What will Intel's new Haswell chipsets really mean for the Mac?

Rumors suggest that Apple may refresh the MacBook Pro line this summer with Intel's Haswell microprocessor. Accepting for a moment that the rumors are true, what is Haswell all about, and why is it important?

Haswell will succeed the Ivy Bridge microprocessor architecture that Apple's current product line is largely based around. The lamentably ancient Mac Pro is the sole holdout: it's built around a server-class microprocessor architecture Intel internally called Westmere.

The timing Intel will formally unveil the Haswell processor family at Computex, a major PC trade show in Taipei, on June 3rd. Only a few days later Apple will host its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco.

Apple certainly has cause to look closely at Haswell chips. Power efficiency is key to some of the Haswell designs specifically aimed at laptops and Ultrabook-style computers, and integrated graphics in Haswell chips also provide up to twice the graphics performance. MacBook Pro models with Retina Display push a lot of pixels, and you can feel the strain at high resolutions on current machines equipped with Intel HD4000 (though the 15-inch model has a discrete Nvidia GTX processor that it will fall back to when graphics performance demand it). And graphics aren't the only improvement for Haswell. CPU performance can improve dramatically depending on which chips are being used.

Thunderbolt performance in a Haswell-equipped Mac will remain unchanged - the next version of Intel Thunderbolt controller architecture, code-named "Falcon Ridge," won't make landfall until 2014. But Haswell systems will sport better power efficiency and on-chip integration, which may help move along the widespread adoption of Thunderbolt as an essential peripheral interface in the years to come.

A Haswell refresh to the MacBook Pro line would make sense - Apple refreshed the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro in June 2012, at WWDC, and introduced the first MacBook Pro with Retina Display at the same time. While the Pro was later refereshed, it's appealing to believe that Apple would use WWDC to stir the pot with a refresh to its best-selling computers. There's a potential wrench in the works, though: Tim Cook cautioned analysts during the company's most recent quarterly financials call that "amazing new hardware, software and services" shouldn't be expected until this fall and throughout 2014.

Ultimately, we'll have to wait and see what, if anything, Apple has up its sleeve hardware-wise for WWDC this year, and hope that a Haswell-based referesh is in the works. Because there's strong interest in Haswell across the PC marketplace, and Haswell-based systems, including Ultrabooks, will undoubtedly fill the channel shortly after Intel's Computex announcement. Apple can't afford to fall behind the curve with Macs that use outdated hardware, especially models as popular as the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

Are you waiting on new Mac hardware? What do you want to see?

Peter Cohen
  • I got a 13 in MacBook Pro Retina a couple weeks ago, it's faster than any computer I've had before, probably the solid state drive.
  • I bought a Macbook Air two months ago. But I am trying not to think about the fact that a new version is about to come out. It is a really nice machine. I should be fine.
  • I have the mid 2011 MacBook Air and it is still a fantastic computer. More than capable and plenty fast enough for anything I do on it. So don't feel bad about the possibility of a new MBA. There will always be new computers. As long as the one you have works for you that is all that matters. For me, I can't see needing, or wanting, a new Mac for at least a couple more years. And maybe not even then!
  • I think to Apple, the Haswell processor represents an upgrade to an existing product rather than an "amazing new hardware, software and services". I'm looking forward to getting a new Retina MBP after WWDC... will decide later if I'll get a discounted Ivy Bridge or a Haswell powered one.
  • Hi Brijesh, Did you end up getting the Retina MBP?
    Or are you still waiting for Haswell. Regards from Australia.
  • Re: "amazing new hardware, software and services" In order of increasing importance:
    New hardware = cool.
    New OS features and apps = great.
    New services = crucial to Apple's future. The "new services" being iCloud improvements, of course. iCloud will enable Apple's growth in the next decade. Analysts tend to think of Apple as being a hardware company, because most of their profits come from hardware margins. But Apple's software infrastructure is what drives their hardware sales. (E.g. iPod sales being driven by iTunes.) iCloud has to do the same for iOS devices (and for whatever Apple's television solution will be.)
  • Well said SR. Long term Apple lives or dies by iCloud. It is inevitable that they move to sw and services. Tim Cook made a tough decision to change leadership for this. Hat's off to Tim.
  • But, as for Haswell, yeah, it will make Macs "snappier."
    Same as ever. But it's just a matter of time before Apple puts ARM SoCs in consumer Macs.
    Too much of a cost advantage to ignore. And not too much work for Apple.
    OS X started life on PowerPC (RISC). Tim Cook himself said that they're
    testing OS X on ARM right now. The ARMv8 spec includes a 64-bit
    instruction set. Apple will eventually create a quad-core ARM "Ax" chip.
    Put it all together et voila: Ax-based MacBook Air.
  • Agreed. Intel's copy-cat Ultrabook push did not go unnoticed by Apple. Apple no longer wishes to enable their competitors by sourcing parts from them- example, Samsung. "Exciting new hardware" will be a MBA with a power efficient ARM processor sped up with an SSD. Less money to Intel means higher margins for Apple.
  • I'm hoping for a Mac Pro refresh, something with Thunderbolt. WWDC seems like a perfect event to unveil it too!
  • I am too, cmsj, but I'm expecting a new Mac Pro (or something to replace it) later in 2014. That's what Tim Cook said in an e-mail to a customer last June.
  • He said "later next year", last year, so it would be late 2013, not 2014. I would hope they would show us what it is at WWDC, even if it doesn't ship for a couple of months. Seems like the right place to show they do still care about Pro users having an expandable machine. Part of me suspects they want us to have a MacBook or an iMac and do our expanding with Thunderbolt :)
  • Yes, of course, I meant later this year. Not sure why I said 2014, sorry about that.
  • Color me skeptical Apple will jump on Haswell right out of the box. Not that it wouldn't be a nice addition, but Apple has always operated on a different cadence with the Mac & if memory serves performance when compard to PCs has always been favorable. A perfect example is this iPad Mini I'm typing on. I was extremely critical of Apple for even releasing this... Until I tried it out myself! I really thought the older processor/internals & screen would kill it for me. I couldn't have been more wrong. It is without question one of the finest computing devices I've ever used. Now I find myself in the position of being a lifelong Windows user who just wants to simplify my computing needs. Using Numbers & Pages on this iPad was the final nail in my desktop PCs coffin. I've not even powered it on in nearly a month. Coming from me this all pretty big news as I've been very critical of Apple on this site but I've always given due respect to the companies innovations. Now I just want my computer to be simple & not require me to micromanage every aspect of its operation. New chipsets or not I'll be buying a Mcbook soon. Whether it be a Pro model or an Air is up to further study & or revelations from Apple in the coming months. But Haswell or Ivy Bridge I'm sure it'll work just fine & last for years with nary a trouble. And if it gives me problems there is always AppleCare.
  • Every year, or release, there will always be the latest chip, or drives. I had to buy a computer, due to my old one being out of date. I looked at all the deals, and even tho I could buy a laptop cheaper than the MacBook Pro, I settled on the 13.3 in non retina. It is fast, and I am very impressed. It really made sense, because I have an iPhone, and iPad. I will never look back at the non Apple market. The thing that sold me, I kept hearing people saying their Mac was 3-5 years old, and still as fast as the day they bought it. I also like the UI, it just works for me.
  • Given my MBP is on it's 5th year I do need an upgrade but I want the 15" Retina MBP. Wold be nice to see the processor as fast as I can get. I would like to see the price a little less. Those SSD's are expensive
  • id like to point out that: (though the 15-inch model has a discrete Nvidia GTX processor that it will fall back to when graphics performance demand it) it is a GT 650 (512mb / 1.gb) and not a GTX However, id like to know if there are any clues if they are going to something about the GPU.