Apple seems set to use a new Nvidia chip inside future Macs, but there’s a sticking point – Intel has launched a lawsuit against the graphics chip maker to prevent manufacture of the very GPU’s Apple’s seemingly intending to use. Meanwhile, in the background, Apple’s PA Semi team are quietly developing new processor platforms for Apple devices…

Sounds like a soap opera? It’s not. Here’s the deal:

Digitimes informs us Nvidia plans to launch new chipsets for Intel-based notebooks in the first quarter next year, the MCP89 and MCP99 chipsets. These chipsets are expected to sell to at least one major computer maker, Apple, the report explains.

Reports from China (and we confess to becoming a little less credulous to such reports every day) claim Apple will use both Nvidia chipsets in future Macs, replacing the current GeForce 9400M (aka MCP79) with the all-new MCP89 chipset. Conflicting reports say the MCP89 will be used inside Core2 laptops, while the MCP99 grabs some desktop action.

– Factoid: the MCP89 will support a faster system bus and faster DDR memory, which, in conjunction with Snow Leopard, should usher in yet more performance gains on future Macs.

– In the way: These new Nvidia chipsets incorporate a built-in Intel-based memory controller. The two companies have some deals in place that let Nvidia build chipsets that support Intel processors, but Intel earlier this year launched a lawsuit agains Nvidia, saying this deal doesn’t extend to inclusion of integrated memory controllers.

– An Intel statement on the above: “Intel has filed suit against Nvidia seeking a declaratory judgment over rights associated with two agreements between the companies. The suit seeks to have the court declare that Nvidia is not licensed to produce chipsets that are compatible with any Intel processor that has integrated memory controller functionality, such as Intel’s Nehalem microprocessors and that Nvidia has breached the agreement with Intel by falsely claiming that it is licensed. Intel has been in discussions with Nvidia for more than a year attempting to resolve the matter but unfortunately we were unsuccessful. As a result Intel is asking the court to resolve this dispute.”

Nvidia may be on thin ice. While Apple CEO, Steve Jobs has in the past said his company hopes to continue working with Intel for “many years”, strong speculation last month suggested the company may not feel quite as much love for Nvidia. A report claimed negotiations between the two firms for use of Nvidia chipsets on Mac motherboards had come to a halt. This generated speculation Apple may use Intel or AMD GPU’s, or even field new graphics processors developed in-house. Apple has been hiring former AMD staffers extensively in recent months.

– Tensions between Nvidia and Apple may reflect the former firm’s problems with GPUs as installed in MacBook Pros last year, problems which saw Apple offer an unprecedented three year free replacement to MacBook Pro owners in the event their GPU developed a fault.

So, summing up, Apple’s future Macs may, or may not, include Nvidia’s newly-developed chpsets, and Intel may, or may not, pursue its existing litigation against Nvidia.

Would it be better if Apple developed its own GPU’s in-house? We can’t say, but we do suspect Apple’s engineering teams will be learning quite a lot as they work to develop the Open CL standard

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