Apple Adopts Nahalem Processors


As the Q1 phase of the buying year is completed and we move into what is usually a terrible quarter for retail sales, all eyes are firmly fixed on Apple to see what it has up its sleeves.  Rumors are surfacing that two new iPhones are on their way in the form of a 32 GB model with a higher resolution screen and an 8 GB model that might only be $99.  Others are excited about the new release of Snow Leopard, which will be the next major milestone operating system released by Apple.

Recently, we saw that Apple is starting to adopt Intel’s new Nehalem processor in its products, specifically with the Xserve product line.  During the announcement, Apple said that the Quad-Core Intel Xeon Nehalem processor armed with an integrated memory controller would improve performance by up to double the previous model’s capabilities.

The Nehalem processor is a fundamental upgrade in the way that a Xeon processor thinks.  Many quad-core processors are composed of two separate dies, meaning cached data has to travel outside of the processor to get from one core CPU to the other.  This inefficient process is eliminated with the new Nehalem processor, which is a single-die 64-bit processor and makes 8 MB of fully shared L3 cache available to each of the CPU cores.  The end result is faster access to the cached data for each processor and greater application performance.

Also of significant note in the technical jargon is the integrated memory controller.  System memory is usually connected to a processor through a separate I/O controller.  However, the Xeon Nehalem processor features an integrated memory controller that directly connects memory to the CPU, reducing latency by up to 40%.  This integrated memory controller provides three separate channels of 1066MHz DD3 ECC SDRAM for a tremendous amount of data flow capability.  For tech geeks, the kicker is that the Xserve can be configured with eight processing cores, meaning that memory resources double to six channels and 12 physical DIMM slots.  After all is said and done, users are looking at a 2.4 times increase in memory bandwidth over the last generation of Xserve product.

Now, a Mac poker player might say, “Who cares about the Xserve and this fancy processor,” but hold the phone right there.  Apple has integrated this same Xeon Nehalem processor into its Mac Pro computers.  This means that mainstream home systems like the Mac Pro, albeit expensive, will take advantage of the 1.9 times performance boost from the CPU and improved memory controller.  For those of you running big databases with Poker Copilot or even running Parallels with Windows XP and Holdem Manager (for huge database sizes), this means that the new processor can seriously revolutionize the speed and efficiency in which you work and play.

Owners of iMacs might have to wait for a Nehalem-based computer since none of the rumors about the expected late Q2 iMac refresh have mentioned the new processor chipset. Rumors around Apple insider websites say that the MacBook pro might get a Nehelam upgrade at the end of 2009, but current processor requirements and technologies say otherwise.  Currently, the MacBook Pro uses an Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 2.93 GHz.  The main problem with a 17-inch notebook running this type of processor is the cooling aspect, which wouldn’t be possible.  However, Intel is rumored to be packaging a Mobile Nehelam processor slated for release this summer that would make it immediately available for both Windows and Mac laptops.

In the computing world, nothing comes close to increasing computer performance than an upgrade of your computer’s brain, the CPU and its architecture.  Since current processors aren’t able to surpass the 3.2 GHz speed limit, multi-core processors and software represent the only way that computers will show improvement.


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