The 'Book Review

SSD Cures MacBook Air Lust, SSD Reliability Data, Firmware Update for 2010 MacBook Air, and More

This Week's MacBook, PowerBook, and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2010.12.10

General Apple and Mac desktops is covered in The Mac News Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in The iOS News Review. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

News & Opinion


Apple Updates

Tech Trends

Products & Services

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

MacBook Pro with SSD 'Cured My MacBook Air Lust'

"Twitter entity" Remiel says it used to take 28 seconds for his 13" MacBook Pro to load the folders on his desktop after he logged in. Now it takes five seconds, and large-footprint apps like Photoshop and Dreamweaver now load near-instantly.

The transformation is thanks to the machine now a solid state drive (SSD). Remiel says the mods have cured his MacBook Air lust, concluding that he's getting a "ridiculous amount of value" out of the two pounds of additional weight in his MacBook Pro.

Remiel opted to replace his MacBook Pro's optical drive with MCE Technology's OptiBay hard drive chassis, which used that space for an additional 1 TB hard drive, and he has posted a detailed, walk-you-thorough-the-process tutorial on how he installed an Intel X25-M 160 GB SSD Drive, contending that the performance gains are so great that even at over $400, the price/performance ratio feels totally worth it.

First Data on SSD Reliability

Hardmac's Lionel says that in addition to their high price, the other main factor limiting the adoption of SSD is the lack of long and serious reliability reports. The French website published an article (below) providing the failure rate recorded for the main SSD manufacturers:

  • Intel: 0.59%
  • Corsair: 2.17%
  • Crucial: 2.25%
  • Kingston: 2.39%
  • OCZ: 2.93%

Lionel says those figures may look high to some readers, but they are actually lower than for most of the best platter-based hard drives. For example, the 2 TB WD Caviar Black WD2001FASS reportedly had a failure rate of nearly 10%.

Hard Drive and SSD Failure Rates's Marc Prieur notes that while past performance is no guide to future performance, he's posted PC component failure rate metrics based on the databases of a large French e-retailer, which are of course, limited to products sold through that e-retailer

The failure rates reported are on parts sold from October 1, 2009 and April 1, 2010, for returns created before October 2010, six months to 1 year of operation and on models with a minimum sample of 100 sales, and the figures in parentheses from a previous report last April

Hard drives

  • Maxtor: 1.04% (against 1.73%)
  • Western Digital: 1.45% (against 0.99%)
  • Seagate: 2.13% (against 2.58%)
  • Samsung: 2.47% (against 1.93%)
  • Hitachi: 3.39% (against 0.92%)

Failure rates for 1 TB HDDs:

  • 5.76%: Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.B
  • 5.20%: Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C
  • 3.68%: Seagate Barracuda 7200.11
  • 3.37%: Samsung SpinPoint F1
  • 2.51%: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12
  • 2.37%: WD Caviar Green WD10EARS
  • 2.10%: Seagate Barracuda LP
  • 1.57%: Samsung SpinPoint F3
  • 1.55%: WD Caviar Green WD10EADS
  • 1.35%: WD Caviar Black WD1001FALS
  • 1.24%: Maxtor DiamondMax 23

Failure rates for 2 TB HDDs:

  • 9.71%: WD Caviar Black WD2001FASS
  • 6.87%: Hitachi Deskstar 7K2000
  • 4.83%: WD Caviar Green WD20EARS
  • 4.35%: Seagate Barracuda LP
  • 4.17%: Samsung EcoGreen F3
  • 2.90%: WD Caviar Green WD20EADS

Prieur observes that one would not really want to entrust 2 TB of data to these discs without a backup, and notes that as might logically be expected, 7200 rpm disks are less reliable than 5400/5900 rpm units.

For the first time, was able to include stats for SSDs in its report:

  • Intel: 0.59%
  • Corsair: 2.17%
  • Crucial: 2.25%
  • Kingston: 2.39%
  • OCZ: 2.93%

Actually, that's not a bad showing compared to some of the hard drive records.

Year's Best Laptops Include Two from Apple

The Register's roundup of this year's most outstanding notebooks and netbooks is bookended by two Apple machines - the Late 2010 MacBook Air and the 15" MacBook Pro. Author Nick Hawkesmoor declares that the MacBook Air, especially in its compact 11.6" form, was undoubtedly the standout notebook of 2010, even though the bigger, 13.3" model is the better of the two: not a lot less portable, faster, more functional, and with a longer battery life. But it's the 11.6" Air is that spans the gap between notebook and netbook, although Hawkesmoor notes its asking price is considerably more than you'd expect to pay for either.*

In larger laptops, Hawkesmoor says the Reg is "very keen" on the 15" MacBook Pro "because it's so nice to use, looks the business and packs in a decent spec for what you pay. And don't forget how resilient that aluminium casing is to knocks and bumps."

Other standout laptops honored are Dell's Alienware M11x, Asus' Eee PC 1215N, the Acer Aspire One D260 (last generation but non-glossy display), Dell's Inspiron M101z (1366 x 768 display, a full version of Windows, and a dual-core CPU), Acer's economical 15" Aspire 5741 (dual-core Core i3-330M CPU) and Timeline X 4820TG (12 hour battery runtime on a Core i5 machine with a 14" display), HP Envy 17 (multimedia desktop substitute overachiever), Dell's XPS 15, and Toshiba Portégé R700.

* To put it another way, you could buy a well-equipped netbook and a base iPad and have change left over. cm

Should the iPad Count as a Mobile PC?

ZDNet's David Morgenstern notes that industry statisticians are prepping their year-end totals. But the introduction of Apple's iPad brings some ambiguity into the previously finely-drawn categories. Where do they put the iPad: Mobile PC or mobile computing device?

Morgenstern notes that DisplaySearch slots the iPad into the PC category in its Quarterly Mobile PC Shipment and Forecast Report, which ranks Apple in Number 3 position worldwide and Number 1 in North America. Without the iPad, Apple's category share would be 4.8% for a worldwide 8th place ranking.

New Apple Patent Has the Flavor of Light Peak

Hardmac's Lionel reports that Apple has deposited a very interesting patent describing a single interface for charging a portable and also transferring data via a fiberoptic cable associated with the copper wires. He notes that this charger that has cables of different thickness than used for USB, network, DVI, and so forth, deducing that the described functionality sounds like basically - or even exactly - what will be possible to do with Intel's coming Light Peak optical single interface technology, with which it should be possible to connect just one cable to attach all peripherals and interfaces.

MacBook Pro: 7200 RPM Hard Drives May Vibrate

A new Apple Knowledge Base article says that if you have a hard drive that runs at the 7200 RPM speed, you may sometimes feel a vibration when you touch your MacBook Pro.

Apple notes the obvious - that 7200 RPM drives have a faster platter rotation speed than standard 5400 RPM hard drives, and that due to the faster rotational speeds, you may notice a vibration when the hard drive accesses data, reassuring that this is "normal behavior."

Hmmm. The only 7200 RPM drive your editor has personally is an external 3.5" USB hard drive, which doesn't noticeably vibrate, but does sound like a jet engine spooling up.


13" MacBook Air 'a Must-Have Laptop'

PC Mag says the SD Slot, extra USB port, and a staggering increase in battery life make the 13" MacBook Air a strong contender in the ultraportable space compared with the original MacBook Air, which sacrificed too much in the thinner, lighter process, observing that what the new Air added in terms of features and performance sets the precedent for what's to come, with Steve Jobs calling the latest MacBook Air, "the future of MacBooks."

The reviewers note that Apple could've easily kept the MacBook Air's previous dimensions intact while packing in the extra features, and it still would have been the thinnest in the world, but that would have been one less thing to gloat about on stage. They also note that the 13" Air's 1440 x 900 resolution display puts it in the same category as the Sony VAIO VPC-Z1390X (a $3,000 laptop), the full-size keyboard delivers a typing experience few people would complain about, and the glass touchpad is not only enormous for a laptop, but it also clicks and supports numerous multi-finger gestures - the best "clickpad" implementation, period.

While the second USB port and an SD Card slot might seem like "been there, done that" compared with Windows-based ultraportables, they're game changing for Apple laptops, indicating that future 13" Apple laptops will be thinner without having to sacrifice ports.

In summary, the reviewers says that Apple turned the 13" MacBook Air into a must-have laptop for this holiday season.

MacBook Air Less Powerful than Similarly Priced Windows Laptops

PCWorld's Alex Wawro reports: "Lab tests prove that many Windows 7 laptops having a similar price offer better performance than the 2010 MacBook Air models."

Although the thin-and-light Apple laptops outperform most Windows-based netbooks and ultraportable notebooks, against similarly priced (but bigger and heavier) notebooks, not so much.

Wawro notes that many of the better-performing Windows laptops are bigger and heavier than the Air, and some have poorer battery life, but if you're interested in getting the most pop possible for your buck, it's clear that the MacBook Air isn't the best way to go.

Editor's note: This is like arguing that a bus is a better way to transport people because it can hold a lot more people than a Prius or a Smart Car. A bus is great for heavy lifting, but you can't park it at the grocery store, and it's far from ideal for taking six bags of groceries home. The focus of the MacBook Air isn't "getting the most pop possible" but getting the best small laptop available. And it's sad to think that bigger, heavier Windows notebooks put so little focus on battery life compared to Apple. dk

Apple Updates

EFI Firmware Update 2.0 for 2010 MacBook Air

The MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.0 update resolves a rare issue where the MacBook Air boots or wakes to a black screen or becomes unresponsive. This update is recommended for all 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air (late 2010) models.

Boot ROM or SMC Version Information: After this update has successfully completed, your Boot ROM Version will be: MBA31.88Z.0061.B01.1011181342

The ROM itself is: 0061.01

System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6.5

Tech Trends

Google Chrome OS Laptops Coming Mid-2011

Fox Business reports that Google Inc. will release its first wave of notebook computers equipped with Google's new Chrome OS in mid-2011 bundled with with two years of free Verizon Wireless connections up to 100 megabytes data transfers per month for two years.

Intel Gearing Up for Netbook and Tablet Wars

The New York Times' Ashlee Vance blogs that Intel has created a new business unit it calls the netbook and tablet group, whose mission will be fending off competition in the burgeoning market for PC offshoots.

The article notes that while Intel has enjoyed a lot of success with netbooks, the table market is proving more challenging, with the iPad becoming the dominant device in this category running Apple's own ARM A4 chip. At next month's consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, several Intel Atom-based tablets should appear, with Intel expecting more than 100 netbook and tablet designs based on Atom to hit the market over the next six months.

Products & Services

PhantomSkinz Carbon Fiber Protection Skins for New MacBook Air

PR: PhantomSkinz, manufacturer of the original Ultra-Clear Protection Film for Cell Phones and Electronic devices, announces the release of Black Carbon Fiber and White Carbon Fiber Protection Skins for both the new 11" and 13" MacBook Air computers.

Chromatics Phantom Skin 2 for MacBook ProPhantomSkinz has rapidly gained notability as a trendsetting provider of protection films for electronic devices. The original Ultra-Clear has become an industry standard for clarity and smoothness for touch screen devices. The matte finish version combines Full Body Protection with a finger print proof texture, hiding most preexisting scuffs and scratches after application. The newest line, called Chromatics by PhantomSkinz, offers individuality through 10 metallic colors and 3 Carbon Fiber skins. The Carbon Fiber products act as a super-tough barrier against everyday scratches and dings while adding personalization.

Now available for the MacBook Air line of notebook computers by Apple, Chromatics Carbon Fiber by PhantomSkinz not only offer amazing protection, but also offer a realistic 3D look and feel to the device.

Phantom Skin 2 for MacBook Pro"Much more that just a sticker or decal, PhantomSkinz customers have given rave reviews regarding the Carbon Fiber product line." says Patrick Dixon, General Manager of PhantomSkinz, based in metro Phoenix, Arizona,USA, "We often receive emails praising the durability and protection offered in real-world instances where our products have saved a device from certain damage."

All PhantomSkinz Chromatics Full Body Protection Kits for the new MacBook Air notebooks have been specifically designed to cover the Top, Bottom and Wrist areas. PhantomSkinz protection skins leave no sticky residue, cause no damage to the device itself, and do not interfere with normal operations.

Chromatics by PhantomSkinz for the new Apple MacBook Airs' have a MSRP range from $39.95 to $79.95, depending on the coverage package selected.

Tandem Speakers for Macs

Tandem Speakers for MacPR: Stem Innovation, LLC has announced Tandem USB Digital Desktop Speakers for Apple desktop and notebook computers. Tandem features proprietary Stem:Sonic iQ technology - a DSP-enhanced amplifier and performance tuned bass-reflex ports.

Tandem Speakers for MacTandem's elegant design features a sleek enclosure, cloth grille and black acrylic top to perfectly complement any Mac. In addition to the USB digital pathway that delivers ideal audio throughput, additional audio sources may be connected using the auxiliary audio port on the back.

Tandem's high-performance speakers enable the main unit to be placed on either the left or right of a Mac notebook or desktop by taking advantage of a simple left/right swap switch. A headphone port on the main unit makes the transition to personal listening quick and easy.

Tandem is currently available through Apple retail and online stores for the holiday shopping season. Suggested retail price is $99.95.

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.

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