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Intel's Broadwell chip lets Apple go Retina with MacBook Air

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 7, 2015
Unlikely to wait until Skylake, Intel's next iteration, due later this year.

That kind of turnaround may be difficult with Broadwell, since unlike Haswell, which was a size match for its predecessor, Ivy Bridge, the fifth-generation chip will require a motherboard redesign, said both Rau and Hung. That, in turn, will necessitate modifications to other components.

"Broadwell will require major changes to the motherboard, which means everything inside will be changing, including the battery's shape," Rau said.

There's one potential fly in the ointment. Because of Broadwell's long delay and the impending arrival of its successor, code named Skylake, by the end of the year, it's possible that Apple skips the former and waits for the latter, which is supposed to boost performance even more.

Not likely, but possible: OEMs rarely skip an Intel upgrade. "Apple is a halo over Intel," said Rau, referring to Apple's dominant share of the premium market and its use of state-of-the-art components. "Apple and Intel would want Broadwell, and Intel doesn't want to leave any money on the table."

Because Skylake will rely on the same die size as Broadwell, transitioning to the former from the latter will be less taxing than moving from Haswell to Broadwell.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, also thought Apple would not skip Broadwell. "Apple would probably be fine with waiting until Intel's SkyLake, but I don't think they will," Moorhead said in an email. "I believe they will take a few of the platforms to Broadwell where they could enable thinner designs with better graphics, improved video transcoding, and a little better battery life."

One of Skylake's most touted new features -- wireless charging, docking and data transfer -- may not be in Apple's plans, either. "I think Apple will opt instead to enable a wireless docking solution on their own that spans iPhone, iPad and Mac," said Moorhead.

Intel's wireless docking, which relies on a technology called Rezence for wire-free charging, will work only with devices powered by Skylake chips; Apple's iPhone and iPad use Apple's own system-on-a-chip, or SoC, based on the ARM architecture.

Current MacBook Air prices range from $899 for the 11-in. model to a high of $1,199 for the 13-in. notebook. When Apple has introduced a Retina-equipped model in a line that formerly was exclusively lower resolution, it has priced the former several hundred dollars higher while retaining the existing models and their prices as it transitions to an all-Retina portfolio.


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