The Low-Volt Intel Insides of the MacBook Air

While designed specifically for MacBook Air, the technology behind the low-volt processor could see its way to other notebooks.

A small Intel processor is proving to be a big part of Apple's new lightweight laptop.

At the start of the 2008 Macworld Expo in San Francisco on Jan. 15, Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced what he called the world's thinnest notebook, dubbed the MacBook Air. During the introduction, Intel CEO Paul Otellini joined Jobs on stage to talk about his company's contribution to the new notebook--a low-volt Core 2 Duo processor specifically designed for Apple.

The processor, which does not have an official model number or designation just yet, is part of Intel's Core 2 Duo family and offers a clock speed of between 1.6GHz and 1.8GHz and 4MB of L2 cache. An Intel spokesperson told eWEEK that while the chip maker designed the processor specifically for Apple, the technology behind the processor could make it way into other notebooks in the future.

"Apple approached Intel about the need for aggressive packaging solutions for this new product, and we were happy to collaborate on a solution," Claudine Mangano, the Intel spokesperson, wrote in an e-mail. "If other companies develop products with a similar size, power and performance specs than Intel would offer this or a similar product to those companies."

Mangano added that the new processor is not Silverthorne, a special processor Intel is developing for what it calls MIDs (mobile Internet devices) that require small, low-power chips. The first of these processors are expected to hit the market later this year.

In 2005, Apple announced that it would switch its entire product line from the IBM and Freescale-manufactured PowerPC processors to Intel chips. Apple has fully completed that transition and the two companies remain close due to the exclusive relationship Intel maintains with Apple.

Intel already makes a number of low-volt and ultra-low volt processors for notebooks and UMPCs (ultramobile PCs). For example, Intel introduced the Core 2 Duo U7600 and U7500 in 2007, which were designed with a TDP (thermal design power) of just 10 watts. TDP is an Intel term that refers to the heat a chip dissipates.

The processors designed for Apple's MacBook Air have a TDP of 20 watts. However, Intel designed the chips as part of a small form factor package. This chip is still manufactured on Intel's 65-nanometer manufacturing process, but Mangano wrote that the technology will also appear on the company's new line of 45-nanometer processors, called Penryn, later this year.