Beginner's Guide to Upcoming Technology

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In the fast-paced world of technology, many consumers get lost. This guide helps you understand when new technologies are coming and what benefits they'll have to give you a better of idea of when to make a purchase.




DDR3 SDRAM (short for double-data-rate three synchronous dynamic random access memory, not to be confused with GDDR3 RAM) is the next step in the evolution of RAM. The successor to DDR2 SDRAM offers higher bandwidth to increase performance when compared to its predecessors. The disadvantage of this is that at least initially, DDR3 SDRAM will have higher latency when compared to DDR2 SDRAM. However, benefit of the extra bandwidth should mean that DDR3 SDRAM will still offer a noticeable performance increase. In addition to increased performance, the new RAM also runs cooler and reduces power consumption by roughly 15% resulting in slightly increased battery life in notebooks.

DDR3 SDRAM is available to purchase now, although no current Apple product supports it. As the Mac Pro uses FB-DIMMs, it is unlikely this technology will be used in the Mac Pro soon. The rest of the Apple lineup uses Intel's Centrino platform. In June 2008, Intel will launch the Montevina platform which is compatible with both DDR2 SDRAM and DDR3 SDRAM. When Apple integrates Montevina into their lineup, they may upgrade some models to DDR3 SDRAM, however, currently DDR3 SDRAM is much more expensive than the equivalent amount of DDR2 SDRAM, so there could be a longer wait before the new RAM becomes mainstream.

Intel's Montevina

Intel's Montevina platform (now known as Centrino 2) will be introduced in June 2008 with other models including low-voltage and small form factor models (such as those in the MacBook Air) launching in September 2008. It will support Penryn processors and offers a slightly faster 1066 MHz FSB (up from 800 MHz from Santa Rosa) and therefore slightly higher clock speeds of up to 3.06 GHz (up from 2.8 GHz). The recently released iMac contains custom-made Santa Rosa platform chips which match most of the specifications of the upcoming Montevina platform and has similar clock speeds.

Intel's GMA X4500

Alongside Montevina, the new GMA X4500 will be launched. An incremental update to Intel's GMA X3100, this new integrated graphics chip offers an additional 2 unified shaders than its predecessor to bring it to a total of 10 unified shaders.

Intel's Quad-Core Penryn Microprocessor

The Core 2 Extreme QX9300 will be Intel's first quad-core mobile processor. The TDP could possibly be just 35W, the same as standard mobile chips. This means it could find its way into Apple's MacBook Pro or iMac. It is scheduled for a September 2008 release.

AMD ATI Radeon HD 3000 Series

ATI's HD 3000 Series eliminates suffixes such as Pro, XT and XTX in order to use a more simplified numbering approach. Basically, the higher the model number, the higher the performance. Most of the 3000 series is actually a simple die shrink of the HD 2000 Series to a 55nm process (whereas most of the HD 2000 Series used a 65nm process) with some minor specification changes and tweaks.

AMD has released the ATI Radeon HD 3870 for Mac Pro after an announcement made by it on the 12th of June 2008.

AMD ATI Radeon HD 4000 Series

Scheduled for late 2008 is the Radeon 4000 Series. The next-generation of Radeon graphics cards will offer 256-bit bus width to the mainstream graphics cards and feature both GDDR4 and GDDR5 RAM.

Noteworthy models include the ATI Radeon HD 4850 and the Radeon HD 4870.

NVIDIA GeForce 9 Series

The successor to the GeForce 8 series is the GeForce 9 series. Using a 65nm process, the new GeForce graphics cards offer better performance without major changes to power requirements.

Of interest are the 9800 GT (successor to the Mac Pro's 8800 GT), the 9800 GTX, the 9800 GX2 and the 9600M GT (successor to the MacBook Pro's 8600M GT).

Blu-ray Optical Drives

As Apple are a member of the Blu-Ray Disc Association's Board of Directors, and with the victory of Blu-ray over rival HD DVD, it is inevitable that Apple will use Blu-ray in their Macs. Rumors say that a Blu-ray slot loading drive was to be included with the Penryn MacBook Pro update, however due to several quality issues, this was not possible. It should be noted that when Blu-ray makes its debut in a Mac, it is likely to only be a BTO option due to the high price tag it carries. Blu-Ray drives are also more power-hungry than the current SuperDrives Apple uses in their computer lines; this means that Blu-Ray drives will probably appear in desktop Macs before they appear in notebook Macs.

LED Displays

LED displays offer more vibrant colors with reduced power consumption. Apple promised it would transition its displays to use more environmentally friendly LED displays as soon as possible. Apple's MacBook Air, 15" MacBook Pro and 17" HD MacBook Pro are currently the only Macs to use LED displays.

SSD (Solid State Drives)

The solid-state drive is currently a BTO option in the MacBook Air. These flash based drives are rapidly falling in price but still have a cost/GB ratio which is much higher than almost any size Hard Disk Drive. Samsung has announced a 256 GB MLC-based SATA II SSD in a 2.5" form factor available in Q3 2008 and a 1.8" model in Q4 2008. These should in theory be much faster than traditional HDDs, but like all other SSDs, will be much more expensive.

FireWire S3200

The next step in the evolution of FireWire comes with 3.2 Gbit/s transfers speeds (up from roughly 800 Mbit/s of FireWire 800). All FireWire 800 cables and connectors will be compatible with the S3200 standard. FireWire S3200's bandwidth is higher than the fastest hard disk's transfer speeds (and faster than eSATA) and as it also provides up to 15 W of power (unlike eSATA which currently cannot provide power and USB which can only provide 2.5 W), it is ideal for external hard drives.

IEEE has announced the availability of the standard for commercial and non commercial use by October 2008. Of note, along with FireWire 3200 has been released FireWire 1600 with 1.6 Gbit/s transfer speeds.


Intel's Nehalem Architecture

Intel's eagerly anticipated Nehalem microarchitecture promises some massive improvements over the current Core Microarchitecture. One of the most dramatic improvements is the integration of Intel's QuickPath Interconnect, equivalent to AMD's HyperTransport. This new technology eliminates the FSB (Front SIde Bus), which has been a bottleneck in current systems. Nehalem also promises to be more energy efficient than Penryn and offer significant performance gains.

While Nehalem should debut in 2008, most variants won't be available to the mass market, and therefore available to Apple until 2009.

Intel's Calpella Platform

The sixth-generation Centrino platform will be introduced in 2009 and is designed for Nehalem processors. Among the notable advancements are Blu-ray support with full HD resolutions of up to 1080p and in built Wi-Max support

USB 3.0

USB 3.0 is targeted for speeds of up to 4.8 Gbit/s and should be backwards compatible with USB 2 and USB 1.1.

HDD (Hard Disk Drives) Capacity Increases

Seagate has announced that a 2 TB 3.5" Hard Drive will be available in 2009. The price is yet to be announced.

See Also