The next MacBook Pro?

Ap­ple made some incredible de­sign changes to its new MacBook, but will they and other tech de­vel­op­ments pave the way for a new kind of pro note­book from Cu­per­tino?

Mac Format - - FUTURE MACS -

Sky­lake isn’t just about more per­for­mance: the new pro­ces­sors should be around 20% faster and 30% more en­ergy ef­fi­cient than be­fore

MacBook Pro: will hell freeze over again? One of the more in­ter­est­ing pre­dic­tions about the mobile Macs of the fu­ture is that they’ll be pow­ered by Ap­ple pro­ces­sors, not In­tel ones: af­ter all, the Ap­ple­pow­ered iPhone 6s is faster than the In­tel Core M pro­ces­sor in the new MacBook in sin­gle-core bench­marks, and an­a­lysts agree that Ap­ple is mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant progress with each new gen­er­a­tion. As we’ve al­ready dis­cussed, surely it’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore Ap­ple switches to its own sil­i­con.

Ap­ple Core

As you might ex­pect, it’s a bit more com­plex than that – es­pe­cially in the MacBook Pro, where per­for­mance is every­thing. While an Ap­ple­pow­ered MacBook looks like a case of “when” rather than “if”, ex­pect the MacBook Pro to stick with In­tel for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

The cur­rent MacBook Pro range is built around two In­tel pro­ces­sor fam­i­lies: the more af­ford­able mod­els use a dual-core In­tel Core i5 run­ning at 2.7 to 3.1GHz, and the top mod­els have quad­core In­tel Core i7s run­ning at 2.2 to 2.8GHz. Those pro­ces­sors are from the Broad­well and Crys­tal­well/Broad­well ar­chi­tec­tures re­spec­tively, and while there may be an­other Broad­well­based mi­nor spec bump in the short term, the MacBook Pro’s next ma­jor up­grade will be to In­tel’s Sky­lake fam­ily. That’s the sixth-gen­er­a­tion of the Core iX pro­ces­sor; Broad­well was the fifth.

There are two flavours of Sky­lake suit­able for Mac­Books: the U se­ries and the H se­ries (the even more pow­er­ful S Se­ries Sky­lake pro­ces­sors are de­signed for desk­tops). The U se­ries is likely to ap­pear in the smaller MacBook Pros and in­clude Iris 550 graph­ics, the newer ver­sion of In­tel’s Iris 6100 graph­ics pro­ces­sor, while the higher per­for­mance H se­ries is likely to power the 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Sky­lake isn’t just about more per­for­mance, al­though of course that’s part of the ap­peal: the new pro­ces­sors should be around 20% faster and 30% more en­ergy ef­fi­cient than be­fore. They also sup­port a wide range of tech­nolo­gies in­clud­ing fast DDR4 mem­ory, wire­less charg­ing and 40Gbps Thun­der­bolt 3 via USB-C. Sky­lake is cur­rently a 14nm ar­chi­tec­ture, but in 2017 it’ll tran­si­tion to 10nm for bet­ter en­ergy ef­fi­ciency.

Thin­ner and thin­ner

We know what to ex­pect in­side the MacBook Pro, but what about the out­side? The MacBook’s com­bi­na­tion of USB-C and a thin­ner, lighter case in a range of colour op­tions is likely to make its way to the Pro mod­els, al­beit with­out the MacBook’s sac­ri­fice of mul­ti­ple ports in the pur­suit of ra­zor thin­ness: we’d ex­pect mul­ti­ple USB-C ports, not just one, pos­si­bly at the ex­pense of one of the ex­ist­ing Thun­der­bolt ports.

The rise of USB-C means that while Thun­der­bolt com­pat­i­bil­ity won’t be re­moved com­pletely in the short term – the howls of an­gry Mac own­ers who’ve paid for pricey Thun­der­bolt pe­riph­er­als would be heard around the world - it’s likely to be dep­re­cated in much the same way that Ap­ple slowly re­moved FireWire in favour of Thun­der­bolt, es­pe­cially since it’ll be pos­si­ble to con­nect Thun­der­bolt 3 de­vices to a USB-C port. USB-C is do­ing to the Mac’s Thun­der­bolt ports what Thun­der­bolt did to the FireWire ones.

As far as the MacBook’s dis­play goes, the non-Retina MacBook Pro is clearly liv­ing on bor­rowed time – but the prospect of a 5K MacBook Pro at the other end of the line-up looks rather un­likely. The cur­rent com­pro­mise, where the Retina MacBook Pro can drive a 5K dis­play, is a per­fectly sen­si­ble so­lu­tion, and the ar­rival of Sky­lake pro­ces­sors with built-in Dis­playPort 1.3 sup­port means Ap­ple will no longer have to use its own cus­tom so­lu­tion to drive ex­ter­nal 5K dis­plays.

There’s an­other rel­e­vant stan­dard here: Em­bed­ded Dis­playPort 1.4a, which al­lows for 8K dis­plays on desk­tops and for thin­ner, more en­ergy-ef­fi­cient pan­els in note­books. You can imag­ine Jony Ive’s de­light at the thought of ev­er­thin­ner com­po­nents, and we’d also ex­pect the MacBook Pro’s bezel to start shrink­ing too un­til the dis­play ap­pears to run from edge to edge.

The MacBook’s but­ter­fly key­board mech­a­nism is likely to cross over to the Pro line, but with some changes: the one in the cur­rent 12-inch

MacBook is rather cramped com­pared to the key­board in the 15-inch MacBook Pro, so we’d ex­pect Ap­ple to take ad­van­tage of the larger can­vas to make the but­ter­fly spread its wings a lit­tle more widely. And while MacBook Pros al­ready have Force Touch, we think a larger track­pad is com­ing, pos­si­bly in con­junc­tion with the Ap­ple Pen­cil we’ve al­ready seen on the iPad Pro. As we’ve learnt from the clever In­klet app, a Force Touch track­pad can de­liver pretty good sty­lus sup­port – and as we’ve seen in the Ap­ple Pen­cil, Ap­ple makes a pretty good sty­lus.

The most re­cent MacBook Pros have 802.11ac wire­less net­work­ing, but there’s a new stan­dard head­ing our way: 60GHz 802.11ad, or WiGig. This is faster than cur­rent stan­dards but much more prone to in­ter­fer­ence and ob­struc­tion, so it’s best suited to short-range, in­ten­sive data trans­mis­sion such as lo­cal, un­com­pressed 4K video stream­ing rather than, say, pub­lic ac­cess

points. Recog­nis­ing this, chipset firm Qual­comm is push­ing tri-band chipsets for routers that would of­fer 60GHz 802.11ad plus 5GHz 802.11ac, as well as 2.4GHz to en­able back­wards com­pat­i­bil­ity with older Wi-Fi de­vices. With speeds of 7Gbps, 802.11ad could help de­liver that cable-free fu­ture we’ve been hear­ing about for so long.

Wire­less won­ders

On the sub­ject of wire­less charg­ing, does Sky­lake mean wire­lessly charg­ing MacBook Pros? We sus­pect the short an­swer is “no”: as we’ve dis­cov­ered in our iSpy in­ves­ti­ga­tion later in this is­sue, while Ap­ple is very in­ter­ested in wire­less charg­ing there are a few ob­sta­cles that it needs to over­come first. A wire­lessly charg­ing, 802.11ad WiGig MacBook Pro would be thin enough to shave with, but don’t ex­pect to see it in the short term. What’s more likely is more of the bat­tery magic we’ve seen in the new MacBook, where the logic board is a tiny is­land in a sea of clev­erly shaped bat­ter­ies: the more ports and mov­ing parts Ap­ple can re­move, the more svelte the MacBook Pro can be­come with­out los­ing that all‑im­por­tant bat­tery life.

A near edge-to-edge dis­play and USB-C could be

on a new MacBook Pro range as early as next year.

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