Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Intel's Sandy Bridge...and a little Mac (and Final Cut Pro) speculation

At Intel's IDF Conference, the company provided more details about its new Sandy Bridge architecture. According to Anandtech, the first Sandy Bridge processors will be shipped for performance-level (gaming and media creation) PCs in early 2011, and will migrate to entry-level PCs in 2012. One major change in Sandy Bridge is that its GPU core should provide performance easily double that of Intel's existing integrated graphics. It won't keep NVIDIA or AMD up at night, but it should be good enough to lessen the demand for add-on graphics cards in entry-level PCs.

Sandy Bridge has an integrated MPEG2, VC1 and H.264/AVC decoder that Intel claims will use only half the processor power for HD playback as existing processors. It also has a AVC encoder/transcoder that, in a demonstration, was able to transcode a three minute 1080P 30Mbps video into a 640 x 360 iPhone video in 14 seconds, at a rate of 400 fps. This gets into the performance range of high-end, GPU-accelerated encoders. Sandy Bridge will also have an enhanced Turbo Boost feature that will allow the clock speed of individual cores to be boosted beyond the normal thermal design power (the maximum safe power dissipation of the chip) for brief periods of time.

Okay. so I said something about the Mac in the title, right? According to Anandtech, Core i3, i5 and i7 processors with Sandy Bridge architectures will ship in Q1 2011. Every MacBook Pro, iMac and Mac Pro ships today with at least a Core i3. Next, let's add Light Peak, Intel's new 10Gbps optical competitor to USB 3.0. There's no support for Light Peak in the first Intel chipset announced for Sandy Bridge, but that doesn't mean that it can't be added.

Add it all together, and it sounds like the Apple notebook and iMac product lines will be fully refreshed some time next year with a combination of Sandy Bridge and Light Peak. There goes the I/O limitations of Apple's notebooks and desktops. (Apple won't have to reengineer the Mac Pro right away--they can simply offer a PCI Light Peak card.)

Let's throw one more thing into the mix. There's been a lot of rumor and speculation surrounding the next release of Apple's Final Cut Studio, with a battle between bloggers--some saying that a new version will be released no later that NAB in April 2011, and others saying that it won't happen until 2012. The "2011" school says that the new version of Final Cut Studio will have Adobe Mercury Engine-like performance, but the "2012" school says that's not possible without major architectural changes. If Apple is writing the next version of Final Cut Studio to take full advantage of the features in Sandy Bridge, it most definitely is possible in the 2011 timeframe.

So here's my semi-informed speculation: In Q1 (perhaps late Q1), we'll see the first updated MacBook Pros with Sandy Bridge and Light Peak announced. New iMacs will follow. Then, in the April timeframe, just before NAB, Apple will announce the new Final Cut Studio that takes full advantage of the new computers ("great time to upgrade!"). Deliveries of everything will occur by the end of Q2.
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