Apple MacBooks Ditching Intel Graphics For Nvidia?

The rumor mill is churning in overdrive ahead of Apple's MacBook event scheduled for Tuesday at the company's Cupertino, Calif. headquarters, with plenty of speculation that Apple will drop Intel's integrated graphics for Nvidia chipsets in its new family of notebooks.

Apple is notoriously mum about product details ahead of launches, but some sources say that in addition to the move onboard graphics made by Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia, the computer and consumer electronics maker may unveil its first sub-$1,000 notebook Tuesday. Whether that would be a re-priced older MacBook or a brand new product is the subject of some debate.

Major notebook players such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo already offer a wide variety of customizable laptops for less than $1,000, and even for as low as $500. Apple's current base model MacBook is priced at $1,099.

The rumor of a possible Apple move to Nvidia's graphics chipsets was first floated in late July by AppleInsider's Kasper Jade. That talk came just two weeks after Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel belatedly launched Centrino 2, its newest hardware platform for mobile PCs, after delays related in part to technical issues with integrated graphics. A hang-up in getting FCC certification of Centrino 2's WiMAX/WiFi module was named by Intel as another main reason for the delay.

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Intel's Centrino 2 processors, including the chip giant's latest Penryn-class Core 2 Duo mobile CPUs, are all but certain to be in the new MacBooks, but AppleInsider on Friday said it now "can confirm" that Apple's newest 13-inch MacBooks "will abandon Intel's integrated graphics chipsets" for the mainboard chipsets from Nvidia's MCP79 mobile platform.

Nvidia's MCP79 motherboard graphics processor supports the 1066MHz Front Side Bus, DDR2-800 and optional DDR3-1333, as well as 20 PCI-E 2.0 lanes, SATA-II, Gigabit Ethernet, Nvidia's DriveCache memory accelerator, and HD Audio.

Apple and Nvidia were contacted Monday, but neither company would comment on the speculation about the new MacBooks. Jade's July report speculated that Apple could move away from third-party suppliers' motherboard graphics entirely and resume building its own proprietary chipsets, as the company did for its PowerPC-based Macs before striking a 2006 deal for Intel processors.

Next: Big Win For Nvidia?

If Apple has indeed transitioned to MCP79 chipsets, it would be a welcome win for Nvidia, which in August announced its first quarterly net-income loss in years.

In recent months, Nvidia has also faced a renewed challenge from Advanced Micro Devices' ATI graphics cards, and had to deal with the fallout from a packaging defect that increased failure rates in some Nvidia graphics processors, as well as revelations emerging from a class-action lawsuit against Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft aboutthe high number of Windows Vista crashes caused by Nvidia device drivers.

Should Apple CEO Steve Jobs confirms Nvidia's presence in Apple's new 13-inch systems, it would also put to rest an early August report from DigiTimes that the graphics chip maker "has decided to throw in the towel and quit the chipset business," according to Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers. Nvidia strongly denied the report at the time, and what's more, has plans to unveil an ambitious new mainboard graphics chipset in the coming days that the company says will compete directly against Intel's G45 and AMD's 790GX products.

AppleInsider's Jade and Aidan Malley also claimed Friday that Apple's use of Nvidia chipsets could extend beyond the basic MacBook lineup and into MacBook Air and MacBook Pro products as well. Jade's July report on the subject, meanwhile, seemed to hint that Apple could even move away from Intel graphics in some future desktop computers.

If Nvidia's PC chipset business gets a major shot in the arm this week -- and sources say it almost certainly will, regardless of how the MacBook news plays out -- one area of the company's chipset roadmap that remains murky is on the server side.

That's because while Nvidia and Irvine, Calif.-based Broadcom are currently the only two suppliers of server chipsets for AMD's Opteron-based platforms, AMD itself plans to ship a new server chipset, its first since the AMD-8111 in 2004, in the second half of 2009.

The new chipset, code named Fiorano, will be integrated in AMD's rollout of its next-generation 45-nanometer Shanghai processors, and is followed on the AMD roadmapby another AMD server chipset called Maranello, due out in 2010.