Intel’s SFF Merom: Just for Apple

During Jobs’ keynote, Apple mentioned that the Core 2 Duo in the MacBook Air was 60% smaller than standard Core 2 Duo processors. A quick look at Intel’s mobile Core 2 Duo datasheets reveals that indeed both the micro-FCPGA and micro-FCBGA packaged Meroms measure 35mm x 35mm. Is it possible that Intel designed a completely new package just for Apple?

It turns out that the answer is a surprising: sort-of. At last year’s Fall IDF Intel talked about Montevina, the successor to Santa Rosa due out in the second half of 2008. Montevina would combine a new chipset (Cantiga) with mobile Penryn. In addition to Montevina Intel will also release Montevina SFF, a smaller package version of the platform that reduces overall chip footprint by around 60%.

Pay attention to the size of the CPU, it drops from 35mm x 35mm down to 22mm x 22mm - Penryn SFF is around 40% of the size of regular mobile Penryn, which happens to be the same size as Merom.

It looks like Intel created Merom SFF specifically for the MacBook Air, a product that wasn’t in Intel’s lineup or roadmap but one that Apple needed. Remember that the first chip that will look like this wasn’t scheduled to be out for another six months with Montevina SFF.

It’s not clear whether Intel will make this custom Merom available to other OEMs (we’d suspect they would if there was enough demand), but it’s a tremendous feat on Apple’s part. This isn’t the first time Intel has put together a one-off chip for Apple; if you’ll remember, the CPU in the Apple TV was a special Dothan that wasn’t a part of Intel’s standard lineup.

We’ll have a look at the MacBook Air as soon as they start shipping, if you’re ordering one now we’d recommend taking the SSD option if you can afford it. At $999 it’s pricey, but it should help keep heat down in the chassis and performance should be better than the pitiful 1.8” HDD in the system, which we suspect will end up being its weak point.

We also can’t help but think that a Penryn based MacBook Air would be far more desirable thanks to lower thermal output of Intel’s 45nm chips. If you are fine waiting, a MacBook Air in the second half of 2008 will give you slightly better performance, better battery life and should keep your lap a lot cooler.


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  • bigboxes - Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - link

    B-b-but it's silver and "It just works.™" Reply
  • vailr - Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - link

    The keynote presentation also mentioned an external USB 2.0 Super Drive available for $99. Reply
  • Dennis Travis - Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - link

    There is also a USB NIC for the the Macbook Air. It does cost $29 but hey at least you can go wired if you have to. Reply
  • michal1980 - Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - link

    you said "making very few compromises "

    very few? i'm sorry, when is
    no ethernet port,
    no opitical drive.
    no expansion slot (pc card or otherwise). no slot for a future dock.
    1 usb port!!!
    no media card reader
    and a 1.8 hdd

    Few compromises. Laptop is nice looking, amazing infact. But its form winning over funtion.

    Steve said that now people can rent movies on itunes. when i'm on a plane and want to watch a movie... sorry no can do. you must copy it over. but wait, how do i get it on their. hmmm.

    so many problems with this thing, yet you claim 'making very few compromises"

    what video card does this thing use?

    and the perfomance of a 1.8 hdd. like you said yourself, get the flash drive. because 1.8hdd is bottom of the pits performance, perfect for an ipod. Talk about hell for operating an os.

    tomshardware ran tests on some a year or so ago. that 15-16mb read rate, and 20mb writes are just amazing.

    apple could have went with the 1.3ghz core cpus, because the cpu will be waiting for data

  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - link

    Compared to standard notebooks, agreed, the MacBook Air has made a number of compromises. But compared to ultra portables, some of the biggest compromises aren't there.

    I've used ultra portables almost exclusively for years, starting back in my early college days. The keyboard is almost always bad enough where it hinders my productivity, and CPU speed does matter - there's a big difference between a ULV Merom at 1 - 1.33GHz and one running at 1.8GHz.

    The MacBook Air isn't perfect by any means, but it looks to be a good attempt at an ultra portable for those who need it.

  • michal1980 - Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - link

    and the reason I dont give a pass to apple is because they are saying its a 'complete' notebook, just shrunk. they want their cake and eat it too.

    ethier its an ultra protable that is missing a lot of features. or its a complete notebook, (which we all know its not).

    its cute how apple now comes out and says who needs optical media

    whats next, a protable laptop without a screen, because apple says you can plug into any tv and use that screen?

    To me this is an example of engineers having too much power, and jobs falling of his rocker.

    even if I give you that the dvd drive seprate is something that has been done.

    The lack of an ethernet port. more then 1 usb hook up. and a lack of a pc card slot make this laptop a toy.

    For example, 3com used to make pop out jacks, not the best solution, but would work for having a ethernet port, and would still be compact.

    is the battery even user replacable? seems like once again apple says no to that.
  • michal1980 - Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - link

    with 2 secs of research on ultra protables I found this one.">

    It includes this:
    VGA-out (ihmo more usefull with more projectors)
    headphone/microphone jacks
    USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader
    PC Card slot
    modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
    DVD burner

    Price as reviewed/starting price $2,149/$1,999
    Processor 1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7600
    Memory 1GB, 667MHz DDR2
    Hard drive 120GB 5,400rpm
    Chipset Intel 965
    Graphics Mobile Intel Express 950GM (integrated)
    Operating system Windows Vista Premium
    Dimensions (WDH) 11.1 x 8.5 x .77 inches
    Screen size (diagonal) 12.1 inches
    System weight / Weight with AC adapter [pounds] 2.4/3.1 pounds
    Category Ultraportable

    The processor is a bit slower but the review was almost 6 months ago.

    look at how thick that is. OMG .77in. a whole .01 thick then the AIR

    and yes the keyboard is smaller. But i've gotten used to a smaller keyboard as long as its not crazy small.

    So for apple to jump up and down like they invented the wheel, is fine for apple. For the media to then crown them like they are the holy grail of technology, shame on the media.
  • cscpianoman - Wednesday, January 16, 2008 - link

    You know, if you do a comparison do it right.

    Wander over to Dell and check out their ultra-portable 13.3in laptop.

    It has the following:
    3-year warranty
    Home Premium
    2.2Ghz Core 2 Duo
    3GB Memory
    200GB 7200rpm drive
    CD/DVD Burner
    128MB nVidia 8400GS/HDMI out
    Fingerprint reader
    Microsoft Office Home & Student
    Adobe Premiere and Photoshop Elements
    85kwh battery

    All this for $1878. The computer is approx. 4.7lbs, but has a 9 hour battery life and is only 1.3inches high.
  • tayhimself - Thursday, January 17, 2008 - link

    You called a 4.7 lb computer an ultraportable?????? * mind boggles* Reply
  • Scott66 - Wednesday, January 16, 2008 - link

    cramped keyboard, 1 inch smaller screen, A video GPU that is unable to fully run the included Vista and not a LED screen. Half the ram and $200-400 more. A much slower and power sucking CPU just sweetens the deal. Thankfully the smaller screen keeps the battery life within reach of the air

    Apple didn't invent the ultra portable but they made one with full size keyboard and a wonderful screen. I would prefer to have a removeable battery but that would require extra weight and at least greater length or width to handle the enclosure and connections. I want native DVI out because it provides many more options.

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