The 'Book Review

MacBook Air the Perfect Notebook, Apple's Unibody Advantage Over PC Makers, Ultrabooks, and More

This Week's PowerBook and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2011.08.19

General Apple and Mac desktop news is covered in Mac News Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in iOS News Review. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

News & Opinion

Reviews

Products & Services

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

Thin MacBook Air Ideal for Most, but MacBook Pro Still Vital

BeatWeek's Bill Palmer says that "Halfway to half has been the story of the MacBook Air," as it has gradually progressed toward becoming a suitable everyday laptop for typical consumers even though it's about half the thickness and half the weight of its MacBook Pro cousin.

Palmer is of a mind that significantly more than half the population will do well with the 13" MacBook Air, which maxes out at 4 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage - not generous, but probably enough for what most people do on a laptop most of the time.

That said, Palmer allows that the MacBook Pro has wings. But those wings must sprout with the next model, since notwithstanding its aluminum unibody design and the massively larger permanent battery, the MacBook Pro is still largely the same product it was back when it was first introduced as Apple's first Intel-based laptop more than five years ago.

MacBook Chassis Maker to Operate at Full Capacity Until End of 2011

DigiTimes' Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai report that notebook chassis maker Catcher projects that it will be running at full capacity at least through to year-end 2011 due to strong demand for the magnesium-aluminum alloy chassis it builds for notebook manufacturers, and indeed the company is planning boost its capacity by 20% in the second half of the year, thanks largely to the success of Apple's MacBook Air boosting demand for the metal enclosures, which the company had anticipated would contribute more than 50% of its revenues in 2011 - but with demand growing in the second half of 2011, the revised estimate is now 55-60% with Catcher's notebook business up 30% on year. Sources at Catcher told DigiTimes that while the penetration rate of metal chassis in the notebook industry has typically been around 30-40%, with the MacBook Air boosting demand for metal chassis and Intel aggressively pushing its Ultrabook concept, the penetration rate could surpass 40% in 2012.

Apple's Unibody Advantage

The Small Wave blog says that while it's clear Apple's competitors are having a difficult time matching the iPad's price, they're also having trouble matching prices on new laptops, and that as with the iPad, one reason for this is Apple's favorable OEM pricing on components such as flash memory, thanks to the power of volume, but suggests that the unibody production method Apple implemented in late 2008 is being underrated.

The process takes a block of aluminum and utilizes CNC (computer numerically controlled) machining to create a structural part that comprises the bulk of the device, thereby reducing the number of parts in a MacBook Pro by 50%, and while the upfront development and tooling costs were enormous, it's paying dividends now - not just the reduction in parts, but also corresponding reductions in supplier deals, manufacturing costs, failures and rejects, plus the enhanced quality that comes with a single, solid part.

DigiTimes' Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai recently reported (above) that notebook chassis maker Catcher projects that it will be running at full capacity at least through the end of 2011 due to strong demand for the magnesium-aluminum alloy chassis it builds for notebook manufacturers, and Catcher is planning to boost its capacity by 20% in the second half of the year.

PC Makers Can't Catch Up to MacBook Air

PCWorld's Jason Cross says the PC world is buzzing lately about how laptop manufacturers are struggling to compete with Apple's MacBook Air, which has exploded in popularity since the introduction of the third-gen model in October 2010, and with this years fourth-gen update is proving to be the must-have laptop of the year.

Cross notes that for every laptop manufacturer not named Apple, the race is on to make new super-thin and super-light laptops, a class that Intel calls Ultrabooks, but that previous efforts to market this class of laptop, such as Sony's razor-thin, sub-two-pound X505 in 2003 and Dell's Adamo and even thinner Adamo XPS in 2009 failed in the marketplace, while Apple hit the sweet spot with the revised MacBook Air last fall and has gone from strength to strength.

Cross thinks the problem for Apple's competitors in creating "must-have" products is philosophical and conceptual, noting that they tend to proceed conservatively with product planning and development predicated on market research - what customers tell them they want - while Apple routinely ranges outside the envelope to create products that people didn't know they wanted, but find that they don't want to live without once they see them.

Asus UX31 Ultrabook vs. MacBook Air

PC Authority's William Maher says the new Asus UX31 Ultrabook isn't just an aluminum laptop running Windows - it's good news if you've been torn between a MacBook and the sometimes awful styling of everything else, since the UX31 is one of the most MacBook-like laptops he's seen - very thin, with sleek, bare metal, straight lines and an aluminum chassis, chiclet keyboard, and clean, minimalist look.

However, Maher says that comparing the Ultrabook to a MacBook on looks alone misses the point, since there are many reasons other than aesthetics to choose a Mac or another brand of laptop - the operating system being one. But if you don't want a MacBook and you've found other machines too ugly, the Ultrabook might be what you're looking for.

Intel Capital Creates $300 Million Ultrabook Fund

PR: Intel Capital spokesman Patrick Darling says Intel has launched a $300 million Ultrabook Fund to help drive innovation in this new category of devices. As announced at Computex earlier this year, Ultrabook systems* will marry the performance and capabilities of today's laptops with tablet-like features, and are designed to deliver a highly responsive and secure experience in a thin, light and elegant design at mainstream prices.

To help realize that vision, the Intel Capital Ultrabook Fund aims to invest in companies building hardware and software technologies focused on enhancing how people interact with Ultrabooks, achieving all-day usage through longer battery life, enabling innovative physical designs, and improved storage capacity. The overall goal of the fund, which will be invested over the next 3-4 years, is to create a cycle of innovation and system capabilities for this new and growing category of mobile devices.

"Ultrabook devices are poised to be an important area for innovation in the $261 billion global computer industry," says Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital and Intel executive vice president. "The Intel Capital Ultrabook fund will focus on investing in companies building technologies that will help revolutionize the computing experience and morph today's mobile computers into the next must have device."

"Celebrating 30 years of innovation, the PC is the ultimate Darwinian device, and Intel is striving to again reinvent mobile computing," says Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of Intel's PC Client Group. In 2003, the combination of Intel's Centrino technology with built-in WiFi, paired with Intel Capital's $300 million in venture investments and other industry enabling efforts, ushered in the shift from desktop PCs to anytime, anywhere mobile computing. Our announcement today is about Intel mobilizing significant investments to achieve the next historic shift in computing."

There are three key phases in Intel's strategy to accelerate its vision for this new category, Darling notes. The company's efforts begin to unfold this year with Intel's latest 2nd Generation Intel Core processors. This family of products will enable thin, light, and beautiful designs that are less than 21mm (0.8") thick, and at mainstream prices. Systems based on these chips will be available for the 2011 winter holiday shopping season.

To ship Ultrabook devices this year required significant collaboration amongst the entire computing industry. Intel has worked very closely with its customers to ensure that Ultrabook devices deliver compelling and unique value to consumers. Many OEMs have been collaborating on this effort from the very beginning.

"Ultrabook takes the best technologies and marries them with sleeker designs and extraordinarily long battery life for a new kind of computing experience, says Peter Hortensius, Lenovo's Product Group president. "This new type of personal computing aligns with our continual focus on engineering innovative laptop solutions that push the boundaries on mobility."

The second phase of Intel's vision happens around the next-generation Intel processor family code named Ivy Bridge, which is scheduled for availability in systems in the first half of 2012. Laptops based on Ivy Bridge will bring improved power efficiency, smart visual performance, increased responsiveness and enhanced security.

Intel's planned 2013 products, code named Haswell, are the third step in the Ultrabook device progression and expected to reduce power consumption to half of the thermal design point for today's microprocessors.

Darling notes that through dedicated and consistent investments in startups and companies at the cutting edge of technology innovation worldwide, and by employing Intel's core assets of architecture, engineering and manufacturing leadership along with capital investment, Intel Capital has helped to create the technology ecosystems which underlie many of the most widespread applications of technology today.

* By definition, an Ultrabook is no more than 0.8" (21mm) thick, uses an Intel CPU, has five hour battery life, sells for under $1,000, although manufacturers are complaining that Intel's chip prices currently put this price tag just out of reach - except for Apple. It's $999 11" MacBook Air meets all of these requirements, although it is short on RAM and drive space. dk

Stakes High for Intel in Success of Ultrabook Strategy

Writing in Forbes, Endpoint Technologies Associates, Inc.'s Roger Kay notes that last week Intel accelerated promotion of what it's touting as a new category of computer, the Ultrabook, whose specs and characteristics are quite precise in some cases and generously vague in others but stipulate that Ultrabooks must be less than 21mm (0.83") thick, use low-voltage Core processors, cost less than $1,000, sustain at least five hours of battery life, and employ Intel's Rapid Start technology, which allows nearly instant power-on by means of embedded flash memory.

Not required, but recommended, are solid state drives (SSDs), and touch technology will likely be incorporated in later Ultrabook versions. Thunderbolt I/O interface technology, which is 22 times as fast as USB 2.0 and already shipping in Apple's 2011 notebooks and desktops, may also become part of the Ultrabook package in the future, the first iteration of which will be based on 32nm Sandy Bridge processors with systems based on these chips reaching markets in time for the holidays according to an Intel announcement last week (above).

In his article, Kay reviews the history of subnotebook PC computers and observes that there's an enormous amount at stake for Intel in promoting mindshare for x86 architecture in the high mobility space, noting that Apple, which has already effectively colonized the category with its MacBook Air, and could easily switch it's subnotebooks over to its own in-house developed ARM-based processor silicon "at any moment."

Publisher's note: It could be argued that Apple invented the ultrasmall, ultralight category with the 1.4" thick, 10.9" wide, 8.5" deep, 4.2 lb. PowerBook Duo in 1992, which was smaller and lighter than Apple's previous smallest notebook, the PowerBook 100 (1.8" x 11.0" x 8.5" and 5.1 lb.), because it eliminated all the usual ports. The Duo was completely dependent on a dock for network connectivity, attaching an external drive (floppy, hard, or optical), connecting a mouse or keyboard, etc. Today's ultrabooks are far less limited in that respect. dk

Graphics Issues Plague 2010 MacBook Pros Running OS X 10.7 Lion

MacFixIt's Topher Kessler says that while OS X 10.7 Lion seems to run well on many systems, there are several prominent issues affecting some Mac users running Lion that seem to revolve around the management or processing of graphics.

Most prominently affected, he says, are MacBook Pro systems (specifically the 2010 models), where it seems a bug results in kernel panics when performing specific video-processing tasks, be it the movement of a window or the editing and management of a graphics file, and that in addition to freezes and crashes, these systems also appear to be suffering from a black-screen bug that, while present for some users before upgrading to Lion, has definitely increased in prevalence after users have upgraded their systems, and noting that for now the only real workaround is downgrading to Snow Leopard and waiting for Apple to address the problems.

2011 MacBook Air Graphics Bug Not Fixed in OS X 10.7.1

T-GAAP's Karl Johnson notes that the new MacBook Airs are fast and light, but they currently come with a few software bugs - mostly minor annoyances that should be solved in the next update to Lion, but there is one bug that needs more than just an operating system update, a problem with brush icons that don't display correctly in graphics applications like Photoshop, Aperture, and Pixelmator. At certain sizes, the cursor will display the incorrect size of brush, and it will be offset from the actual location. Changing the cursor to non-brush shapes will still result in incorrect placement of the cursor position, and Apple's updated Mac OS 10.7.1 does not correct the problem.

2.3 GHz Quad-Core i7 CPU in MacBook Pro Runs So Hot It Could Boil Water

Yahoo! News' Christopher Null observes that when you buy a Mac, you know you're getting the state of the art when it comes to components (except for Blu-ray), but as many an early adopter can tell you, when you push the envelope, unintended consequences can be the result.

A case in point being the 17" MacBook Pro with latest Core i7-620M CPU from Intel, an incredibly powerful chip for the performance-obsessed who are willing to sacrifice portability for something that will blow the benchmarks out of the water.

That fast i7 chip runs hot, with users reporting that the MacBook Pro gets "almost too hot" to touch, and one PC Authority test finding that under heavy loads the chip hit as high as 101° Celsius, hot enough to boil water (but still within Intel's spec - the i7 CPU is specified to run as hot as 105° Celsius).

However, other computers using the same CPU don't get nearly this hot, so what gives? Chalk it up to the Mac's unique design and unconventional approach to cooling, says Null.

Apple USB Modem Doesn't Work with Lion, but Others Will

MacFixIt's Topher Kessler notes that a recent Cult of Mac article said that Apple appears to no longer be supporting USB modems and other analog forms of communication in OS X, but observes that while this may be the case with Apple's modem, others seem to be working, showing up, and can be configured just fine in the OS X System Preferences.

Kessler says that a scan with Pacifist revealed the presence of the "SM56KUSBAudioFamily.kext" kernel extension that contains the audio and modem family extensions within it, and additionally, the /Library folder contains a Modem Scripts directory that holds a number of modem configurations for devices from numerous manufacturers.

Publisher's note: Low End Mac first covered this topic on August 8, a week before the Cult of Mac article was posted, along with links to two compatible USB modems. dk

Reviews

Two Reviewers Declare 13" MacBook Air 'The Perfect Notebook'

Techpinions' Ben Bajarin says he's used a lot of notebooks in his 11 years as an industry analyst of consumer technology products, including nearly every type of design, form factor, performance, and screen size imaginable across notebooks and desktops.

Based on that comprehensive range of hands-on experience, Bajarin says he's confident in his conviction that the 13" MacBook Air is the perfect blend of everything required to be a great computer, and that after using the latest 13" Air he finds it it to be the perfect blend of portability and performance.

An owner and user of the original 11" Air, he says he found the smaller Air's screen size an inhibition to long term use, and for him 13" is the ideal size allowing for a larger screen experience without sacrificing portability, observing in summation that at the end of the day, the 11 is under-screened for his needs and the 15 MacBook Pro slightly to large to travel with comfortably, while the 13" Air is perfect.

Computerworld's Ken Mingis doesn't beat about the bush, declaring up front in his review that as far as he's concerned, the 13" Air is just about perfect, observing that the synergy of Apple's unibody encased hardware with OS X 10.7 Lion forms a solid nexus of modern OS and topnotch hardware that makes this laptop a real pleasure to use, and that although, his current personal laptop of choice is the top-of-the-line 17" MacBook Pro, he finds himself realizing he'd be fine with the 13". MacBook Air, concluding that there may well be one in his future.

Products & Services

OWC Memory Modules Supercharge 2011 MacBook Pro and Mac mini with 16 GB RAM, Double the Factory Maximum

PR: Other World Computing (OWC) has announced that its in-house MaxRAM tested and verified compatible OWC DDR3 1333 MHz 16 GB Memory Upgrade Kit supercharges 2011 MacBook Pro and Mac mini models by doubling the factory maximum offered memory. The OWC 16 GB Memory Upgrade Kit, now priced at $929.99, joins existing OWC memory upgrade kits for MacBook Pro and Mac mini models including the 8 GB Memory Upgrade Kit priced at $71.99, which offers savings up to 70% compared to the same sized Factory installed 8 GB option.

OWC Memory Upgrades Up to 16 GB for 2011 Apple MacBook Pro and Mac mini models, up to 32 MB for 2010-2011 iMac immediately available:

  • OWC 8 GB DDR3 1333 MHz Memory Kit (2 x 4 GB memory modules) - $71.99
  • OWC 12 GB DDR3 1333 MHz Memory Upgrade Kit (8 GB + 4 GB memory modules) - $499.99
  • OWC 16 GB DDR3 1333 MHz Memory Upgrade Kit (2 x 8 GB memory modules) - $929.99
  • OWC 24 GB DDR3 1333 MHz Memory Upgrade Kit for iMac 27" i5/i7 only (2 x 8 GB + 2 x 4 GB memory modules) - $999.97
  • OWC 32 GB DDR3 1333 MHz Memory Upgrade Kit for iMac 27" i5/i7 only (4 x 8 GB memory modules) - $1847.99

OWC makes it easy to select a memory upgrade up to 96 GB for any particular Apple computer. For 2006-2011 MacBook and MacBook Pro models, visit http://bit.ly/rs4TM. For 2005-2011 Mac mini models, visit https://eshop.macsales.com/shop/mac-mini/. For 1998-2011 iMac models, visit https://eshop.macsales.com/shop/apple/memory/iMac.

OWC Offers More Memory Choices for OS X Lion Users

While Apple's official minimum RAM requirement for OS X Lion is 2 GB, industry experts agree 4 GB of RAM is the minimum that should be installed for optimum performance of typical daily computer usage. For more advanced uses such as graphics production, A/V editing, and/or running a virtual machine, 8 GB to 16 GB of RAM is highly recommended.

OWC MaxRAM Lab Confirms Performance and Compatibility

By maintaining its own lab with the industry's most extensive collection of Apple Macintosh computers - only second to Apple itself - OWC is uniquely positioned to develop memory upgrade kits that deliver maximum capacity, performance, and savings. OWC Memory Upgrade Kits are engineered with premium quality components and are fully tested and certified to meet, if not surpass, all Apple memory design and compatibility specifications and come backed by a Lifetime Advance Replacement Warranty. To see all the OWC MaxRAM configurations that exceed Apple's officially supported maximums, visit https://eshop.macsales.com/memory/maxram.

Samsung High-performance 512 GB SSDs with Ultra-fast SATA 3.0

PR: Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. has announced volume production of SSDs (solid state drives) that support the Serial ATA Revision 3.0 interface with data transmissions at six gigabits per second (6 Gb/s). The new high-performance PM830 SSDs1 are available at up to 512 gigabyte (GB) densities.

Samsung High-performance 512 GB SSDThe industry is expected to quickly embrace SATA 6 Gb/s-based SSDs, which also will help increase market interest in 256 GB and higher densities significantly

Samsung's new high-speed SSDs are ideally suited for use in high-performance OEM notebooks and tablets. Sample production of the SATA 6 Gb/s 512 GB SSDs began in May, with volume production initiated earlier this month. The new drives are expected to replace SATA 3 Gb/s-based SSDs by year-end.

Samsung's new lineup of advanced SSDs will raise the performance bar to the next level for ultra-slim notebooks and tablets and accelerate growth of the market for high-performance SSDs, said Wanhoon Hong, executive vice president, memory sales & marketing, Device Solutions, Samsung Electronics. The industry is expected to quickly embrace SATA 6 Gb/s-based SSDs, which also will help increase market interest in 256 GB and higher densities significantly, he added.

The SATA 6 Gb/s SSD shortens system bootup time to about 10 seconds, while its high-performance allows users to download up to five DVD video files in less than a minute.

The 512 GB SSD utilizes Samsung's most advanced 20 nanometer (nm) class2 32 Gb multilevel cell (MLC) NAND memory chip incorporating the toggle DDR interface. A proprietary NAND controller facilitates exceptional performance levels that take full advantage of the toggle DDR architecture and the SATA 6 Gb/s interface. The new SSD doubles the performance of a SATA 3 Gb/s drive, with sequential read speeds of 500 megabytes per second (MB/s) and sequential write speeds of 350 MB/s.

The drive also features what Samsung claims is the industry's highest level of security, which uses an AES 256-bit encryption algorithm to protect personal or corporate data from unauthorized access.

Samsung's SATA 6 Gb/s SSDs are available in 512 GB, 256 GB, and 128 GB densities. The new high-performance SSD lineup is targeted for use in premium OEM notebooks and tablets.

According to market research firm IDC, the global outlook for client-side SSDs is expected to grow tenfold from 11 million units in 2011 to 100 million units in 2015. Moreover, the use of NAND in 256 GB SSDs is forecast to more than double from 19% of all NAND used in SSDs in 2011 to 42% in 2015. Further, demand for 512 GB SSDs is expected to grow from a 0.3% portion in 2011 to 8% in 2015, also underscoring the growing interest in higher density SSDs.

  1. The PM830 SSD is available to OEMs only for installation into new PCs or other devices. A consumer version of the drive which can be used as an upgrade for existing devices will be forthcoming and announced at a later date.
  2. 20nm-class means a process technology node somewhere between 20 and 29 nanometers.

Computer Choppers Offers Polished 24kt Gold MacBook Pros

PR: Computer Choppers will build you a custom 24kt Gold MacBook Pro 13" with color matched keyboard and trackpad. The plating is given a baked on clear coat so you can handle the it just like a regular laptop without worry of scratching. Pricing for the 13" MacBook Pro model starts at $5,000 and will vary based on the hardware specifications you choose. Build time is 3-4 weeks or 2 weeks expedited (additional fee applies). Needless to say, buyers will be members of an exclusive fraternity in possession a flawless 24kt mirror finish on their MacBook Pro.

Polished 24kt Gold MacBook Pro 13 Unibody

Polished 24kt Gold MacBook Pro 13Computer Choppers' signature customized laptop, the MacBook Pro is available in 13", 15", and 17" sizes. Available in plating, anodizing, or a combination of the two, these laptops can be personalized to fit your unique style. Laser or hand engraving is available along with an assortment of jewelry options from custom logos to diamond accents on the unibody chassis. If you have a specific design requirement, simply send CC the details and they will quote you a price specific to your requests. Exotic plating finishes are also available in bronze, pewter, and many more gold variants.

Polished 24kt Gold MacBook Pro 15 Unibody

These laptops are exclusively plated and anodized by Computer Choppers.

  • Polished 24kt Gold MacBook Pro 15 Keyboard and trackpad color matching is available.
  • Keyboards are clear coated for durability and long life.
  • Trackpads are painted under the glass to retain the original smooth finish.
  • Laser Engraving (text or graphics) is available.
  • Engraving appears white on clear coated items, black on chrome or platinum plating.
  • Custom diamond logos can be created in cubic zirconia, diamonds, or sapphires. Base metal options include sterling silver, 14kt gold, 18kt gold, 22kt gold, or platinum. Logos can be emailed to CC in any common image format: JPG, CDR, PSD, or EPS preferred.

Polished Rose Gold & Black Anodized MacBook Pro 17 Unibody

Polished Rose Gold and Black Anodized MacBook Pro 17 Plating options:

  • Triple Chrome
  • Blk Chrome (clear coat req.)
  • Copper (clear coat req.)
  • 24kt Gold (clear coat req.)
  • White Gold (clear coat req.)
  • Rose Gold (clear coat req.)
  • Platinum

Color Anodizing options:

  • Flat or Candy Colors (Available in all colors)

Jewelry:

  • Diamond Logo
  • Custom Logo
  • Diamond Unibody Accents
  • Laser Engraving

Computer Choppers also offers bespoke, customized iMacs, iPhones and iPads.

Bargain 'Books

For deals on current and discontinued 'Books, see our 13" MacBook and MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, 13" MacBook Pro, 15" MacBook Pro, 17" MacBook Pro, 12" PowerBook G4, 15" PowerBook G4, 17" PowerBook G4, titanium PowerBook G4, iBook G4, PowerBook G3, and iBook G3 deals.

We also track iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, iPod classic, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle deals.

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