being more muscular (it provides an 80 percent performance gain over the 9400M) is 40 percent more energy efficient. That boosts the battery life of the laptops by as much as three hours, which means Apple is offering total battery life of between 8 and 10 hours on the new MacBook Pros.
I’m pretty sure Apple made more tweaks than just that in order to get those 8-10 hours, but graphic chip optimization has to be right up there when it comes to squeezing more out of the battery. Maybe because it makes both the hardware and the operating system it’s able to get more from the batteries on its machines.
These tweaks reminded me of something uber-investor and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla, who will be speaking at our Green:Net conference on April 29, said recently — that by innovating around the internal combustion engine, we can substantially improve car mileage. Others believe that by writing more efficient, smarter software, more life can be squeezed from the current generation of battery technology. Apple is certainly proving that.
Oh and in case you were wondering about the machine itself, it is really really really fast. Much faster than my old MacBook Pro, which has an SSD drive and 8 GB of memory. Apps start in a blink of an eye and even iTunes works as if it was suddenly Barry Bonds. If you want to know anything specific, go ahead and ask me, and I will do my best to answer your questions.