Apple has outfitted its notebooks with Nvidia's graphics chips for years, including the existing MacBook line, but that may not be the case in future systems. According to sources cited by CNET, Apple plans to drop Nvidia's mobile graphics chips for the integrated solution in Intel's upcoming Sandy Bridge processors.
Intel's IGPs are generally associated with lackluster performance, but early benchmarks suggest that Sandy Bridge's integrated graphics core is on par with basic discrete cards such as the Radeon HD 5450. If true, that's a substantial leap forward and would at the very least be sufficient for entry-level MacBooks.
"Historically, if you look at those low-end devices, the 13-inch class products, there's not a lot of room for a discrete GPU. So, going forward, if [Apple was] going to use Sandy Bridge in a low-end product, I think they would have to rely exclusively on the Sandy Bridge integrated graphics," said an Insight64 analyst.
Using the graphics core built into Intel's processors would presumably reduce system costs, and assuming Apple passes that on to the consumer, we could see more mainstream pricing for lower-tier MacBooks. By cutting Nvidia's discrete parts, there's also potential for increased battery life and slimmer machines.
We imagine Cupertino will continue to ship premium notebooks with discrete graphics chips, but not necessarily Nvidia's. CNET's sources say that Apple will rely on AMD to supply it with graphics processors for future MacBook Pros, with the possibility of AMD's upcoming Fusion chips appearing in low-end MacBooks.