Is Apple's cutting edge getting blunt?

Like practically every other tech related journalist (and an assorted crowd of retailers, analysts and “interested parties”), I attended Intel’s local launch of its second generation Core processors, heralded in by Intel’s vice president and general manager of the PC Client Group, Schmuel “Mooly” Eden.

(As an aside, I tweeted during the presentation that Mooly had borrowed a little from Steve Jobs’ clothing style, given he was dressed in jeans and a black top. The beret was his own style — and as a presenter, Mooly’s got a lot of style — and the effect, whether it’s Jobs or Eden, is the same. It’s comfortable, it’s casual, and it removes the heavy business layer that a suit adds to proceedings.)

The new “Sandy Bridge” (it’s the codename, don’t blame me) Core processors are interesting little beasts, at least from Intel’s figures, backed up by a number of reviews online I’ve seen so far. Intel reckons that the top of the line Core i7 processors in the Sandy Bridge family outpace the previous top of the line units by a healthy 69 percent in Excel calculations, and 62 percent in slideshow creation. Those are Windows figures, to be sure, and undoubtedly they’re handpicked by Intel to show a best case scenario, but still, given that most processor launches involve figures that typically hover around ten percent improvement, getting six to nearly seven times that much is impressive.

It gets better, according to Mooly’s speech, if you’ve got a three year old system, where the gains in processing performance are in the region of 800 percent. Not a typo. Eight hundred percent. Again, there’s a slight grain of salt there, in that Intel’s no doubt cherry picked the best performance figures it could massage into being, but the independent tests do suggest that the new processors are something special.

Intel’s launch was backed up by numerous partners from within the PC sphere; I spotted units from Dell, Fujitsu, Acer, MSI, Toshiba and plenty of others. I even spotted systems I’ve reviewed myself recently where the only difference in the system I reviewed and the new unit was a Sandy Bridge processor at the core.

Guess who wasn’t present?

Yup, Apple. The closest one came to an Apple was the fruit juice being served at the bar, and even that was orange.

To be fair, I’ve only ever seen Apple at a single Intel processor launch, not long after the transition from PowerPC to Intel was announced, and even back then, the main thing that Apple representatives had to say was pretty much “We’re on Intel now!”.

At the launch, as I typed in my notes, I was on Intel now too. I was using a review MacBook Air 11” model, a system that in many ways is cutting edge. It’s entirely SSD based. It boots up almost embarrassingly quickly. It’s got an excellent operating system on board. The battery life is great. It’s even slender enough that with sufficient force, you could use its edge for actual cutting, although that’s perhaps stretching things a little far. In any case, it’s a review unit, and I suspect that Apple would look dimly on me returning a laptop with one edge slightly encrusted with cheddar.

There’s one aspect where the MacBook Air isn’t all that cutting edge, however, and it’s in the processor used. It’s an ultra low voltage Core 2 Duo that’s rapidly racing towards three years old, which puts it perilously close to that 800 percent category Mooly referenced in his launch speech. Sure, the Air isn’t pitched as the ultimate performance machine, but the same is true across much of the rest of the MacBook line. Apple is, as always, remaining mum on the issue of when new models will hit the store shelves, but the chances seem slim that they’ll be first to market with the new processors.

I asked Mooly (on the urgings of a certain hairy MacTheMag editor, who for complex technical reasons was unable to ask himself) what of the new features (which include anti-theft technology, video transcoding, improved integrated graphics, improved turbo boosting for individual cores and a DRM layer called “Intel Insider”) were Windows specific, and which could be implemented by other parties, including Apple. He addressed the Apple part of the question first, replying that, and I quote:

“Apple can and will do what Apple wants to do.”

Ain’t that the truth. So, how about it Apple? Any chance of some cutting edge processing to go along with the cutting edge designs?

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