The 'Book Review

HP Chairman Use MacBook Air, AMD MacBook Air 'Almost Happened', AMD May Adopt ARM, and More

This Week's PowerBook and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2011.11.29

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

Rumor Roundup

Reviews

Tech Trends

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

HP Chairman Ray Lane Uses a MacBook Air at Home

HP Chairman Ray Lane using a MacBook Air at homeMacDailyNews says that Hewlett-Packard Co. executive chairman Ray Lane has his reputation on the line as he tries to get the first-tier computer maker back on track, citing a report by Reuters' Poornima Gupta and Sarah McBride which includes a photo of Lane getting his HP hands really dirty using his Apple MacBook Air at home.

Apple Considering Universal Adapter to Charge MacBooks and iDevices Simultaneously

AppleInsider's Neil Hughes reports:

"Apple has shown interest in building a new universal power adapter compatible with different DC voltage levels, allowing portable devices like a MacBook Pro, iPhone and iPad to be charged at the same time with just one wall plug."

Publisher's note: We covered the PlugBug here a few weeks ago, a $35 device that replaces the AC plug on your MagSafe power adapter while adding a 10 Watt USB port for charging your iDevice. It would be even nicer if Apple built that into its power adapters, but until then, you have an option. dk

Rumor Roundup

MacBook Air with AMD Processor 'Almost Happened'

SemiAccurate's Charlie Demerjian reports that in one of those "could have been a contender" moments, SemiAccurate has learned that Apple had an AMD Llano-based MacBook Air on the verge of production that was canceled last spring or so - but it was really really close to production.

Demerjian suggests that the very mild late 2011 MacBook Pro refresh was because it was "plan B," with plan A having been a low power Llano CPU in an thinner MacBook Air shell, which would have been "a really tasty machine." Why? Because instead of awful graphics with questionable drivers, you would get many times the GPU power at the cost of a bit of CPU power - and he can't think of anyone who wouldn't make that tradeoff (at least anyone not employed by Intel).

Demerjian further maintains that Intel didn't so much win this round of rivalry as AMD having kicked the ball over their own goal line unable to guarantee steady and reliable volume of Llano parts, and the premium versions that Apple always scoops up are in particularly short supply, although he says "multiple sources" have been telling SemiAccurate that supply was only one of the reasons Apple decided against running with a Llano Air, and in retrospect, it was a really wise choice.

15" AMD-Powered MacBook Air Dropped at Last Minute

AppleInsider Staff report that Apple is said to have developed a MacBook Air running Advanced Micro Devices' Fusion Llano processor last spring, but scrapped it at the last minute because of production issues.

Why Apple Rejected AMD Llano in the MacBook Air

Ars Technica's Chris Foresman notes that unnamed sources speaking to SemiAccurate contend that Apple had AMD Llano-based MacBook Air prototypes "on the verge of production" but ultimately decided on Intel's ultra-low voltage Sandy Bridge processors instead. Assuming it's true that Apple was tinkering with Llano processors for the Air, he thinks it's worth considering why the company ultimately opted for Intel over AMD.

Foresman thinks there's nothing extraordinary about Apple experimenting with alternate sourced processors, noting that Apple reportedly has MacBook Air prototypes with ARM-based processors under study as well, but he suggests that what is surprising is the SemiAccurate article's assertion that the Llano-based Air was Apple's "plan A" allegedly scrapped sometime last spring due to AMD's inability to ship processors in volume. However, he also notes that while Llano also offers IGPU performance easily outdistancing that of Intel's integrated HD3000 graphics, Llano's CPU performance doesn't measure up to that of Sandy Bridge, and its GPU is hampered by a lack of direct access to high-speed RAM.

Foresman reasons that the Intel HD3000 graphics was deemed satisfactory in performance, and sticking with Intel poised Apple to benefit from Intel's next-generation Ivy Bridge processors due to ship in early 2012.

Will an AMD Trinity-based MacBook Air See the Light of Day?

ZDNet's Jason D. O'Grady notes that SemiAccurate's Charlie Demerjian declared that a MacBook Air with AMD processor was dead, claiming that an AMD Llamo-based MacBook Air was close to production but never saw the light of day because AMD dropped the ball on supply volume.

However, O'Grady thinks Demerjian's post creates more questions than answers, such as why Intel is so passionately executing its Ultrabook initiative aimed squarely at the MacBook Air's wheelhouse while Intel is an Apple exclusive partner that supplies CPUs for the Air and all other Apple systems, deducing that it makes no sense for Intel to be attacking Apple with MacBook Air clones if something else is not in the wind, so to speak.

O'Grady observes that while Demerjian mentions only the AMD's 1st-gen Llano fusion processor, Trinity is the second generation, and nobody actually thought Apple would use Llano, so why was this post about Llano rather than Trinity? Could it be a clever decoy staged by Apple to help keep its plans secret? Or could it be retribution by Intel for Apple testing Trinity in the MacBook Air?

Troubled 15" MacBook Air Scrapped for 2010, Coming in 2012

9 to 5 Mac's Mark Gurman says that had Apple's next-generation of notebooks announcement in October 2010 played out as planned, today's MacBook lineup would look a lot different, noting that the late 2010 MacBook Air redesign ushered in an all-new and thinner form-factor, a higher-resolution display, an incredibly light body, a large Multi-Touch single-button trackpad, flash SSD storage, and battery life improvements, all of which, according to Apple, constitute the future of notebooks.

However, Gurman contends that the new 13" and 11" Airs were not the only planned elements of the late 2010 MacBook Air story, with unnamed "reliable sources" claiming that that a groundbreaking 15" MacBook Air had also been scheduled for a late 2010 release, looking like the current 13" and 11" MacBook Airs, and built using many of the same parts. However, Gurman relates, in late testing, the 15" Air, which used the same hinges as the smaller Airs, were failing to reliably hold the weight of and stay affixed to the larger screens, so within weeks of production, Apple determined that a whole new hinge would have to be designed, and so the 15" Air would be skipped for the current product cycle.

Gurman says he expects a redesigned 15" MacBook Air to debut running on Intel's next-generation 22 nm Ivy Bridge processors, which have better onboard graphics as well as consuming considerably less power, in early 2012.

Apple Rumored to Switch Back to Nvidia GPUs for 2012 MacBook Models

AppleInsider's Slash Lane speculates that Apple's switch to AMD graphics across its entire product line could be short-lived, with a new rumor claiming the next-generation MacBook models will once again feature Nvidia graphics processors beginning next spring, when new hardware featuring Intel's next-generation Ivy Bridge processors is anticipated, according to SemiAccurate.

Reviews

2011 MacBook Air 6 Gb/s SSD Upgrade

Bare Feats' rob-ART Morgan asks:

"Are you aware that the 2011 MacBook Air has a six gigabit-per-second (6 Gb/s) internal storage interface? Yet Apple chooses to ship it with a 3 Gb/s Samsung or Toshiba flash storage module. Other World Computing is offering an easy upgrade to a 6 Gb/s flash storage module called the Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G.

"Why would you want to upgrade? With the 4 GB RAM "hard wired" limit on the MacBook Air, you will force numerous virtual memory swaps if you have a lot of apps launched and running. Also certain Pro Apps need gobs of RAM to function efficiently. If they don't have access to it, they will use the flash storage for scratch area.

"Is it easy to install? Yes...."

Morgan reports substantial speed gains with the OWC Mercury Aura Pro Express 6 Gb/s flash storage module, as well as OS-independent intelligent block management, intelligent wear leveling, intelligent read disturb management, intelligent recycling, redundant array of independent silicon elements, and advanced ECC protection - much more sophisticated than the OS dependent TRIM support in the Apple factory flash module.

Tech Trends

Intel: Windows 8, Touch-Based Ultrabooks to Be a Major Focus in 2012

Cnet's Brooke Crothers reports that Intel CEO Paul Otellini told the Intel Capital Global Summit conference at Huntington Beach, California, that touch-based ultrabooks running Windows 8 are to be a major focus for the chipmaker in 2012, saying that to lure mainstream laptop buyers, Intel and its partners need to get the cost of touch technology under control, which Otellini pegs as entry level price points starting at $699 to $799, noting that the iPad and the iPhone have made touch a paradigm," he said.

"Starting with Windows 8, you have a mainstream operating system incorporating touch," Crothers quotes Mr. Otellini noting. "Our view is that in the ultrabook lines, touch is a pretty critical enabler. When users see that new Windows interface, they're going to want to touch it. If the screen does nothing, you have disappointed [the] consumer."

Touchscreen Ultrabooks and Tablets Waiting for Windows 8

Riffing on a Cnet blog by Brooke Crothers (above), Hardmac's Lionel notes that at a recent conference, Intel CEO Paul Otellini indicated a return of focus to the tablet market now that the Ultrabook has failed to take off, saying that Intel is in holding pattern until Microsoft releases Windows 8 with full touchscreen support in 2012, and suggesting that Ultrabooks running Windows 8 will have keyboards and also touchscreens.

AMD Struggles to Reinvent Itself, May Go ARM

The San Jose Mercury News reports:

"Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] was hoping to profit from a bigger share of the PC chip market after its longtime nemesis, Intel, suffered a string of antitrust regulatory rebukes in recent years.

"But it hasn't quite worked out that way."

"Although AMD has been vague about its plans, the company is widely expected to push hard to get its chips into smartphones and tablets. Those markets not only are dominated by other companies, but its gargantuan arch-rival is trying to elbow its way into them, too - potentially moving the war with Intel onto a new battleground."

"AMD's failure to get its chips into smartphones and tablets reportedly was behind its board's decision in January this year to oust CEO Dirk Meyer, who had been in the job since 2008, and to replace him in August with Rory Read, former CEO of PC and tablet maker Lenovo."

"Some analysts believe AMD may fire back at Intel by adopting a chip design long anathema to both companies. The design, licensed to various chipmakers by British firm ARM, currently dominates smartphones and tablets.

"AMD might make chips based on both the x86 and ARM designs, some experts have speculated. But if it switches exclusively to ARM, it would leave Intel essentially alone in the x86 business...."

Publisher's note: It's unlikely that AMD would so completely reinvent itself that it would abandon the x86 market, as it is the #2 player in that market. There's also no good reason for AMD not to enter the AMD market, which is growing by leaps and bounds with the popularity of smartphones and tablets. Expect a future where AMD plays a role in both markets. dk

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