Intel Debuts a Vision for MacBook Air's New CPU

Intel

A cluster of future CPUs from Intel have just been announced, and among them are mobile chips that could power the rumored, smaller MacBook Air upgrade. Thing is, there are two candidates.

The new Intel chips come with detailed specs and prices, and cover upgrades to the Core i5 and i7 range. The big-hitter among the new chips is the i7-640M, which has a default clock speed of 2.8 GHz and yet can be turbo-boosted up to 3.4 GHz—it costs a largish $346 to bulk buyers. Behind those come the i5-580M and i5-560M, which both have a default clock speed of 2.66 GHz, with the 580M turbo-boostable up to 3.33 GHz. These chips suck a TDP of 35W, which is sizable, so there are also 18W units en route for machines where lower power consumption is important: The i7-680UM has a 1.46 GHz speed and the i5-560UM runs at 1.33 GHz.

For the ultra-low power needs of powerful but super-slim computers, there's also the i7-660LM chip, which runs at 2.26 GHz native speed, and 3.06 GHz at turbo speeds with just 25W of consumption. This is a 32nm chip, with two cores that can run four threads, and has a 3-megabyte L2 cache.

Those of you who aren't chip fanatics will probably hum and hah at this, but perhaps you shouldn't since this last chip is very interesting to Apple aficionados. The current MacBook Air CPU is a choice between a 1.86 GHz or 2.13 GHz Core 2 Duo chip, each with 6 megabytes of L2-cache. In some ways the new i7 low profile CPU outperforms this chip, and represents an incremental bump in what the chip is capable of doing.

With recent rumors building about a potential MacBook Air revision, suspicion should fall on the 660LM as its potential powerhouse. But there's also another option: The 680UM. This is a low-power chip, clocked slower than the existing MacBook Air CPU, but it's also an ultra-slim chip, with particularly good power consumption specifications. And if rumors about the Air's upgrade are true, namely that it'll be smaller and lighter than the current model—and thus have less space for a battery as well as cooling gear—the 680 chip may be the one. This means the next-gen Air may be distinct from the larger MacBooks in terms of processing power but still more capable than the iPad, meaning it could occupy an interesting middle ground between them and thus avoid cannibalizing sales of either.

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