NotebookCheck.net recently spotted an entry in the result database of popular processor performance test Geekbench 4 that appears to indicate Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is preparing a next-generation MacBook Pro using Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC) recently announced Kaby Lake Refresh processors.
The Kaby Lake Refresh chips are notable because they include twice the processor cores as their predecessors (known simply as Kaby Lake) do. This means that they deliver better performance in tasks that can effectively use multiple cores, such as video editing, as well as a smoother multitasking experience.
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However, I believe that this entry is a fake (these types of entries can potentially be spoofed) and that investors and customers alike shouldn't expect a Kaby Lake Refresh-based MacBook Pro to hit the market.
Kaby Lake Refresh isn't suitable for MacBook Pro
Intel develops versions of its low-power notebook processors with more basic Intel UHD Graphics as well as pricier ones with more powerful Iris Plus graphics. For its 13-inch MacBook Pro line, Apple generally uses the chips with the higher-end Iris Plus graphics, and the most recent 13-inch MacBook Pro model is no exception.
The Kaby Lake Refresh parts, unlike the standard Kaby Lake products, don't come in versions with the higher-end Iris Plus graphics -- they only feature Intel UHD graphics. So if Apple were to refresh the 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Kaby Lake Refresh chips, it would deliver improved CPU performance at the expense of graphics performance, a trade-off that Apple is unlikely to make.
Early next year, Intel is expected to launch a family of low-power notebook processors based on its Coffee Lake architecture. Those chips should enjoy the same upgrade to four processor cores that the Kaby Lake Refresh parts did, but they'll also include Intel's Iris Plus graphics.
Those parts should offer a true upgrade to the Iris Plus-based processor inside of today's 13-inch MacBook Pro.
What does this mean for Apple and Intel?
Because of Apple's desire to use Intel chips with superior graphics capabilities, the tech titan will be late to transitioning its 13-inch MacBook Pro product to quad-core processors, but I don't think this will ultimately impact the competitiveness of Apple's computers significantly in the marketplace.
I suspect that most Mac buyers aren't buying these systems for the chip inside; they're buying them for the overall user experience, which is something that's influenced by far more than the number of cores in the processor.
All Apple really must do is refresh its MacBook line, ideally with additional features beyond just a better processor, so that it has something new to sell each year. As long as it can do that -- and I think Apple's finally back on track to such regular product updates after dropping the ball for a little while -- then the performance of Apple's Mac business should continue to be solid.
As far as Intel goes, it's in the company's best interests to have new chips ready for when Apple wants to refresh its MacBook Pro line. Apple isn't Intel's biggest personal computer chip customer by units or revenue (I estimate that Intel generates about $3 billion in annual revenue from chip sales to Apple), but with the rumors swirling that Apple is considering moving its Mac product lines away from Intel-based chips in favor of home-grown chips, Intel should want to do everything possible to keep Apple happy.
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Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.