Apple’s transition to an Intel-based architecture has gone, by any measure, very smoothly, but that’s not to say that everyone’s totally happy with the new hardware. In fact, MacBooks and Mac minis have been a source of complaint by developers and users alike because of the limited performance running some 3D software, especially games. Fortunately a new chip from Intel solves that problem.
Intel’s GMA965 is an integrated graphics chip that’s been available to vendors including Apple since last June. It’s the latest iteration of the technology that powers the graphics in the MacBook and Mac mini. And within the next few months, Intel will expose on the Windows platform new features that will take advantage of the chip’s considerable performance potential.
Right now, MacBooks and Intel-based Mac minis use the GMA950, an integrated graphics processor that lacks hardware-based transform and lighting capabilities. That hurts those systems’ ability to run 3D games that use vertex and pixel shading — a very common technology used in top-tier games, and increasingly used in other applications as well.
Integrated graphics processors are much more power-efficient than a discrete graphics chip, which means that motherboards can have more streamlined designs and that laptops using the technology will use less battery power. But they’ve also gotten the reputation for being extremely low-performance systems for doing anything graphics-intensive, such as gaming.
Intel’s 965 chip solves that problem by supporting hardware T&L technology. That’s not a feature that’s yet been exposed on Windows PCs that use the 965, however. Intel reps at this week’s Game Developers Conference said that a beta version of drivers that support hardware T&L are expected to be released on Intel’s Web site imminently.
A demo of the hardware using development drivers showed that Call of Duty 2 — a game that’s been ported to the Macintosh by Aspyr Media — scored between 50 and 80 frames per second in a time demo. That game was unplayable on older GMA950-based hardware. Half-Life 2 running at 1024 x 768 with some details turned up turned in an average of 34.25 running on a PC equipped with Vista.
How that will translate to the Macintosh is still an open question, since Apple’s current shipping MacBook and Mac mini models still use the older GMA950 hardware. And in customary fashion, Apple hasn’t pre-announced any new systems that use the newer hardware.
But presuming Apple does, at some point, update their consumer products with the new hardware, those features will carry over — they support OpenGL shaders equally to DirectX, the 3D API most Windows game developers favor.
Editor’s note: Changed “MacBook” to “MacBook Pro” in second to last paragraph.