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Centrino update for Mac, what does it mean?

Of course, you may not have that impression if you have had the opportunity to see photographs of the interior of the Old Federal Reserve Building in San Francisco, where Intel presented the presentation last Wednesday. In that place there were many Windows notebooks from Dell, Lenovo and HP. So how can we talk about the Mac with all those Windows machines surrounding the event? The truth is that we only have to take a look at the past to realize what the sequence of events usually is whenever an event of these characteristics has taken place.

Last July we were able to attend Intel’s headquarters in Santa Clara where the company announced its Core 2 Duo processors. On that occasion Apple was not present at the event either, and yet we only had to wait a few months for both the MacBook Pro and MacBook to be updated with Core 2 Duo processors. Therefore, it seems quite likely that something similar will happen after the introduction of the new Centrino platform.

Additionally, Apple has 891,000 reasons to improve its portable product line. In fact, that is the figure that corresponds to the laptops sold by Apple during its second fiscal quarter. The sale of notebooks in general and MacBooks in particular are helping to maintain Apple’s stellar finances, so it makes a lot of sense that the company continues to innovate in that product line.

So what can Mac users expect when (if ever) so-called Santa Rosa chips are part of an Apple laptop in the coming months? You are unlikely to see a substantial increase in raw processor performance. Intel’s new processors, with Eden known as “enhanced Core 2 Duo”, offer a range of speeds between 1.8 GHz and 2.4 GHz; by comparison, the current MacBook Pro offers a top speed of 2.33 GHz while the fastest MacBook runs at 2 GHz.

What you will see, however, will be a faster front end bus, as the chips have an 800 MHz front side bus compared to the 667 MHz used by the Core 2 Duo chips currently used in portable Macs.

A faster front end bus means that data also moves faster between the CPU and the chipset (in this case, the Mobile Intel GM965 Express chipset), responsible for containing memory management and connections to main memory through memory bus (usually running at the same speed as the front end bus), and this is where you are likely to get faster. But remember that most of the performance tests and demos done with Eden show considerable improvement compared to the original Centrino systems from 2003, although considerably less when compared to the latest Centrino systems.

The actual performance difference that Mac users will see compared to the current Core 2 Duo processors used in current MacBook and MacBook Pro will be less dramatic; And the 802.11n wireless component of the Centrino platform is something Apple has already taken care of. However, the improvement in consumption management will translate into greater battery life for most situations.

Another feature of the new platform is an optional capability called Turbo Memory. Intel indicates that this feature improves responsiveness and multitasking capabilities by using (currently) a 512MB or 1GB non-volatile cache flash memory reducing hard drive access. This allows applications to run faster and also reduces battery consumption among other benefits. A few PC makers are already incorporating Turbo Memory into their releases with the new chip, and it is not yet clear whether such technology will be incorporated into any future Mac offerings (although it likely will).