The 'Book Review

Apple Tops in Reliability Again, Mobile Ivy Bridge Road Map, Upgrade MacBook Memory, and More

This Week's PowerBook and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2011.12.09

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

Tech Trends

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

Apple Tops PC World's Reliability and Satisfaction Survey Yet Again in 2011

The headlines for PC World's 2011 reliability and satisfaction survey report articles, pretty much tell the tale:

  • "Desktop PC Reliability and Satisfaction: Dell and HP Home PCs Get Poor Grades . . . Readers gave better marks to Apple and Asus"
  • "Laptop Reliability and Satisfaction: MacBooks Rule"
  • "Tablet Reliability and Satisfaction: iPad Comes Out on Top"
  • "Smartphone Reliability and Satisfaction: iPhone Tops the List"

In short, Apple products once again mopped the floor with the PC competition in the estimation of this PC-oriented magazine's readers, as they have so many times before.

In the survey category report articles, PC World's Mark Sullivan fleshes out the headlines, observing with regard to desktop machines that "Apple ruled the desktop PCs category, with top marks in reliability, service, and features (from product design to ports and connectivity)." Runner-up was Asus, praised for the reliability, value, and low operating noise of its machines.

However, on reliability, Apple was "the runaway winner" with four above-average scores and an average score on the fifth, and in service and support for desktops, "Apple hogged all of the better-than-average ratings, sweeping the field and leaving the other four vendors to scrabble for what was left."

Turning to notebooks, survey the predominance of survey respondents agreed that there's nothing quite like a MacBook, giving these machines better-than-average scores on eight of PC World's ten measures for durability, support, and most features aside from "performance for the price," while Asus, got high marks for selling a lot of laptop for the money. Apple also led in laptop reliability, scoring a category-leading five for five, with Samsung and Toshiba tied for second, and Asus getting honorable mention here for a low proportion of significant problems and better-than-average overall owner satisfaction with reliability. Bringing up the reliability rear were Dell's business laptops and HP's home laptops

Apple's MacBooks also shone with better-than-average scores on all four of our service and support measures.

In the tablet column, Sullivan reports that no Android slate could beat out the iPad in reliability or satisfaction with features, and the iPad remains miles ahead of the pack in durability, ease of use, and features such as battery life, screen quality, and overall speed, in fact, raking in almost all of the high scores in those areas, leaving the rest of the field saddled with average or below-average scores on PC World's survey measures.

The only weak areas recorded for the iPad and iPad 2 were in Internet browsing (one suspects the lack of Flash support might have something to do with that), and one worse-than-average (and roundly deserved) rating for "available ports." A perennial complaint by iPad owners (including this one) is the absence of a real USB port, and a SD Card slot would be nice too.

As for smartphones, PC World readers like their iPhones as well, an unusually high proportion of owners praising its durability, ease-of-use, design, and camera quality. Sullivan reports that HTC phones scored well too in those criteria, but readers had little good to say about LG and Samsung phones.

Apple collected plus marks on all four reliability criteria, and LG on two of the four. On ease of use, Apple was also the class of the field, the iPhone family earning five better-than-average ratings, and finished at the upper end on 10 of the 11 criteria for smartphone features. the iPhone family would have grabbed better-than-average scores across the board on our smartphone features, while Samsung and LG scraped bottom with seven negatives and no positives and with eight and none respectively, with Sullivan observing that the combination of an extra-large slice of the market and radiant customer reviews for Apple probably makes its rivals... look worse than they really are.

Another impressive showing for Apple again. Are we surprised?

'Fortuitous Timing' for MacBook Air's SSD Storage in Face of Hard Drive Shortage

It's an ill wind that blows no good, the saying goes.

AppleInsider's Neil Hughes notes that a global shortage of traditional hard drives has coincidentally come at a time when Apple's flash-based solid-state MacBook Air is one of the company's most popular products, citing Evercore analyst Rob Cihra observing in a note issued to investors that success of the redesigned MacBook Air has been "fortuitous timing" for Apple in the face of the hard drive shortage caused by catastrophic flooding in Thailand. The MacBook Air features only solid-state NAND flash storage drives, and NAND memory has been unaffected by the floods that have put more than 600,000 people out of work.

Intel's Mobile Ivy Bridge CPU Line to Include 2.9 GHz 4-core i7

VR-Zone's LG Nilsson says:

"We've already seen what Intel has for us as far as desktop systems are concerned for most of 2012, Ivy Bridge-E not being part of that roadmap, but what about the mobile market space? Well, we have plenty of details for you with regards to what Intel has in store, ranging from high-end Extreme Edition models to new Ultrabook processors."

Intel Mobile Ivy Bridge CPU Line

Nilsson reports that as with Intel's current Sandy Bridge CPUs, Intel will offer both standard Voltage CPUs and low power models, although he notes that it appears that a rumored line of Low Voltage (LV) processors rated at 25W will be a no-show (possibly due to the programmable TDP feature on Intel's mobile CPUs making them redundant), and instead we'll only see Ultra Low Voltage (ULV) processors rated at 17W, currently known as Ultra or U-series processors. Standard Voltage processors will be dubbed M-series, and come with 35, 45 and 55W TDP.

Nilsson also says that with the forthcoming Chief River platform, Intel will be moving from three to four consumer chipsets with some new peculiarities, including the the UM77 for low power notebooks. He notes that Intel is planning a range new CPU models topped by a 2.9 GHz quad core Core i7-3920XM, which will be 200 MHz faster than the current Core i7-2960XM, and new Intel HD Graphics 4000 IGPU architecture.

There will also be 2.7 GHz and 2.6 GHz Core i7 quad cores - a 400 MHz increase compared to Sandy offerings, and a 2.9 GHz dual core Core i7, plus a pair of Core i5s clocked at 2.8 and 2.6 GHz respectively, with all dual cores now supporting DDR3 memory speeds of 1600 MHz, which Sandy Bridge based mobile CPUs don't.

It's looking like there will be two U-series CPUs at launch - a 2 GHz Core i7 and a 1.8 GHz Core i5. Nillson also reports that a with Intel's desktop Ivy Bridge processors, the new mobile processors also support up to three independent displays, albeit one of them being the notebook's built in display.

Nothing new for Core i3, Pentium, and Celeron, which reports sticking with Sandy Bridge for now.

Nilsson says April-May is looking good for a release date.

'Ivy Bridge' MacBook Airs and Pros Could Support 3 Displays at Once

Cult of Mac's Alex Heath says the next MacBook Air should be able to drive a total of three displays at once via one Thunderbolt connection, according to a leaked roadmap of Intel's plans for its Ivy Bridge processors in 2012, noting that with Apple's next-generation laptops primed to sport Intel's Ivy Bridge silicon, it's very likely that future MacBook Airs and Pros will be able to support two external displays plus the MacBook's built-in screen.

Tablets to Outship Regular Notebooks by 2016

The Register's Tony Smith reports that forecasts from market watcher iSuppli made public by Samsung, puts 2012's Ultrabook sales tally at just 12% of notebook shipments, but the new category's market share is expected to grow through 2015, hitting 42% of total laptop sales during that year, with shipments totaling 136m units.

However, Smith also notes that in August, iSuppli predicted that tablet shipments alone will exceed 250m units in 2015.

How to Upgrade Your MacBook Pro's RAM

MacInstruct's Matthew Cone has posted a handy tutorial on do-it-yourself MacBook Pro memory upgrades. As Cone notes, adding more RAM is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to boost your computer's overall performance, since it's where the machine dynamically stores the code and instructions for OS X and any open applications and data files on your Mac.

Consequently, installing higher capacity modules in your MacBook Pro allows you keep more applications open at once and perform more tasks simultaneously without the system having to dip into memory swap files on your much slower hard drive. For example, you could open a bunch of memory-hogging applications while ripping a CD, watching a DVD, and uploading photos to the Internet - all at the same time (assuming you have two optical drives) - without the computer bogging down. Installing more RAM in an older MacBook Pro should yield a big difference in the way your computer performs everyday tasks, like loading websites, and by historical standards, RAM is amazingly cheap these days.

Your editor notices a substantial performance boost from upgrading his workhorse Core 2 Duo MacBook from 2 GB to 4 GB a couple of years ago and is finding the prospect of doubling it again to 8 GB, currently possible for less than $50, enticing. Note that if you have a middle-aged Mac like mine, a firmware upgrade may be necessary (free download from Apple Support) to support a higher RAM limit.

Also note well that Cone's tutorial is for the MacBook Pro only. The MacBook Air's RAM modules that are hard-soldered to the logic board and thus non-upgradable, so you're stuck with whatever the machine shipped with originally.

For compatibility information and pricing, it's hard to beat Other World Computing's website.

Publisher's note: Likewise, I was a huge performance boost when taking my 2007 Mac mini, which is essentially a notebook computer in a desktop case, from its original 1 GB to 3 GB of system memory.

Samsung Announces High-Performance mSATA SSDs for Ultra-Slim Notebook PCs

PR: Samsung Electronics Co. has announced volume production of SSDs (solid state drives) that support the Mini-Serial ATA (mSATA) interface. The drives are designed for use in ultra-slim notebooks such as Ultrabook PCs.

"Samsung's compact mSATA SSDs will provide performance of the highest quality in helping to deliver the advanced ultra-slim PCs that consumers have been wanting," says Myungho Kim, vice president of memory marketing, Device Solutions, Samsung Electronics. "Samsung plans to continue providing timely delivery of advanced SSD solutions, while preserving its leadership position in the SSD market for notebook PCs."

Combining Samsung's new high-performance mSATA SSDs with the latest multicore processors will help PC manufacturers to substantially improve performance of their Ultrabook-class portable PCs up to that of notebook PCs, in meeting ever-increasing consumer needs.

The new Samsung mSATA SSDs will be available in 256, 128, and 64 gigabyte (GB) densities as main storage devices, and also at 32 GB for caching. They measure 50.95 x 30 x 3.8 millimeters and weigh a mere eight grams.

The new SSDs will be part of the Samsung PM830 product family that was introduced earlier this year. They make use of Samsung's advanced 20 nanometer class NAND flash memory components which incorporate the toggle DDR interface.

Utilizing high-performance SATA 6 Gb/s controllers based on Samsung's own technology, the new mSATA SSDs can operate at the industry's highest sequential read and write speeds of 500 megabytes per second (MB/s) and of 260 MB/s respectively, under optimum conditions. This is, more than six times the speed of hard disk drives typically offering a data transfer rate of 80 MB/s. The Samsung SSDs also enable faster system bootups (in the 10-second range) and will transmit five DVD files in about a minute.

In addition, the Samsung mSATA SSDs feature an advanced hardware-based security solution including 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) protection, which will prevent unauthorized access to data on a lost or stolen notebook PC.

Beginning this year, the market for Ultrabook-class mobile PCs has been growing rapidly and is expected to expand beyond that of tablet PCs as early as next year due to outstanding performance characteristics, more advanced processors and use of the Windows 8 operating system. According to market research firm IHS iSuppli, the Ultrabook share of global notebook shipments will exceed 40% in 2015.

Tech Trends

Ruggedized 11.6" Lenovo ThinkPad Designed Laptop for Students and Schools

PR: Lenovo has announced its new ThinkPad X130e laptop, a specially ruggedized unit for education and with features needed to help students in grades K-12 and their schools get the most out of PC technology.

Lenovo ThinkPad X130eThe ThinkPad X130e comes with choices of the latest Intel or AMD processors combined with integrated graphics, wireless connectivity, and multimedia tools for digital learning. Designed to be handled by kids, the ThinkPad X130e has a reinforced and extra-durable top cover, keyboard and hinges. Lenovo says schools will also like its performance, reliability and customizable options including asset tags, BIOS modifications, custom imaging and broad selection of custom colors.

"At Lenovo ThinkTank 2011 we brought hundreds of distinguished educators together, and the resounding feature CIOs told us that ranks highest on their list of features important for PC purchases is 'ruggedness'," says ThinkPad Business Unit vice president Dilip Bhatia. "While we've built tough products for years that pass many military-grade tests, we've made specific improvements required for a laptop to be successful in an education environment with the ThinkPad X130e."

This 11.6" ThinkPad X130e lightweight ultraportable has the processing performance students need for assignments requiring multitasking with choices of AMD Fusion E-300 and E-450 or Intel second-generation Core i3-2367M ULV processors. For multimedia-intensive lessons, the laptop kicks in its AMD Radeon or Intel HD-powered graphics for a richer visual experience.

"Having a purpose-built device designed to improve learning for students is a critical foundation for education transformation," says Intel education strategist Paige Johnson. "Lenovo's ThinkPad X130e laptop powered by Intel Core i3 processors provides the capability and functions that students need for a 21st Century education."

With it weighing in under four pounds, students can easily carry the laptop between classes without the need to recharge, since the battery is claimed to last the whole school day, and even long enough to start homework after school - up to 8.5 hours according to Lenovo.

Throughout the course of a typical school day, students' laptops are often subject to extreme wear and tear. To help school-proof them, the X130e has several heavy-duty features including:

  • A top cover rubber bumper to absorb impacts to the side of the laptop
  • 33% stronger corner to reduce the chance of damage when dropped at an angle
  • Stronger hinges to outlast even the most frequent PC user at up to 30,000 cycles
  • Reinforced and recessed ports to decrease the effects of student "wear and tear"
  • Stronger Bezel with 1.2mm thick plastic to protect the LED panel

Students can use the ThinkPad X130e's low-light webcam to communicate with peers in other schools across the world or just across town, and also easily connect via WiFi and keep their connection while moving from class to class using Lenovo's Instant Resume function. With HDMI and VGA out, users can present reports to the class with a projector or big screen TV.

Making Students & Schools More Efficient

The X130e laptop starts up in less than 20 seconds using Lenovo's RapidBoot technology, and built-in self-help tools like Rescue and Recovery and Access Connections help decrease calls to school IT support, allowing students to recover damaged files and to store and connect easily to different WiFi networks.

Additionally, Lenovo offers a broad range of optional services for the ThinkPad X130e laptop, including custom colors, image services to help keep IT teams focused on enhancing learning - not chasing device drivers and tediously loading images onto each PC manually, asset tagging services help keep track of PCs left on the school bus or classroom, and Accidental Damage Protection services can help keep a check on repair budgets. And if the PC needs to be fixed, Lenovo's Hard Drive Retention service protects students' digital information.

The ThinkPad X130e laptop will be available starting Dec. 20. Pricing starts at $469.

Acer Plans to Cut Ultrabook Prices to $799-899 in 2Q 12

DigiTimes' Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai report that Acer expects its ultrabook prices will be able to drop from $1,000 currently to $799-899 in the second quarter of 2012, a decline of 20%, and then drop further to $499 in 2013 as other PC brand vendors ramp up production and mass shipping of ultrabooks in 2012, according to company president Jim Wong.

The report says that Acer currently ships 100,000 ultrabooks each month and is expected to achieve its goal of shipping 250,000-300,000 units by the end of 2011.

Addressing the current issue of hard drive shortages caused by flooding in Taiwan, Wong told Lee and Tsai that he expects Acer to only suffer a supply gap of 10-15% in the fourth quarter, far less than the overall supply gap of 30-35% estimated by hard drive players, which market watchers believe is due to hard drive players providing supply priority to brand vendors.

Although Acer's notebook sales share has dropped from second place to fourth, Wong told DigiTimes he expects the company to still have a chance to return to its prior position in 2012 based on performance in the Chinese market.

Acer CEO Vows No More 'Cheap and Unprofitable Products'

MarketWatch's Lorraine Luk reports that Acer intends to ship 10% more notebook PCs and become profitable next year with its strategy to expand market share focusing more on improving profit margins than low prices after a management reshuffle and operational restructuring.

Ms. Luk notes that Acer Inc. has posted net losses for two straight quarters and is pinning its hope for improved profit margins on sales of higher-priced, ultrathin, "UltraBook" laptops and demand from emerging markets to power a turnaround next year, Acer Chief Executive J.T. Wang saying in an interview that his company intends to increase notebook shipments by 10% next year and become profitable, commenting that "Ultrabooks will become our key growth driver next year", adding, "We will shift our strategy to improving profitability from pursuing market share blindly with cheap and unprofitable products."

Publisher's note: Sounds like someone is finally paying attention to Apple's playbook. Whether Acer can pull that off in the dog-eat-dog Windows world remains to be seen. So far, only Sony seems to be successful while following that path in the Windows world. dk

DigiTimes: Ultrabooks to Get Touch Features

DigiTimes' Yenting Chen and Steve Shen report that PC notebook makers plan to employ touch panels for their thin-and-light Ultrabooks to accommodate new features in Windows 8 in hopes of regaining market share being gobbled up by tablet PCs, according to industry sources.

Chen and Shen say LCD panels and touch module OEMs have begun delivering samples to notebook makers, according to insider sources, who also say shipments of Acer's Aspire S3 and Asustek Computer's Zenbook Ultrabooks have so far met with market expectations.

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