The 'Book Review

Next MacBook Pro Update April or Later, PC Trackpads Suck, ThunderBolt PCs Coming in April, and More

This Week's PowerBook and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.01.02

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

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

Phased Rollout of Intel Ivy Bridge Processors Could Delay New MacBook Pro Release

DigiTimes' Monica Chen and Steve Shen report that Intel plans to release 25 models of its next-generation 22nm Ivy Bridge family of processor chips, including 17 CPUs for desktops and 8 for notebooks and ultrabooks on or around April 8, 2012, according to sources at PC makers in Taiwan.

This news is of particular interest to those of us attempting to draw a bead on a likely release date for the next generation of MacBook Pro notebooks, widely anticipated to be coming sometime in the spring.

Chen and Shen say Core i7-3920Qm, 3820QM and 3720QM notebook CPUs will be released in April, with other models including Core i5-3520M, 3360M, 3320M and ultrabook CPUs Core i7-3667U and Core i5-3427U to be unveiled later. If that prediction is accurate, it doesn't look good for an April MacBook Pro rollout, since it's a pretty sure bet that Apple will want Core i5 models on the mix as well as Core i7.

Perhaps a June MacBook Pro refresh?

Why Do PC Trackpads Suck When Mac Trackpads Don't?

So asks ZDNet's James Kendrick, contending that Apple set the bar for laptop trackpads with the outstanding ones on the MacBook line, observing that there's yet been a trackpad on the PC side that comes close matching Apple's products.

Kendrick says he's been using PC laptops since they weighed 30 pounds, and that one common feature found on almost all of them over the years is a trackpad that sucks, noting that until the unibody MacBooks came along, the first thing he did with a new laptop was plug in a wireless mouse - a some of us still do - and he doesn't understand why, out of all the companies making laptops, Apple is the only one that makes a decent trackpad. The rest are either too sensitive, not sensitive enough, or interfere with typing by sending the cursor all over the screen when his palms hit the trackpad, while Apple has nailed multitouch trackpad technology down cold, making it work exactly as it should - the sensitivity just right, integrated mouse buttons working just right, and palm rejection just right.

Kendrick says he's beginning to think making a trackpad that works properly must be incredibly difficult.

Editor's note: From personal experience, I'd say that Apple had it nailed back in 1996 with the PowerBook 1400c, and it got even better with the various PowerBook G3 models of the late '90s and early '00s. cm

Publisher's note: It's quite simple. Apple puts the focus on the user experience and is far less concerned with component costs than PC makers, which means not only the best trackpads, but also higher prices and great profit margins. On the PC side, price is such a huge factor that few are willing to pay for higher quality components unless they can see that they will generate increased sales. dk

Seagate's 750 GB 2nd Gen Momentus XT Hybrid Drive: Almost an SSD, Almost Affordable

So says the Houston Chronicle's Dwight Silverman, noting that in September he wrote about the joy of installing a 240 GB Mercury Extreme Pro 3G Solid State Drive (SSD) in his 13" MacBook Pro, dramatically improving the notebook's speed, but at a stiff cost for what is modest capacity these days.

Silverman maintains that SSDs won't gain mass acceptance until pricing comes down and capacity goes up, but an alternative that's more affordable and provides almost the same performance is hybrid hard drives, which combine a small SSD with a conventional rotating disk drive, providing higher capacity and better performance than a regular hard drive at a fraction of the price of a pure SSD - for example, delivering a boot time of about 15 seconds vs. 11 seconds for the "pure" SSD.

Thunderbolt Coming to PCs in April

DigiTimes' Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai report that Intel recently notified its partners that the company will fully release its Thunderbolt technology in April 2012, and several top-tier PC players are preparing to launch Thunderbolt-supported motherboards, notebooks, and desktop PCs, according to insider sources.

To speed up standardization of Thunderbolt, Intel is cooperating with Apple, which is currently the sole vendor offering PC products equipped with Thunderbolt technology, but as demand for thunderbolt is growing, Intel is ready to release it for wider use.

Chen and Tsai note that adding Thunderbolt support costs more than $20, and Thunderbolt is in competition with USB 3.0 to become the dominant next-generation data transmission technology. They note that while Thunderbolt didn't receive a lot of attention from the IT industry when it was first announced, Apple's adoption of the technology into products including its monitors, MacBook Pro, iMac, MacBook Air and MacBook Mini, has boosted demand, and the cost of including Thunderbolt support in PCs is expected to drop in the second half of 2012.

Sony and Asustek Computer are expected to be first up adopting Thunderbolt in their their high-end notebook products, and Chen and Tsai report that Gigabyte Technology has been aggressively adopting new transmission technology into its product line, is also expected to launch Thunderbolt-featured motherboard in April.

Ultrabooks to the Fore in 2012

Time's Doug Aamoth thinks that 2012 will be an interesting year in the notebook orbit thanks to an onslaught of ultrabooks - MacBook Air-style laptops from major PC manufacturers weighing in at around three pounds and measuring less than 1" thick, but not requiring nearly as much compromise as ultraportable netbooks.

However, with about half the notebooks on the market expected to be these new razor-thin designs, it will deal another blow to physical media - CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, and so forth - since ultrabooks are too thin to accommodate built-in optical drives, although notebooks with optical drives won't entirely disappear, and external drives are an option.

Ultrabook advantages cited include portability, speed, instant-on features thanks to flash storage media, and improved power management with new processors from Intel and AMD, with ultrabook entry-level pricing expected to drop $700 by mid-2012.

Intel Hopes to Keep Netbooks Alive with New Dual-Core Atom Chips

IDG News' Agam Shah reports that Intel started shipping the latest Atom chips for netbooks last week, an important step to sustain growth of the low-cost PCs in the wake of the tablet onslaught.

Shah cites Intel saying that the dual-core Cedar Trail chips bring better battery life and overall improved performance to netbooks, doubling graphics performance while reducing power consumption by up to 20% compared to Atom predecessors introduced two years ago. The new chips will help netbooks provide up to 10 hours of battery life on one charge. Top PC makers, including Hewlett-Packard, Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba, Asus, and Samsung, will ship netbooks with Cedar Trail chips beginning in January starting at $199.

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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