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Expanded GPU support in Apple's Mac OS X 10.6.7 hints at future Mac hardware

Apple's newly released Mac OS X 10.6.7 security and maintenance update for Snow Leopard features support for the latest — and even some unreleased — AMD Radeon graphics cards, hinting at inclusion in future Mac hardware.

As discovered by the tonymacx86 Blog, the Mac OS X 10.6.7 update for early 2011 Mac Book Pro models features native graphics acceleration for some Radeon HD 5000- and 6000-series cards. The supported cards are off-the-shelf graphics processing units, not Mac-only cards as have been in the past.

It's likely that at least some of the cards will be part of the new iMac refresh expected from Apple in the near future. A new rumor this week claimed that Apple plans to ship a refresh of its all-in-one desktop by early May, with Intel's new Sandy Bridge processors and a high-speed Thunderbolt port.

But the number of graphics cards natively supported by Mac OS X 10.6.7 has led "tonymacx86" to suggest that it could signal "the end of the Mac-only graphics card."

"Could Apple be opening up the platform more?" he asked. "What happens to NVIDIA? Why support for cards that aren't in Macs yet? Will the 2011 Sandy Bridge iMacs contain one or more of these new 6xxx cards?"

The Mac OS X 10.6.7 Snow Leopard build unique to early 2011 Sandy Bridge MacBook Pro models apparently contains native support for the following graphics cards:

  • ATI Radeon HD 5630 Device ID 0x68D8
  • ATI Radeon HD 5630 Device ID 0x68D9
  • ATI Radeon HD 5670 Device ID 0x68D8
  • ATI Radeon HD 5730 Device ID 0x68D8
  • ATI Radeon HD 5770 Device ID 0x68B8
  • ATI Radeon HD 5850 Device ID 0x6899
  • ATI Radeon HD 5870 Device ID 0x6898
  • AMD Radeon HD 6850 Device ID 0x6739
  • AMD Radeon HD 6870 Device ID 0x6738
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 Device ID 0x6718

Mac OS X 10.6.7 was released this Monday, offering users a variety of bug fixes and security enhancements. The general update improves the reliability of Mac to My Mac, resolves issues when transferring files to SMB Windows File Sharing servers, and addresses bugs with the Mac App Store.

The special build unique to the new MacBook Pros with Thunderbolt also addresses performance issues with FaceTime. It also improves graphics stability and external display compatibility with the new notebooks released in February.