updated 10:00 am EDT, Fri April 16, 2010
Apple tweaks Intel chipset for MBP graphics switch
A teardown of the Core i5 MacBook Pro late Thursday has revealed changes by Apple to Intel's chipset. It still uses the HM55 Express chipset at the heart of many modern Core i3, i5 and i7 notebooks but is now believed by iFixit to have been modified to allow the graphics switching between Intel's video and the faster NVIDIA GeForce 330M.
The graphics technology is unique in the computing world as, unlike NVIDIA's own Optimus, it doesn't have to keep the unused graphics core active to switch on the fly. Apple's software is also different as it simply looks for the use of graphics-intensive APIs like Quartz Extreme to switch to the GeForce chip. The Windows-only Optimus technology is forced to use a "white list" of apps set both by the driver and the user to determine which graphics to use.
Much of the design is the same, but Apple has quietly upgraded to a 77Wh battery from the earlier 73Wh unit, partly explaining the extra two hours of runtime. The Bluetooth/Wi-Fi combo has moved to near the optical drive, like with the plastic unibody MacBook, and even uses the same card. Seagate is still the manufacturer of choice for the hard drive.
The tweaks, while not superficially radical, do show Apple making changes that make its systems unique compared to reference Intel designs. Previously, the GeForce 9400M was at least partly influenced by Apple but was used for a number of rivals such as Dell and Toshiba. Apple's strategy for both the 330M and the 13-inch model's full 320M chipset make it unlikely others will have the option of following suit.