When is Sandy Bridge Coming
to Macs?

Sandy Bridge is the name for Intel’s second generation Core processors, including the Core i3, i5 and i7. As you know, Apple switched to Intel processors in 2006 and the question is now, when will Cupertino put Sandy Bridge into Macs?

Published: Sat 26 Feb 2011, 11:44 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 7:04 PM

In the past, it’s actually happened that Apple has adopted new Intel processors before they’re widely used by PC manufacturers but not so this time apparently. And that may have been a wise decision. Intel officially unveiled the Sandy Bridge processors at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January but shortly thereafter problems set in.

The chip-manufacturer announced early February that there was a “design flaw” in the chipset used with the Sandy Bridge processors. Specifically the Serial-ATA (SATA) ports could degrade over time, possibly impacting performance and functionality of storage devices, like hard drives. Now this problem has been rectified and PCs with Sandy Bridge are coming fast and thick, as manufacturers scramble to get them to customers.

If Apple were to adopt Sandy Bridge, what would it offer Mac users?

First, Sandy Bridge offers more speed at lower power consumption. Basically you would get a faster Mac that uses less energy, which also means less heat and better battery life in portables. This is of course most important in portable computers but even in desktops energy efficiency is increasingly important.

Second, Intel has focused a lot on video transcoding in Sandy Bridge. This means taking a video file in one format and changing it, translating it, if you will, into a different format. A good example is taking an HD movie file from your Mac and putting it on your iPhone: to play correctly on the iPhone it has to be transcoded. Transcoding is a processing-heavy task and Intel’s Quick Sync technology in Sandy Bridge speeds the conversion process up considerably. A 4GB HD video file was transcoded in 16 seconds in Intel’s demonstrations at CES.

Third, Sandy Bridge has graphics built-in to the processor. That in itself is nothing new but Intel has integrated the graphics even closer to the processor itself. So close, in fact, that they are talking about processor graphics now, not integrated graphics. Graphics performance is now good enough to play games like World of Warcraft on high quality settings, something previously unheard of with integrated graphics. The processor graphics in Sandy Bridge are also geared for playing back HD video, something we do more and more of with our computers.

Fourth, this is where there’s the most uncertainty how and even if this will affect Mac users, is Intel Insider. Insider allows HD video to stream to the computer, and, by using Intel’s Wireless Display technology, also to HD TV sets. The streaming is not the key though; the key is that the stream can be protected by the hardware, from tampering, copying, capturing, etc. In other words, Intel Insider is a form of hardware DRM (Digital Rights Management). Apparently major TV studios and networks in the US are now looking at offering their content streaming, as they can be assured that it’s protected by Intel Insider.

I’m sure Apple will put Sandy Bridge processors in Macs soon, perhaps even before you can read this article. The new Intel processors will bring a number of benefits to portable Macs in particular, so you may want to hold off buying one for just a while yet.


Magnus Nystedt is a frequent technology commentator and blogger. You can read more of Magnus’ work at www.nystedt.org

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