'Book Value

New Apple Notebooks at Zero Minus One Week

Charles Moore - 2008.10.07 - Tip Jar

If the almost universal projections are correct, then we're a week away from Apple's announcement and launch of new notebook computers to replace the current MacBook Pro and MacBook lines.

It's sounding like they will have been worth the long wait - Apple's MacBook lines having last been refreshed way back in February.

Carved Casings

9 to 5 Mac's Seth Weintraub stirred the new MacBook speculation pot on Saturday with a report claiming that the mysterious and much-conjectured Apple "Brick" isn't a new computer line at all, but rather a revolutionary new laptop manufacturing process whereby the company's imminent new mid to large size notebooks will be carved into a MacBook shape out of solid blocks of high-quality, aircraft grade aluminum using 3D laser and water jet cutting technologies.

Weintraub refers to the new manufacturing technique as "totally revolutionary, a game changer," comparing it to Henry Ford's assembly line concept that transformed the fledgling auto industry in the early 20th century.

The MacBook Brick is "the beginning," says Weintraub, "One of the biggest Apple innovations in a decade."

That may be overstating things a bit. Use of lasers and waterjets to cut metal has been around for a while - for example in the boat and shipbuilding industries - but if Apple will be using it as Weintraub suggests, it would be an unequivocal first for the computer industry.

The advantages of 3D laser and water jet cutting in metal product fabrication are many. Carving out of solid blocks of aluminum dispenses with the the need to bend metal, which causes it to work-harden, and be thin enough to be formed efficiently, creating weak points and amplifying potential for cracking. It also creates seamless components for a smooth appearance, and fewer mechanical fasteners are required in the product, which also tends to be stronger. The process is efficient, cutting costs as well as metal.

The report says that this will be an Apple-run show, executed in Apple's own ultra modern manufacturing facility, which Computerworld is speculating might even be located in the US, rather than manufacturing technology engineered by Apple's longtime Taiwanese/Chinese laptop subcontractors. The last US built laptop I owned was my 1996 PowerBook 5300, which was made in Mountain Grove, California.

Nvidia Inside

Another new MacBook rumor that surfaced (or actually resurfaced) late last week is speculation that the new MacBooks will be equipped with Nvidia's brand new MCP7A-U graphics chipset rather than an Intel graphics chipset (the central processing unit will continue to be Intel Core 2 Duo).

On the weekend, the blogsite MacSoda said that Nvidia has pushed back its introduction of its new MCP7A integrated graphics that is to be used in the new MacBook from September 30th to October 15th, the day after the presumed MacBook announcement and rollout.

Simplified Branding

Another line of conjecture is that Apple will converge the MacBook Pro and MacBook lines into a common form factor that will be available with a range of power and equipment levels, thus reducing Mac notebooks to just two model families - the MacBook and MacBook Air, or perhaps opening a slot for a brand-new subnotebook in 2008 to compete with the hot-selling PC netbooks like Asustek's Eee PC and a growing roster of others.

Losing Ports

So far, all good, but a less-auspicious rumor has it that some I/O connectivity may be lost with the new machines, which would lose the MacBook Pro's 28-pin DVI-I (Dual Link) port in favor of a Mini DVI adapter like the one used on current MacBooks and the iMac, and the native FireWire 400 port also being ditched, leaving only a FireWire 800 port (which can support FireWire 400 via an adapter).

Better Design

Back in the positive column is expected easier access to the hard drive and memory than is the case with the current MacBook Pro line.

16:9?

I'm not especially enthusiastic about a predicted shift of display aspect ratios to an even wider 16:9 from the current 16:10 that has been used since the first 17" PowerBook. Out would be the 13.3", 15.4", and 17" sizes, to be replaced with 13.1", 15.8", 16.4", or even a whopping 18.4" unit. The change would be in aid of facilitating more satisfactory movie-viewing on laptop screens, with the 16:9 aspect ratio common in movies and HDTVs, as well as perhaps production rationalization, since laptop displays are often made by the same manufacturers who make the HDTVs.

Personally, I find the 16:10 ratio of my 17" PowerBook plenty wide enough and would be more interested in increased screen height rather than width if there has to be a change at all. [Editor's note: See 16:9 Computer Displays: Let's Not Go There for my take on this issue. dk]

Going to a squattier format will make real computer functions like using Web browsers and viewing documents worse rather than better (I hate scrolling). It's nice to be able to watch movies and TV shows on your laptop, but I resist that aspect, so to speak, becoming dominant over productivity and functional considerations.

Another rumor suggests that HD video out and even a HD camera could be possibilities.

Other Possible Changes

A near certainty is that whatever the screen sizes turn out to be, they should have LED backlights across-the-board. DigiTimes' Rebecca Kuo and Rodney Chan reported last week that Kenmos Technology expects shipments of its LED backlight units for notebooks to hit a record in the fourth quarter, after slumping for the past few quarters, as the shift from cold cathode fluorescent lamp backlights accelerates. Apple is a Kenmos customer.

Other possibilities include built-in 3G wireless technology, perhaps even WiMax. Reports say sales of 3G modems for laptops are booming, so it wouldn't be a shock for Apple to include this capability.

I think a multitouch glass trackpad is less probable, but you never know.

Built-in GPS? Well, these are mobile computers, and if 3G connectivity makes sense, why not GPS?

Blu-ray drives? Also a long shot I think, but don't rule it out entirely.

Optional Solid-state drives will be coming inevitably, so why not now - probably topping out at 128 GB capacity.

All in all, the middle of October promises to be memorable for more than a stock market meltdown, at least in the Apple orbit. The operative question is whether anyone will have enough money left to buy the new laptops.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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