PC & Tech Authority - - EPILOG -

When news broke that the lat­est shiny Intel pro­ces­sors in the new MacBook Pros were get­ting all us­tered, over­heat­ing and slow­ing right down, we shouldn’t have been sur­prised. No mat­ter how you slice and dice it, heat is the ab­so­lute bane of any CPU de­signer, and thus any­one who puts them into mo­bile phones, lap­tops, tablets and other de­vices. Re­mem­ber the good old days when lap­tops were thick and heavy? And had signi cant ven­ti­la­tion slots on the sides and bot­tom to al­low the heat to dis­si­pate away? Those with long mem­o­ries will re­call how a lap­top could get too hot to stay on your lap, es­pe­cially if you were wear­ing shorts.

Of course, this heat comes from some­where, and it’s the mi­cro nu­clear fur­nace that runs within the CPU chip it­self. This puts out heat in quan­ti­ties di­rectly re­lated to a num­ber of fac­tors: the volt­age rail in use on the CPU, the clock speed of the CPU and the man­u­fac­tur­ing size of the chipset tracks. Higher volt­age tends to lead to higher power dis­si­pa­tion (V=IR for those who re­mem­ber school­book physics). Run the clock faster,and the CPU does more work, which equals more heat. Smaller tracks mean com­po­nents closer to­gether, which means less re­sis­tance – which means lower heat out­put.

CPUs have been get­ting bet­ter over the years. I well re­mem­ber the thermal im­pact of adding a sec­ond Pen­tium Pro to a desk­top mother­board some 20 years ago. Back then, each core ran at con­stant speed and on a high volt­age rail. To­day, we have multi-core CPUs, and it’s pos­si­ble to vary the driv­ing pa­ram­e­ters such as volt­age and fre­quency on each core in real-time. If the com­puter gets busy, you can ramp up the CPU volt­age and clock speed. If it’s idling, then pull back on them. If you only need two cores out of the four to do some work, only in­crease those, for the frac­tion of a sec­ond nec­es­sary to com­plete the thread.

So what hap­pened with the MacBook Pro? It was a per­fect storm – Ap­ple re­placed the quad-core i7 CPU with a six-core i9. That’s 50% more num­ber-crunching, which makes a power-hun­gry user such as my­self pos­i­tively trem­ble at the thought. Al­low­ing an in­crease from 16 to 32GB of RAM means I can throw big­ger and bet­ter work­loads at the CPU. Big­ger SSD op­tions means that I can store more of this stuff, for in­stant load and com­pute.

Now only an idiot would ex­pect that all of this would be pos­si­ble with ex­actly the same thermal ar­chi­tec­ture as used by the older de­sign. Intel has been slow to de­crease its die size, and is still play­ing a long and painful game of power man­age­ment catchup along­side its ri­val ARM. Could you re­ally en­vis­age a smart­phone run­ning an i7 or i9 CPU to­day? Even if it did, how long would the bat­tery last?

No, the prob­lem is that lap­top de­sign­ers have run off the tracks, and Intel has pushed them there. Ev­ery­one wants a light, slim, por­ta­ble lap­top. Even bet­ter if the screen de­taches and it turns into a tablet, just like the Sur­face Book. We want some­thing not much big­ger than a pad of A4 pa­per to have four, or now six, CPU cores of num­ber-crunching along­side a superfast GPU for graph­ics op­er­a­tion. Oh, and it has to be silent be­cause it doesn’t need fans, and last for at least ten hours be­cause… well, why not?

As you could have pre­dicted, this par­tic­u­lar bub­ble has nally burst. It’s just like Wile E Coy­ote run­ning off the cliff and keep­ing go­ing right up to the point where he looks down. Road Run­ner, ap­par­ently, could just keep go­ing.

It has been ar­gued that Intel has fallen be­hind the curve here. It promised a more rapid de­vel­op­ment process, which it has failed to de­liver. This is the out­come of that.

What to do about it? Well, I con­fess I was par­tic­u­larly thrilled at the thought of the new MacBook Pro be­cause, al­though my four-yearold 13in ex­am­ple is still do­ing solid ser­vice, the 16GB RAM and 512GB of stor­age is a lit­tle cramped at times. Mov­ing to 32GB and 2TB would be very use­ful in­deed. The six-core i9 pro­ces­sor was the ic­ing on the cake.

How­ever, I waited to see what the ini­tial re­ports said, and lo and be­hold the i9 shut down un­der heavy load. This some­what dulled my ini­tial en­thu­si­asm for spend­ing thou­sands on a new lap­top.

Ap­ple has apol­o­gised and brought out a x that seems to solve some of the is­sues, which is a good start. But let’s not for­get that this is just the lat­est bump in the road in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Intel and Ap­ple; maybe the ru­mours of Ap­ple pro­duc­ing its own high­per­for­mance CPU for desk­top and lap­top use are re­ally go­ing to come true. What’s cer­tain is that the cur­rent road has al­ready led us off the cliff. And like Wile E Coy­ote found, the ground is a long way down.

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