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What is Crystalwell?

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from Macworld UK. Visit Macworld UK’s blog page for the latest Mac news from across the Atlantic.

One of the interesting things to come out of Apple’s recent MacBook Pro refresh was the inclusion of something called Crystalwell to the components list of the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro. What is Crystalwell?

Haswell quick study

The Haswell Core processor is, to date, Intel’s fastest ever consumer processor family, but speed is not Haswell’s main advantage. The biggest benefit Haswell offers is improved battery life over previous Core processors. Intel worked long and hard to reduce the impact of power performance on battery life, to the extent that in some powerful laptops Haswell chips can keep on computing for up to 10 hours while running on the battery. All of the new MacBooks Pro model have Haswell CPUs, which should mean they enjoy excellent battery life.

Haswell processors don’t require a separate graphics processor; they have an integrated graphics chipset, called Iris or Iris Pro. A discrete (separate from the CPU) graphics chip offers better performance than integrated graphics, but for almost all users the Iris or Iris Pro graphics included with the Intel Core CPU will suffice.

Crystalwell: the superiority of Iris Pro

Here’s where Crystalwell comes in. Iris Pro is a superior version of the integrated graphics subsystem found on the faster Haswell chips, and therefore on the more expensive models of MacBook Pro. Crystalwell is what makes those Iris Pro-enabled processors worth the extra cash.

Crystalwell is the codename of the L4 cache (eDRAM) featured in the Iris Pro-enabled Haswell CPUs. According to Intel, this superior quality memory is responsible for the increased performance of Iris Pro graphics. Given that it is high-quality dedicated memory to take the strain of high-end graphics performance, it could also have a positive effect on battery life and power draw.

On Apple’s current Retina MacBook Pro line, both the $1999 and $2599 standard configuration models use the Iris Pro integrated graphics, equipped with Crystalwell. The $2599 model is the only one in the line that has both an integrated Iris Pro and a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 750M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. The $2599 laptop can automatically switch between the integrated and discrete graphics, depending on the task at hand. The 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros do not offer Iris Pro/Crystalwell graphics, only Iris graphics.

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