Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) latest fanless and oh-so-thin MacBook is scheduled to go on sale on April 10. This device will be powered by Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) Core M, which is based on the chip giant's Broadwell architecture, and built on its 14-nanometer manufacturing technology.
The machine looks great, but my main concern with it -- other than the relatively steep price tag -- is that Intel's next-generation Core M processor based on the newer Skylake architecture is right around the corner. Will Apple update the MacBook in just a matter of months with a Skylake-based Core M?
It seems likely
Apple is charging $1,299 minimum for its new MacBooks, so consumers are expecting best-in-class performance, which means having the latest processors. Intel says that Skylake-based processors will go into production and then subsequently launch at some point in the second half of 2015. Further, PC World reports that Skylake-based Core M chips will be available in the second half of 2015.
These chips should feature Intel's updated Skylake processor cores, updated Gen. 9 graphics and media capabilities, and may operate in a thermal design power of four watts -- shaving half of a watt from the current Broadwell-based Core M chips.
The feature set seems there to make it worthwhile for Apple to upgrade its MacBook line to these chips as soon as possible. Assuming Intel can crank out adequate supply of these chips, I'm sure Apple will do so.
The initial Core M chips weren't good enough
Apple wasn't first with Broadwell-based Core M chips, but at the launch of the Core M, Intel talked about initial system availability with Core M in "holiday" of 2014 with "broader availability" of such devices in the first half of 2015. I suspect that the initial limited quantities in 2014 were due to the fact that Intel was still grappling with yield challenges with its 14-nanometer technology. Further, the initial Core M products were, frankly, underwhelming.
At the September launch, Intel introduced the Core M 5Y70, 5Y10a, and the 5Y10. The 5Y10 had a base CPU frequency of 800MHz, max turbo of 2GHz, and graphics that ran at 100MHz base and 800MHz max turbo. The 5Y70 had a base CPU frequency of 1.1GHz with turbo to 2.6GHz, and graphics base of 100MHz with max turbo to 850MHz.
About a quarter later, Intel brought on the 5Y31, 5Y51, and 5Y71. The CPU base frequencies on these were 900MHz, 1.1GHz, and 1.2GHz, respectively, with turbo coming in at 2.4GHz, 2.6GHz, and 2.9GHz. Graphics base on all of these is 300MHz, with max turbo going up to 850Mhz on the 5Y31 and 900MHz on the two higher-end models.
In short, the initial Core M chips that launched weren't all that great. It's likely that Apple wanted to wait for Intel to get a wider range of better, faster Core M chips out before it felt comfortable launching the new MacBook.
Could the first Skylake Core M chips be good enough?
It is well known that Intel faced yield challenges with its 14-nanometer technology, which was probably a major reason for the "good" Core M chips coming in about a quarter after the original ones. However, the Skylake chips are expected to be built on the same 14-nanometer technology as the current Broadwell-based Core M chips.
I'm assuming that Intel has its 14-nanometer yields mostly figured out at this point, and by the time Skylake begins to ramp, the company should be able to deliver those chips in high volumes. If that's the case, then I fully expect Apple to update its new MacBook line in the fall with Skylake-based Core M processors.