Yesterday Apple announced its refreshed line of MacBook Pros sporting the latest Sandybridge processors and AMD graphics processors complimented by Intel’s integrated graphics chip. However, the baseline MacBook Pro lacks a discrete GPU and is powered by Intel’s HD 3000. While some are decrying Apple for intentionally ditching Nvidia for Intel, the constraints of the 13″ MacBook Pro forced Apple’s hand.
During the previous MacBook Pro revision Apple upgraded the 15 and 17-inch models with Intel’s Core i5 and i7 processors while sticking with the Core 2 Duo for the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The reason was frustrating; Nvidia’s 320M GPU gave the low end MacBook Pro its graphics kick and acted as a chipset for Intel’s Core 2 processors. This allowed Apple to shrink the size of the logic board in favor or a larger battery.
Intel eventually introduced its newest line of processors to succeed the Core 2 line dubbed Core i3, i5 and i7. However, Intel ran in to legal issues with Nvidia and blocked them from making chipsets for the newest line of processors. Intel and Nvidia’s heated legal battle which started in directly effected Apple. For Apple to continue using Nvidia’s GPU and chipset combo, Intel’s newest Core i5 processors could not be used.
Skipping Intel’s Sandybridge CPUs and sticking with a slightly faster Core 2 processor combined with an Nvidia 320 or 330M GPU would have been a bad move by Apple. However, the design constraints of the 13-inch MacBook Pro meant Apple couldn’t include a discrete GPU and was forced to use a chipset/GPU combination. The ultimate result is Intel’s HD 3000 which can barely go toe-to-toe with Nvidia’s lower end 310M and 320M GPU and has some questioning whether a Mac with integrated graphics can be really be a pro level machine.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro’s space constraints, Nvidia’s inability to create a compatible chipset/GPU combo and Apple’s reluctance to skip over Sandybridge CPUs led to Intel HD 3000 powering the baseline MacBook Pro.