updated 09:35 am EDT, Mon August 30, 2010
New Snow Leopard build holds AMD Radeon 6000
The latest Mac OS X 10.6.5 beta already contains references to AMD's Radeon HD 6000 series graphics, explorers discovered this weekend. An ATIRadeonX3000 kernel extension found by Netkas refers to virtually the entire Southern Islands family, including the Antilles Pro and XT parts that may be the initial mobile chips. The chips will actually be the originally planned Northern Islands family relabeled and should run on a 40 nanometer process.
The early inclusion isn't a definite sign of plans but strongly suggests that the next wave of Macs will use some form of the Radeon HD 6000. Desktops are the most likely as Apple is still using NVIDIA for its notebook lines, although iMac and Mac Pro updates this month make it unlikely that any new models in those lines will arrive before the end of the year.
Separately, a Chinese forum post has produced some of the first known benchmarks of the Radeon HD 6780, the high-end single-chip card in the line. A synthetic test in 3DMark Vantage gives it an overall score of 11,963, or well over the sub-9000 scores of the previous champion, NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 480. It also edges out the dual-chip Radeon HD 5970 and implies that AMD has managed a major speed improvement without needing a smaller manufacturing process than than the 40nm it already uses.
A clock speed identifier attached to the benchmarks suggests that most of the improvement would come from architecture. The 6870 would still run at an 850MHz core speed like the 5870 and would only get a memory boost to 1.6GHz.