The 'Book Review

iFixit Tears Down Thunderbolt Display, Byte-Dock MacBook Docking Stations, Kindle Apps, and More

This Week's PowerBook and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2011.09.30

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

Software

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

Ancient Silk Road Revived as Rail Route Between China to Europe

old Silk Road trade routes
The old Silk Road trade routes between Europe and Asia.

The old Silk Road trade route that dates back to the Middle Ages is staging a comeback of sorts with Acer projected to ship 40,000 notebooks by rail from Chongqing, China to Duisburg, Germany over the next two weeks, according to a report by DigiTimes' Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai.

The reporters note that the shipment, which will traverse 11,000 km (6,835 miles) through China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Germany, will mark the first railroad crossing from China to Europe, opening up a new delivery logistics option for the notebook industry. Among the OEM notebook makers, they say that Quanta Computer (which is also a major Apple notebook subcontractor) has been the most aggressive player in expanding capacity in Chongqing, with 1.5-1.6 million of Quanta's 4.5-5 million monthly notebook output are shipped from the company's Chongqing plants.

It's expected that the opening of the railroad link will encourage notebook makers to invest more heavily in western China, and allow notebook shipment times to be reduced significantly from 35-40 days to just two weeks, helping players to better manage their inventory. The cost of rail shipment is reportedly higher than sea shipment, but cheaper than shipping by air.

China now supplies some 90% of world notebook production according to Lee and Tsai, and mostly shipped to Western markets by sea or air, but it's anticipated that more notebook makers will be following Acer down the Silk Road in future, with service frequency projected to ramp up from an initial round trip every 1-2 weeks to one trip per day the logistics system matures.

New FeTRAM Low Power Draw Computer Memory Technology Shows Promise

PR: A press release authored by Purdue University's Emil Venere reports that researchers at Purdue's Birck Nanotechnology Center are developing a new type of computer memory that could be faster than existing commercial memory and use far less power than Flash memory devices.

The technology combines silicon nanowires with a "ferroelectric" polymer, a material that switches polarity when electric fields are applied, making possible a new type of ferroelectric transistor.

FeTRAM"It's in a very nascent stage," said doctoral student Saptarshi Das, who is working with Joerg Appenzeller, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and scientific director of nanoelectronics at Purdue's Birck Nanotechnology Center.

The ferroelectric transistor's changing polarity is read as 0 or 1, an operation needed for digital circuits to store information in binary code consisting of sequences of ones and zeroes.

The new technology is called FeTRAM, for Ferroelectric Transistor Random Access Memory.

"We've developed the theory and done the experiment and also showed how it works in a circuit," Appenzeller said.

Findings are detailed in a research paper that appeared this month in Nano Letters, published by the American Chemical Society.

The FeTRAM technology has nonvolatile storage, meaning it stays in memory after the computer is turned off. The devices have the potential to use 99 percent less energy than flash memory, a nonvolatile computer storage chip and the predominant form of memory in the commercial market.

"However, our present device consumes more power because it is still not properly scaled," says Das. "For future generations of FeTRAM technologies one of the main objectives will be to reduce the power dissipation. They might also be much faster than another form of computer memory called SRAM."

The FeTRAM technology fulfills the three basic functions of computer memory: to write information, read the information and hold it for a long period of time.

"You want to hold memory as long as possible, 10 to 20 years, and you should be able to read and write as many times as possible," explains Das. "It should also be low power to keep your laptop from getting too hot. And it needs to scale, meaning you can pack many devices into a very small area. The use of silicon nanowires along with this ferroelectric polymer has been motivated by these requirements."

The new technology also is compatible with industry manufacturing processes for complementary metal oxide semiconductors, or CMOS, used to produce computer chips. It has the potential to replace conventional memory systems.

A patent application has been filed for the concept.

The FeTRAMs are similar to state-of-the-art ferroelectric random access memories, FeRAMs, which are in commercial use but represent a relatively small part of the overall semiconductor market. Both use ferroelectric material to store information in a nonvolatile fashion, but unlike FeRAMS, the new technology allows for nondestructive readout, meaning information can be read without losing it.

This nondestructive readout is possible by storing information using a ferroelectric transistor instead of a capacitor, which is used in conventional FeRAMs.

This work was supported by the Nanotechnology Research Initiative (NRI) through Purdue's Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN), which is supported by National Science Foundation.

The abstract for the paper, "FETRAM. An Organic Ferroelectric Material Based Novel Random Access Memory Cell," reads:

Science and technology in the electronics area have always been driven by the development of materials with unique properties and their integration into novel device concepts with the ultimate goal to enable new functionalities in innovative circuit architectures. In particular, a shift in paradigm requires a synergistic approach that combines materials, devices and circuit aspects simultaneously. Here we report the experimental implementation of a novel nonvolatile memory cell that combines silicon nanowires with an organic ferroelectric polymerPVDF-TrFEinto a new ferroelectric transistor architecture. Our new cell, the ferroelectric transistor random access memory (FeTRAM) exhibits similarities with state-of-the-art ferroelectric random access memories (FeRAMs) in that it utilizes a ferroelectric material to store information in a nonvolatile (NV) fashion but with the added advantage of allowing for nondestructive readout. This nondestructive readout is a result of information being stored in our cell using a ferroelectric transistor instead of a capacitor - the scheme commonly employed in conventional FeRAMs.

Reviews

iFixit Tears Down Apple's Thunderbolt Display

PR: The big box we've been waiting for finally arrived. That's right, Apple's Thunderbolt Display crashed the party, and not a moment too soon. After managing to hoist this beast onto our operating table - while being mindful not smudge its 500 square inches of arsenic-free glass - we promptly grabbed our scalpels and went to work.

Taking out the LCD
Taking out the LCD.

We got the warm fuzzies when we found out that no proprietary tools were required to dissect Apple's colossal display. In fact, all you really need to pull the guts out of this machine are some heavy duty suction cups, Torx T6 and T10 screwdrivers, and maybe a spudger here and there.

All in all, we were struck by the Thunderbolt Display's ease of disassembly, and its 8 out of 10 repairability score reflects our admiration. But what did we find inside? Lots and lots of goodies that usually don't come standard with an LCD monitor. Although monitors usually don't cost as much as a laptop, either.

Teardown highlights

  • Much like the iMac we tore apart earlier this year (and the iMacs before it), the Thunderbolt Display's front glass panel comes off with the help of some heavy duty suction cups.
  • The LG display found inside is model number LM270WQ1. It's the same display found in the iMac Intel 27" from October of 2009, as well as the same basic LG display found in Dell's competing 27" monitor (UltraSharp U2711) - though the Apple version uses LED backlights as opposed to Dell's traditional CCFL. Dell's version is also matte, something that lots of Mac users have been complaining about since the old 30" Cinema Display was discontinued.
  • The 27-inch (diagonal) TFT active-matrix LCD has a resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels, the standard for displays of this size and price. Its 12 ms response time and 16.7 million colors, however, fall short of the 6 ms response time and 1.07 billion colors of Dell's comparable display. We might be splitting hairs here, but those hairs would be viewed with 1,053,300,000 less colors on Apple's display. Just saying.
  • The fan is easily removed simply by detaching a couple of connectors and unfastening a few screws. Apple has, as usual, chosen to go with a large, brushless fan to keep the colossal Thunderbolt Display cool and quiet.
  • Interestingly enough, the Thunderbolt cable that routes into the display also plugs into a standard Thunderbolt socket on the logic board: http://bit.ly/nwPTGm Apple could have just soldered the cable wires to the board, but instead chose to implement a cover that prevents the cable from being detached from the logic board's Thunderbolt socket.

Both sides of the logic board are packed with enough chips that it's hard to believe there's no computer inside this display. Standouts include:

Disconnecting the Thunderbolt cable from the logic board
Disconnecting the Thunderbolt cable
from the logic board.

  • Pericom PI7C9X440SL PCIe-to-USB 2.0 host controller
  • L129NB11 EFL, which looks to be the Thunderbolt port controller
  • Analog Devices ADAV4601 audio processor
  • NXP LPC2144 USB 2.0 microcontroller
  • Delta LFE9249 10/100/1000 Base-T LAN filter
  • SMSC USB2517-JZX USB 2.0 hub controller
  • Maxim MAX9736B Mono/Stereo high-power Class D amplifier
  • LSI L-FW643E-2 open host controller interface
  • Broadcom BCM57761 Gigabit ethernet controller
  • Supertex HV9982 3-channel switch-mode LED driver IC
  • We found some massive speaker enclosures near the side edges of the Thunderbolt Display and eagerly removed the screws holding them in place. Turns out the Thunderbolt Display comes with a 49 Watt 2-speaker sound system, including a miniature subwoofer.
  • We made quick work of the few screws and connectors that held the Flextronics power supply in place and found that this puppy provides 250 watts of maximum continuous power!

11" Mid 2011 MacBook Air: A 5 Out of 5

Canadian viewer's Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla says that for the first time, Apple's entry-level notebook might be one of its most compelling offerings. The new 2011 11" MacBook Air (starting at $999) looks identical to the one he reviewed late last year, but he considers it to be a completely different notebook with a lot more to offer, such as Intel's newer Core i5 and i7 processors that offer dual-core desktop performance but with much lower power draw.

The review MacBook Air came with the 1.6 GHz Core i5 processor, an Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor that includes an on-chip engine for video encoding and decoding, 2 GB of RAM and a 64 GB SSD drive. There is also a Thunderbolt port.

Thunderbolt is 12 times faster than FireWire 800 and up to 20 times faster than USB 2.0. The Mid 2011 MacBook Air is one of the first OS X 10.7 Lion computers shipped by Apple and, as a result, it is designed to take full advantage of the latest Mac OS version, blazing through startup while the PC ThinkPad X100 choked.

Sevilla notes that while the backlit keyboard may seem relatively trivial, it's a feat of engineering in something as sliver-thin as the MacBook Air, and he deems the MacBook Air line is being as good as any other mobile computer in terms of processing power and functionality.

He says he's been using the Core i5 MacBook Air to edit video constantly for two weeks, and the speed of the SSD plus the new Intel Sandy Bridge architecture give it the muscle to surpass the speed and performance of his 2010 13" MacBook Pro and iMac equipped with the maximum amount of RAM and the fastest SATA hard drives they could buy at the time.

If you want to go the BTO route, you can hotrod the 11" Air with a 1.8 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i7 processor and 4 GB of RAM, which will put it on par performance-wise with flagship notebooks weighing three times as much, making the MacBook Air Apple's most impressive portable design yet, garnering a 5 out of 5 rating.

And notwithstanding all the power packed into such a small, tightly knit, 2.38 pound package, Sevilla says he only heard the cooling fans kick in twice - both times when watching Netflix video on the Chrome browser.

Products & Services

Techne Byte-Dock MacBook Docking Station

Byte-dockPR: Channeling Apple's PowerBook Duos of the early-mid '90s, the new Byte-dock from Southampton, UK based Techne Industries Ltd. is a fully comprehensive MacBook Pro docking station that allows you to have all your usual peripherals permanently connected in your home or work environment.

Features:

  • All-in-one docking solution with no need for extra cables.
  • Simple and seamless plug-and-play functionality.
  • No additional power adapters needed.
  • Thunderbolt technology.
  • Free Thunderbolt to HDMI Cable that supports audio.
  • Quick and easy to use.
  • Space saving with access to additional ports.
  • No assembly required and fully comprehensive design.

Byte-dockThe Byte-dock is a fully comprehensive docking solution for your MacBook Pro allowing you to have all your usual peripherals permanently connected in your home or work environment.

The Byte-Dock turns the MacBook Pro into a no-excuses desktop system using the supplied Mini display to HDMI connection and cable. It can connect to an external monitor and an external full-size keyboard and mouse connected via Bluetooth or USB.

Byte-dockYou can also connect FireWire 800 devices, Ethernet and audio cables to the dock and the MacBook will connect to them.

The Byte-dock has two USB ports, one mic/line in port, one audio out/headphone socket, one FireWire 800 port, one Thunderbolt port (used in conjunction with the HDMI video cable that ships with the dock) and one Ethernet port.

Byte-dockWatch the three and a half minute demo video.

Mark Petley, Techne Industries principal with partner Paul Hackett, is cited noting that they've had inquiries for the Byte-dock from all over the world.

  • Byte-dock for 13" MacBook Pro
    Price: £149.99
  • Byte-dock for 15" MacBook Pro
    Price: £149.99
  • Byte-Dock for 17" MacBook Pro
    Price: £149.99

Software

Read Kindle Books on Your Mac

Kindle software on various platformsPR: Read Kindle Books on Your Mac

  • Get the best reading experience available on your Mac. No Kindle required
  • Access your Kindle books even if you don't have your Kindle with you
  • Automatically synchronizes your last page read and annotations between devices with Whispersync
  • Create new highlights, notes, and bookmarks and manage those created on your Kindle
  • Search for words or phrases within the book you're reading
  • Use the built-in dictionary to seamlessly look up the definitions of English words without interrupting your reading.
  • Full screen reading view, color modes, and brightness controls offer an immersive reading experience
  • Real page numbers for thousands of books in the Kindle Store. Now you can easily reference and cite passages, and read alongside others in a book club or class.

Read Kindle Books in the Cloud

Kindle Cloud Reader is a web app that lets you read your Kindle books, instantly.

Kindle Cloud Reader Features

  • Instant access to your Kindle library
  • Continue reading even when you lose your Internet connection
  • Optimized for iPad: shop the integrated Kindle Store for Tablets

Works with these Web Browsers

  • Chrome
  • Mac/PC/Linux/Chromebook
  • Safari
  • Mac/PC
  • Safari
  • iPad (iOS 4+)

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.

Join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or Google+, or subscribe to our RSS news feed

Links for the Day

Recent Content

About LEM Support Usage Privacy Contact

Custom Search

Follow Low End Mac on Twitter
Join Low End Mac on Facebook

Favorite Sites

MacSurfer
Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
MacInTouch
MyAppleMenu
InfoMac
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
RetroMacCast
The Vintage Mac Museum
Deal Brothers
DealMac
Mac2Sell
Mac Driver Museum
JAG's House
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ

Affiliates

Amazon.com
The iTunes Store
PC Connection Express
Macgo Blu-ray Player
Parallels Desktop for Mac
eBay

Low End Mac's Amazon.com store

Advertise

Open Link