The 'Book Review

Ivy Bridge Delay Could Postpone New MacBooks, Apple Rumored to Be Working on ARM Laptop, and More

This Week's PowerBook and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.02.24

Once again we have rumors that Apple is working on an ARM-based notebook, which we find eminently believable. With the success of the iPad, the number of iPad keyboards on the market, and quad-core ARM CPUs just around the corner, there's no reason Apple wouldn't be experimenting with the concept. The question is whether it will be a Mac or an iOS machine. As Cult of Mac's John Brownlee notes in Why You'll Probably Never Own a Mac With an ARM Processor, ARM processors simply aren't designed to do the kind of heavy lifting we expect of Macs, so any such notebook is far more likely to be strictly an iOS machine, not a Mac.

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

Tech Trends

Products & Services

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

Intel to Postpone Mass Shipments of Ivy Bridge Processors

In a bit of unhappy news for those Jonesing for new Mac hardware, DigiTimes' Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai report that Intel recently notified its industry partners that it plans to postpone mass shipments of its upcoming Ivy Bridge processors.

They say unnamed sources at an OEM notebook-maker tells them Intel will announce the new Ivy Bridge silicon and ship a small volume of the processors in early April, but that mass shipments are not expected to occur until after June.

Chen and Tsai suggest the holdup may be due to first-tier PC notebook vendors having trouble unloading their Sandy Bridge CPU based notebook inventories due to the weak global economy, and that Intel itself is consequently "troubled" by its own Sandy Bridge processor inventory backlog, hence an imposed delay in aid of clearing old stock.

The report says that with Intel changing its launch schedule, notebook vendors are revising their project timetables for new Ivy Bridge models, projecting that a hoped-for PC replacement trend is unlikely to get underway until after September, when Microsoft is expected to launch Windows 8, making the first three quarters of 2012 "a dark period" for the notebook industry.

That would be except for Apple, of course, with its hot-selling MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptop lines. However, it stands to throw a proverbial monkey-wrench into Apple's rumored release plans for a major, Ivy Bridge powered, redesign of both categories, that had been anticipated by some commentators for as early as April. That now seems optimistic, to say the least.

Dual-Core Ivy Bridge Delay Could Impact New MacBook Rollout

Hardmac's Lionel notes a recent DigiTimes report (above) that Intel had announced to its partners that there would be delays before the Ivy Bridge processors would be widely available. However, he says that it now appears that information was incomplete.

He explains that Intel apparently decided to only delay the dual-core processors due to stock management issues - specifically excess unsold dual-core Sandy Bridge CPU inventory, and launching a faster, more efficient replacement before stocks sell down would greatly their value as well as the value of the leftover stocks of all computer makers.

Consequently, Lionel predicts that while desktop Ivy Bridge processors should still be available in April - possibly first available in a refreshed iMac - for laptops initially only quad-core Ivy Bridge processors will be available.

Since Apple is widely presumed to be waiting for Ivy Bridge availability for a redesigned MacBook Pro lineup, and probably a heavily-tweaked MacBook Air refresh as well, Lionel posits three possible ways they might proceed.

The first would be to just wait until June to renew all models in the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lines, with the announcement logically made at the World Wide Developer's Conference. That might be an attractive option, because it's recently rumored that an iPhone 5 launch will be pushed back to Fall 2012.

Another way to go would be to use quad-core processors in all MacBook Pro models, including the 13". That is, of course, assuming that there will still be a 13" MBP, which I think is debatable.

Option three would be to launch only the 15" and 17" models and wait for June to ship models using dual-core processors. There have been predictions that Apple might go for a phased new MacBook Pro rollout anyway, with the 15-incher appearing first, followed by the 17" model and then a 13" Pro, if the latter is not to be melded into the 13" MacBook Air with some Pro features tacked on.

How Use an External MacBook Air SuperDrive with Almost Any Mac

Dave Taylor says Apple's external USB SuperDrive for the MacBook Air can be made to work just fine with any Mac, but you have to activate a little switch in the operating system itself that only lets the drive work on the MacBook Air and - as it turns out - certain models of the Mac mini. For everything else it just acts as if it's not plugged in or that the USB plug itself is damaged and nonfunctional. But it's not - it's just a deliberate block that can be overridden, albeit involving a bit of a hack to the Mac OS X operating system using the Terminal.

Rumor Roundup

Apple Considered Putting AMD Inside 2011 MacBook Air

Forbes' Brian Caulfield reports that Apple considered using AMD's "Llano" processors, which were introduced last year, in the MacBook Air, according to several former AMD employees.

Caulfield notes that Apple and AMD have a long history, with some employee crossover and AMD's Radeon graphics processors used in many Macs. However, he says that AMD's reach was exceeding its grasp, and it couldn't get early working samples of Llano to Apple on time, one former employee says, although there is disagreement among former AMD employees as to just how close AMD came to landing an Apple laptop coup over arch rival Intel. In the end, Apple went with Intel's Ivy Bridge Core i CPUs for the 2011 MacBook Air refresh.

Possible MacBook Air Refresh in March?

AppleInsider's Daniel Eran Dilger says that while NPD Group is reporting essentially flat domestic sales of Macs, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster reports in a note obtained by AppleInsider that "Apple may launch new MacBook Airs as early as March," which would help boost global Mac sales and reach quarterly street expectations of 4.5 million units.

Editor's note: The problem I see with that is that while it's now just two days short of a year since the MacBook Pro line got a substantial update (to Core i processors), and Intel's next-generation Ivy Bridge 22nm CPUs aren't available yet - and likely won't be in dual-core permutations for several months yet. A refresh without new CPU silicon seems unlikely, so where does that leave us? cm

New MacBook Air to Launch Soon?

PCWorld's Matt Peckham suggests that Apple's next-generation MacBook Air could launch soon, at least if one is inclined to interpret DigiTimes' latest report (above) in the most optimistic light.

Peckham also cites documents leaked to VR-Zone in December suggesting that Intel would be dropping its 25W "Low Voltage" processors in favor of "Ultra Low Voltage" versions that use just 17W, running at clock speeds of 1.8 GHz and 2 GHz, and muses about a widely-rumored 15" version of the MacBook Air, noting that while 15" sounds "ginormous" for an ultraportable, Apple may perceive a need to answer the burgeoning ultrabook market, where 15" models are proliferating.

However, he observes - and your editor agrees - that the Air's marquee appeal is how much power it packs into a form factor the size of a file folder, and at 15" you've traded away much of that advantage for screen real estate.

Piper Jaffray Analyst Reports Apple Working on ARM Laptop

SlashGear's Chris Burns says Piper Jaffray analyst Gus Richard tipped last week by that Apple is actively working on an ARM-based laptop. In a research note, Mr. Richard suggested that because Apple is almost certainly working on a laptop that uses an in-house designed chip, Intel's stake in the company appears to be at risk, and that while this sort of speculation would not stand up to judgment on its own, it reiterates at least one previous report from former Apple intern turned CoreOS engineer Tristan Schaap, who says exactly the same thing - ARM and Apple will be partnering up soon.

Burns observes that with the merging of Apple's two operating systems coming ever closer to reality with OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion this summer, an ARM-based laptop becomes more plausible.

Apple Working on ARM Laptop, Says Analyst

Cnet's Brooke Crothers ponders whether Apple will build a MacBook Air that uses the iPad's A-series ARM CPUs, citing a research note last week by Piper Jaffray analyst Gus Richard who says, "We have numerous datapoints that Apple's processor design group is working on an ARM-based product for its notebook line. Whether or not it goes into production remains to be seen, but it is the highest probability risk to Intel from the ARM camp in the PC market."

Crothers notes that ARM chips are more power-efficient than the Intel chips used in Apple's MacBook Air line but don't offer the level of performance that Intel's silicon does [emphasis added], and that Apple CEO Tim Cook told a Citigroup analyst last week that Apple would be satisfied with expanding the iPad line to meet the need for a notebook-like product.

Tech Trends

Notebook Makers Expect to See Shipments Recover in February

DigiTimes' Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai report that notebook makers, after suffering weak sales performance in January, are expected to see an overall on-month shipment growth of 10% in February as hard drive supply returns normal.

Lee and Tsai note that longtime Apple subcontractor Quanta Computer shipped 3.8 million notebooks in January and expects its shipment volume in the first quarter of 2012 to drop 10-15% sequentially to 11.8-12.5 million units, but with Apple set to launch a new MacBook Air model, Quanta's revenues are expected to grow further in the future.

How far in the future is the operative conundrum. That would seem to depend mainly on when Intel's new generation 22nm Ivy Bridge laptop CPU chips are available in sufficient volume.

Products & Services

Hitachi Launches 7200 RPM 7mm 2.5" Laptop Hard Drive

PR: Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (Hitachi GST) announced that it has shipped more than 25 million Travelstar Z-series, 7 millimeter (mm) z-height 2.5" hard drives, enabling a new era of thin and light portable computers, ultra-compact CE devices, and industrial systems. The company also announced that it is now shipping its new 500 GB, Travelstar Z7K500 drive, the industry's fastest and highest capacity single-platter 7200 RPM hard drive. All Hitachi GST Z-series drives can serve as a direct replacement for standard 2.5" 9.5mm hard drives. They feature common connectors and mounting points for simple integration into existing systems and enable greater design flexibility to differentiate and meet market demands for new, thinner, lighter, and more robust devices.

Hitachi GST Z-series driveEmbraced by many top PC OEMs, the Ultrabook specification authored by Intel offers opportunities to create a tablet-like computing experience in an ultrathin laptop design. In addition to providing a thin and light design, instant-on capabilities, and an extended battery life, PC OEMs must also create high-quality, cost-effective solutions to help drive competition, differentiation, and mass adoption.

To help achieve this goal, a key part of Intel's Ultrabook specification is combining a 7mm hard drive with an SSD (solid-state drive) cache, giving OEMs the ability to explore the limits of modern ultrathin and light designs without sacrificing capacity, performance, battery life, or quality. For instance, a Hitachi 7mm hard drive combined with an SSD cache can help OEMs meet the Ultrabook specification for performance and startup times while providing a high-capacity, space-efficient, and cost-effective solution. Based on Hitachi's OEM customer plans, this combination is expected to ship in a significant majority of Ultrabooks in 2012.

"We expect cache SSD shipments to soar over the next couple of years due to the rise in Ultrabook demand," says Ryan Chien, research associate for memory and storage at IHS. "Shipments of cache SSD units in 2012 are projected to reach 25.7 million units - a 2,817% increase compared to 2011 - and will reach approximately 121 million units by 2015. This growth is extremely significant for hard drive manufacturers, as combining slim magnetic storage with caching SSDs gives customers high-speed access to massive amounts of storage at an affordable price."

Solid state drives offer great performance, but currently none come close to the cost-per-gigabyte economics of hard drives, as SSDs are largely cost prohibitive for the mainstream ultraportable consumer market. SSDs can be 12 times more expensive on a cost per gigabyte basis when compared to Hitachi Z-series drives. Competing hybrid drives are another option, but current implementations don't offer the 7mm form factor and may not meet price/performance targets.

With Hitachi Z-series drives, manufacturers can utilize space savings to design thinner devices, increase shock robustness, improve unplugged time by using a larger battery, or allow for enhanced cooling and air flow due to the thinner hard drive design.

"Slim, compact, lightweight - no matter how you phrase it, there's no denying that thin is in, and this trend is driving broad market acceptance for our 7200 and 5400 RPM 7mm 2.5" drives," says Brendan Collins, vice president of product marketing at Hitachi GST. "We are proud to report that all major PC OEMs have qualified our previous generation 7mm drives for a variety notebooks, Ultrabooks and CE devices, confirming that the industry continues to recognize the value and benefits of this new form factor. By adding the first 500 GB, high-performance 7mm drive to our portfolio, Hitachi GST now offers the market's broadest 7mm 2.5" hard drive portfolio to meet the needs of a diverse mobile computing and storage segment."

"We're witnessing a change in the industry in terms of how laptops are designed. From manufacturing, performance, efficiency, weight, aesthetics and features, we're bringing compelling advantages to the end user," comments Wentao Yang, vice president of Global Procurement, Lenovo. "Equipping our laptops and Ultrabooks with Hitachi Z-series drives allows us to offer new designs, while ensuring that we have the quality and reliability that our customers expect."

7mm Travelstar Z7K500 2.5" Hard Drive

The new 7200 RPM Travelstar Z7K500 family delivers on the company's proven strengths of reliability, high-performance, low-power, exceptional shock resistance and quiet acoustics. With an industry-first 6 Gb/s SATA interface, as well as a 32 MB cache and 7200 RPM, the new thin and rugged Travelstar Z7K500 is claimed to deliver up to 33 percent more performance in PCMark Vantage testing than other 2.5" hard drives on the market.

The new 7200 RPM Travelstar Z7K500 family features 1.8 watts (W) read/write power and 0.8W low-power idle, and delivers a nearly silent operation at 2.3 idle/2.4 seek bels. They also feature Advanced Format, which increases the physical sector size on hard drives from 512 bytes to 4,096 (4K) bytes, thereby improving drive capacity and error correction capabilities.

Optional Travelstar Z7K500 drive models are available, including a self encrypting drive (SED) designed to meet the highest standards for protecting data, and an enhanced-availability (EA) model for applications needing around-the-clock data access in lower-transaction environments.

Highlights

  • Industry's First 7200 RPM, 7mm, One-Disk, 500 GB Mobile Hard Drive (630 Gbit/sq. in.)
  • Industry's First 2.5" Drive with a 6 Gb/s SATA Interface and a 32 MB cache
  • Industry's Fastest Hard Drive, Delivering up to 33 Percent More Performance vs. other 2.5" Drives on the Market
  • Highest 2.5" HDD Operating Shock at 400G for Designing Rugged Portable Devices
  • Advanced Format, 512-byte emulation
  • First 6 Gb/s SATA interface on a mobile hard drive
  • Low power consumption
  • Halogen-free for eco-friendly footprint
  • Self-encrypting models for data security
  • Enhanced-availability (EA) models for applications needing around-the-clock access in lower-transaction environments

The Travelstar Z7K500 family comes in 500 GB, 320 GB and 250 GB capacities. Qualification samples of the Travelstar Z7K500 family have been shipping since January; volume shipments will begin in March.

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. LEM


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