In an earlier piece, I proposed that Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) latest Core M processors probably wouldn't cut it for a next-generation Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) MacBook Air. However, CPU World has the scoop on a new batch of improved Core M processors, which led MacRumors to suggest that Apple will indeed be utilizing Core M inside of its next-generation MacBook Air laptops.
While Apple's chip choices are not yet public, I still stand by my prediction that Apple will choose to go with Intel's higher-power, but higher performing, Core i5 and i7 processors in its next-generation MacBook Air.
The new Core M chips aren't that much faster
If we look at the current highest-end Core M processor, the 5Y70, the chip's CPU goes up to 2.6 GHz in "turbo" and the graphics block maxes out at 850 MHz. The new flagship, the 5Y71, reportedly sees a maximum CPU clock speed of 2.9 GHz (up 11%) and maximum graphics clock speed of 900 MHz (up 5.9%).
More performance is obviously quite welcome, but this kind of boost is hardly a game changer.
Interestingly enough, CPU World has the scoop on Intel's next generation Ultrabook focused Core i3/i5/i7 processors based on the same Broadwell architecture that powers the Core M. The highest-performing Core i7-5557U allegedly offers a maximum CPU turbo speed of 3.4 GHz and Intel HD 6100 graphics that go up to 1100 MHz.
Indeed, not only does the HD 6100 graphics block offer higher peak frequencies than the best graphics inside of a Core M processor, but it is likely that the HD 6100 graphics will pack far more graphics "execution units" than the HD 5300 inside of the Core M does. In short, the top Core i7 for thin-and-light systems is most likely going to be substantially faster than the best Core M.
Core M could enable fanless, but the trade-off might not be worth it
The argument for why Apple could potentially want to use Core M is pretty simple: its low power consumption would allow for Apple to pursue a fanless design. Now, it is possible that Apple would be willing to trade-off performance for a fanless design in its next generation MacBook Air. However, there's a lot of evidence to suggest that Apple might not be so keen to do that.
For starters, Apple's iPhone and iPad product lineups continually get better and beefier Apple-designed chips. In fact, Apple seems to care so much about the performance of the processors in those designs that it pays legions of expensive chip architects to carefully craft its custom-designed A-series of processors.
While Apple doesn't design its own processors for its Mac lineup, the company has shown a remarkable ability to sway Intel's designs. For example, AnandTech suggests that Apple has been instrumental to driving Intel to build more powerful integrated graphics processors into the latter's chips.
Given that Apple, in the words of Anand Shimpi, "values GPU performance," a performance regression doesn't seem likely for the next MacBook Air.
Foolish bottom line
For Intel investors, the choice of Intel chip inside of the next MacBook Air likely isn't material. However, given that Apple's Mac sales continue to soar even as the broader PC market stagnates, what Apple does with its next-generation Mac products is likely to be closely watched, and perhaps imitated, by its competitors in the Windows PC market.