The 'Book Review

Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode Disappoints, Faster SSDs Rumored for Next MacBook Air, and More

This Week's PowerBook and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2011.07.08

The first Thunderbolt cables and peripherals debuted last week, so we're finally seeing hand-on reports and product views. Although Thunderbolt has great potential, finding products that can truly take advantage of its incredible bandwidth is another story.

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.

Thunderbolt News

News & Opinion

Tech Trends

Bargain 'Books

Thunderbolt News

Thunderbolt Cables Get Warm in Use

Hardmac's Lionel says he is not surprised that Apple's new Thunderbolt cable, which contains some fairly sophisticated inline electronics (see last week's 'Book Review), heats up in use, and he would be curious to know how much power is being consumed by these cables. He adds that the cable is intelligent enough to power down its electronics when only one end is connected.

Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode Slower than FireWire 800

OWC blogger Michael says that since Apple released Thunderbolt-equipped Macs, questions have been pouring in on how quickly we'll be able to see benefits of blazing external speeds, but no Thunderbolt cables were even available until last week when Apple began offering the Promise Technology Pegasus R4 & R6 RAID solutions.

The OWC folks have now gotten their hands on a few of these cables and are able to start answering the questions they've received in detail, the first topic tackled being Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode, with test results a disappointment, being substantially slower than performance in FireWire Target Disk Mode using FireWire 800.

Enormous Disappointment with Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode

Hardmac's Lionel says that having two compatible Macs, a 2011 MacBook Pro and a 2011 iMac, but not a RAID box, Hardmac decided to test Thunderbolt using a method practiced over the years with FireWire - Target Mode. With Thunderbolt he had anticipated that using a Crucial M4 SSD, data flows close to what's possible using it as an internal disk would be realized, but the experience fell far short, reaching a maximum at less than 50 MB/s in writing and less than 74 MB/s in reading - much less than the data flow of this disc. He concludes, "The only hope is the wish that it is a residual bug of Thunderbolt or that something skewed our tests (however we repeated them on several occasions)."

Publisher's note: Although not mentioned in this article, Hardmac benchmarked the Crucial M4 SSD earlier this year in a 2011 MacBook Pro and reported write speeds of 280 MBps (almost six times as fast as Target Disk Mode results) and read speeds of 416 MBps (over five times as fast). dk

Video: How to Enable Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode

Macworld's Mauricio Grijalva has posted a tutorial video on how to use Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode to mount a second Mac as an external hard drive using the Thunderbolt port on the current iMac and MacBook Pro and Apple's new $49 Thunderbolt cable.

News & Opinion

All Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI Cables Recalled

SmartHouse's David Richards reports that Apple and Android tablet makers who use Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI cables are facing a major problem after a HDMI Organization source said that the mini connection does not comply with HDMI spec. Affected are Apple with their MacBook notebooks, Motorola with their Xoom tablet, ViewSonic, Acer, Cisco and RIM's Blackberry.

Richards says that according to the HDMI Organization, tens of thousands of Mini DisplayPort to HDMI cables are to be recalled because the cables do not comply, and a lot of companies that are using Mini DisplayPort HDMI connectivity have not sought deauthorization or paid a license fee, which they have to do if they want to use the HDMI name on their devices.

Publisher's note: Recent developments indicate that the problem is that the HDMI specification requires HDMI on both ends of the cable, so anything type of HDMI conversion cable falls outside the specification. Because of this, the HDMI Organization is working to have all such cables recalled and taken off the market. dk

Revised MacBook Air Rumored to Use 400 Mbps 'Toggle DDR 2.0' Flash Memory

The Japanese Apple-focused blogsite Macotakara says that according to an unnamed Asian electronics component company person, Apple appears to be fixing to adopt the 400 Mbps interface "Toggle DDR 2.0" NAND flash memory, a 19-nanometer process, for new MacBook Air. Since its major revision in October 2010, the Air has used only NAND drives for data storage.

Macotakara speculates that the current SSD device Blade X-gale, supporting SATA 2.6, that is used in the current MacBook Air models, will be dropped, and new 19nm flash memory will be packaged into smaller chip and will be soldered directly to the motherboard.

The Open NAND Flash Interface Working Group, NAND technology's standardization organization, has already released ONFi 3.0, the report says. That standard supports 400 Mbps specifications like Toggle DDR 2.0, but the top 70% of NAND processing companies, including Samsung (36.9%) and Toshiba (35.1%)m as of the first quarter of 2011 had not joined on this ONFi.

Toggle DDR 2.0 is a standardized procedure defined by JEDEC (Global Standards for the Microelectronics Industry), and Macotakara says JEDEC seems to have Apple's support.

If this rumor is accurate, it's already a fait-accompli. Apple is believed to have already stockpiled 400,000 next-generation MacBook Airs powered by Intel's state-of-the-art Sandy Bridge Core "i" processors, and supporting the new high-speed Thunderbolt I/O port last month in preparation for consumer launch as soon as OS X 10.7 Lion is released, which is widely expected to be on July 14.

Soldering SSDs to the Motherboard Is a Really Bad Idea

ZDNet's Jason D. O'Grady says there are two things that disturb him about the upcoming third-generation MacBook Air: it could ship still without a backlit keyboard, and it's rumored that the Air's SSD may be soldered onto the motherboard along with its processor and system RAM.

On the SSD issue, Jason is referencing a report from the Japanese Apple-centric blogsite Macotakara (above) that says Apple appears to be ready to adopt "Toggle DDR 2.0" NAND flash memory for the new MacBook Air, replacing the Blade X-gale SATA 2.6 SSD used in the current MacBook Air, packaged in a smaller chip and soldered on, which would eliminate enduser upgrades.

O'Grady acknowledges that the new Toggle DDR NAND Flash would be faster than the current crop of SSDs, but he's not a fan of planned obsolescence and doesn't like buying a computer that has a fixed amount of RAM or storage, since it seriously limits upgrade options later on.

He notes that Larry O'Connor, Founder & CEO of Other World Computing, has also called the rumored move "disappointing," but observes that change like this would be right in line with Apple's evident ongoing trend to promote buy and replace cycles with non-expandable/serviceable (at the enduser level) products, getting users to buy computers that are only useful for a year or two.

Your editor agrees. The soldered-on, non-upgradable RAM was already the biggest inhibiting factor inclining me away from a MacBook Air as my next system upgrade and toward the 13" MacBook Pro, and soldered-in storage would be the deal-breaker. I still have two 11-year-old Apple laptops in active service, and I'm little interested in machines that will be obsoleted in a couple of years.

The Only Reason You Shouldn't Buy a MacBook Air

Forbes' Brian Caulfield observes that the word compromise is never part of Apple's lexicon in its narrative about its products, and that's a shame, says Caulfield, because by his lights the MacBook Air is a study in the power of compromise - less powerful than Apple's other notebooks, equipped with fewer features, and in his estimation "uglier" than many of Apple's other offerings.

However, Caulfield contends that the compromises add up to a better notebook - lighter, quicker to boot, affordable at the $999 entry-level price - so unless you're a serious gamer or professional power-user editing video or somesuch, it's just more practical.

However, he advises that now is not the time to run out and buy a MacBook Air, as new models are just around the corner.

Former Microsoft Employee Buys a MacBook Air

Blogger Jian Shuo Wang says he's bought himself a 13'' MacBook Air notebook, saying he's had fun with his iPhone, leading to a desire to explore other Apple products. He'd initially considered an iPad 2, but on sober second thought figured he'd use a laptop more, since he prefers a physical keyboard.

Wang says being an Apple user is a strange space for him to be in, having been a Microsoft employee for seven years, where it's not politically correct to use Apple products, or Linux products. However, he says he's a big fan of PHP, Linux, cheap scalable servers, enjoys Apple, and for search prefers Google to Microsoft's Bing, and that not working for Microsoft gives him freedom to try different things, and hopefully cultivate a more balanced perspective, leading to other philosophical musings.

Products & Services

NextComputing Radius EX-B Mobile Workstation PC: Neither a Laptop nor Tablet

NextComputing Radius EX-BPR: Nashua, NH based NextComputing has announced the latest addition to its Radius series of mobile (but not laptop) computers, the Radius EX-B. Based on NextComputing's Radius EX all-in-one portable workstation, the Radius EX-B is NextComputing's first portable system to feature an integrated battery for total mobility.

NextComputing Radius EX-BUsers in industries like military intelligence, oil and gas exploration, digital video production, and network testing need high-performance hardware for their demanding applications. Features like full-powered CPUs, high-end 3D graphics, fast RAID storage, and PCI expansion slots are often required for these mission-critical applications. But when trying to run these applications in the field, these users are often forced to choose between large, non-mobile systems like a tower or rack-mount server that gives them the performance they require, or scale their application down to run on a laptop for mobility.

NextComputing solves this problem with the Radius EX-B. Like all NextComputing portables, the briefcase-like Radius EX-B is designed to offer true workstation and server performance in a compact, all-in-one package that is easy to transport and set up. But unlike other NextComputing portables, the Radius EX-B can run completely untethered, without being plugged into a power source.

This offers a number of advantages, including:

  • The ability to transport the system from room to room within a facility without powering down
  • Keeping the unit running continuously in the event of a power failure
  • Running the system in a remote environment where power is intermittent or unreliable such as military base station or trailer

NextComputing Radius EX-BThe Radius EX-B features:

  • 320W power supply with removable Lithium-ion battery pack, able to power the system at full-load for 2 hours, longer when idle
  • Built-in 17-inch widescreen, high-resolution (1920 x 1200) LCD monitor
  • Workstation-class 2nd Generation Intel Core i7 Quad-Core processor or Intel Xeon E3-1200 series processor
  • Up to 32 GB DDR3 memory (using 8 GB DIMMs)
  • 4 full-length, full-height PCI Express and PCI expansion slots
  • Integrated Intel HD Graphics or discrete professional graphics solutions from Nvidia and AMD
  • Up to 6 TB of fixed or removable storage with multiple RAID options
  • Optional 2nd and 3rd Clip-On, 1" thin 17' widescreen (1920 x 1200) monitors, able to run off of system battery power
  • Compact, all-in-one chassis with comfortable leather handle and convenient carrying case
  • Optional rolling case with telescoping handle or rugged MIL-STD-810F certified hard case

"Customers across many markets depend on our portable workstations and servers, because they are the most flexible and capable mobile systems available, while also being the smallest and lightest," says Bob Labadini, President/CTO of NextComputing. "Because they are powerful, enterprise-class computers, these systems have traditionally required external power, usually from a wall outlet or a DC source like a vehicle. The Radius EX-B changes all this. Our customers now have a fully mobile, all-in-one workstation, able to run their applications from literally anywhere."

The Radius EX-B is available now from NextComputing and its authorized resellers. Call +1-603-886-3874 or email Sales(at)NextComputing(dot)com.

Zenith Z-171 portable PC
Zenith Z-171

Compaq Portable III
Compaq Portable III

Publisher's note: NextComputing has no relationship to NeXT Computer, the company Steve Jobs founded in 1985 after leaving Apple, and the Radius product name appears to have no relationship to the line of monitors, accelerators, and Macintosh clones sold under the Radius brand in the 1980s and 1990s. However, this is an interesting solution to portable computing issues, providing iMac-like integration, Mac Pro-like expandability, and, at 17 to 22 lb., Mac Portable-like portability. It's an interesting approach. Old timers may recall the days when "lunchbox" portables, such as the Compaq Portable III (1987) and the even earlier Zenith Z-171 (1985), provided desktop power in a transportable, AC-powered computer. dk

Intel Offering Subsidies to Encourage Vendors to Launch Ultrabooks

DigiTimes' Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai report that Intel has started planning a new marketing strategy for its Ultrabook concept and is investing heavily in the related budget and resources, hoping to attract first-tier notebook vendors into developing Ultrabooks, according to the site's usual unnamed industry sources.

Chen and Tsai note that Intel's Consumer Ultra Low Voltage-based (CULV-based) ultra-thin notebooks in 2009 failed, and that the notebook market has been severely impacted by tablet PCs, mostly Apple's iPad, so consequently most notebook vendors are taking a cautious approach to embracing Intel's MacBook Air-like Ultrabook concept, leading to Intel's heavy investment in hope of enticing these vendors to launch Ultrabook products with a goal of having 40% of global consumer notebooks sold using its Ultrabook concept at the end of 2012.

One example will be Asustek's first Ultrabook concept-based notebook, the UX21, coming in September, but the article says the Ultrabook CPUs' relatively high prices are still an inhibiting factor affecting downstream vendors' willingness to adopt due to concern as to whether Ultrabook product prices can reach as low as the US$1,000 price point claimed by Intel, and that while several vendors have Ultrabook prototypes in the testing stage, most are still conservative about opening projects for production and waiting to see how Asustek fares with its UX21 before committing.

Tech-wise Intel has recently added four dual-core CPUs to its Ultrabook product line, and the report says it's set to launch a single-core Celeron 787 CPU in September and Celeron 857 in the fourth quarter to replace Celeron 847.

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.

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