Cracking open the MacBook Air
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. He was most recently Managing Editor for TechRepublic Pro. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.
i love it, more portable? How is a thinner laptop any "more portable" than the Alienware? Are we saying that lighter means it goes places the Alienware does not? Like where, behind the refridgerator?
Hahahahaa, I would rather have the Alienware any day of the week! Hmmmm...I could have twice the features at the same price?....I'm not so into my self image that I need a laptop that has lost weight to hang out with to feel better about myself - long live PC!
If on a tight budget, one often wonders whether it's better to buy an old used laptop to get full size screen and an optical drive, or a netbook that is more compact and may give longer battery life. Either way you get a puny hard drive capacity and maybe not enough RAM, but that can be fixed if the old laptop is new enough to use S-ATA. Being laptops, you'd be stuck with "special" motherboard and no card slots, but RAM and hard drive would be replaceable and upgradable. Here, you are locked into special cards if the rAM goes bad, and can't upgrade the RAM, or use a larger hard drive to replace the SSD storage. You only have two USB sockets, so you can't connect an external mouse plus optical drive plus external hard drive without adding a powered hub. If you want to avoid working off mains, that's 2.5" external hard drives, many of which use two (and thus for this system, all) USB ports. Reminds me of an old movie title: "Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width". I'll pass, thanks.
let's take a look at the brand new $1300 macbook air released this week!: I bet it has that spiffy magnetic power adapter! YES I bet it has one of those cool new Core i3 i5 or i7 processors, right? probably an i7 at that price right? ummm NO, just an old timey Core 2 Duo well surely I can upgrade the CPU later to a faster Core 2 Duo? ummm NOPE - soldered in ok fine, I see it comes with 2GB RAM, I can upgrade that to 4GB or 8GB, right? ummmm NOPE - soldered in & no expansion slots how about 3 or 4 USB ports? NOPE 2 (like a year 2004 laptop computer) ok, how about a backlit keyboard, an ambient light sensor, or even Adobe Flash? NOPE, NOPE, and NOPE can I at least have an internal DVD drive at this price? NOPE, and if you want an external DVD, you are now down to 1 USB port! geez, did you say this thing was $1300 or $300?
I was thinking that 1.4 GHz would be woefull, but then I had a closer look at how my 2 ghz mini from 2007 performs. With 2 GB RAM the only time the CPU runs close to 100% is transcoding video. As the drve is only sata1, and system bus is only 600mhz I imagine most irvine delay is simply IO. OS X is definitely faster than windows7 on the same hardware. With no SuperDrive you wouldn't be ripping media, so there is one job not likely to be done by most on it. HD video playback is fine even with an 800mhz CPU on iPhone, so 1.4ghz should be fine. That's similar to a 2ghz singlecore atom for grunt, and the integrated GPU and system bus in the atom gear I have seen is nowhere near as fast as the Air. And as cheapest equal MacBook, does make a choice to be plastic Mac, or superportable. The only limit will be in 4 years, everything will feel 6 years old. But as an official apple model, Apple will have to make sure OS X works ok on it for it's operational life.
I really wanted to grab the new air but releasing with a 2.0 USB what were they thinking?3.0 is new standard, guess I?ll have to wait another 6 months
I guess if you just want to play games an Alienware laptop is OK? But I prefer to do real work and need a real Unix-based operating system - Windows (as a TOS or a NOS) doesn't cut it; Linux is passable but you'd be be best choosing a good distribution for your needs. So MacBook Air will be ideal as my mobile development laptop - complementing my Quad Core i5 iMac and the two or three supercomputers standing on tap!
Someone will say what we should all be saying...I won't waste my time with Apple's trendy crap! Give me a PC that rips through media, and is scalable to my needs. What I don't need is to field questions from the hipsters about my MacBook at the coffee shop. Keep it, gimme the Alienware!
IPhone 4's resolution, source: http://www.apple.com/iphone/specs.html This is significantly less than what computers were producing in 1995. and is actually about the same resolution of a normal TV signal, no where near HD quality. The iPhone, therefore, does not play HD videos. Its measly power is barely used for such a video... My old 200mhz machine with 4mb video memory and 16mb of RAM had no trouble playing videos recorded at 1280 x 1024. A video like that averaged about 10-20% CPU usage under Windows 95 using "Active Movie".
So why did we think it got the great battery life: magic? Of course, everything's a tradeoff. Which is preferable: the long-lived MacAir w/o user battery exchange, or 15% less battery life with user exchange? If I were Apple, I know what I would do (did).
Why would you need that on this class of notebook? USB 2.0 is fast enough for the majority of external storage needs. Going for the gold would only benefit the performance-oriented crowd, which would probably not be interested in this model anyway. It's an ultralight. Not an Alienware.
They know all the "cool kids" will buy it because everyone else will have one, not because they want a computing tool with great features.
Video playback these days is often not at all a function of CPU power. Without a seriously brawny CPU, it's almost always offloaded to a dedicated decoder. The iPhone has one, the iPad has one, any netbook capable of playing anything above SD files will need one. Performance-oriented computers will squeak by these days decoding in software, but not without some effort. I don't completely understand why, but general-purpose CPUs have a hard time with it. Custom silicon like Broadcom's Crystal HD card can decode 1080p h264, MPEG4, or MPEG2 and draw a measly 1W while doing so. Many GPUs have hardware video decoding too, but driver/library support sucks right now. (Too many restrictions, and companies not willing to give away the recipe to their secret sauce.) Only certain applications can take advantage of it. Windows (DirectX) support is pretty good, fair on Mac, partial on Linux (usually only with the right binary driver distros.) Furthermore, display resolution is a completely separate subject. I can jailbreak an iSomething and attempt to play a 1080p24 movie. It'll only display at my device's native resolution, but it still has to decode the full 1920x1080, then resize it for output. Obviously that's pretty wasteful, and likely not to work well, so I don't.
A fast access high capacity USB drive, to supplement the small internal flash drive, would have been nice. Thankfully, current USB speeds are fast enough to stream 1080HD videos no problem.
Yeah your right, pure dedicated hardware for decoding works much better than the general purpose hardware. we have seen this with older console systems, the SNES, Playstation 1/2, SEGA, heavy measily processors and almost no memory, and yet it takes a computer 30 times the power of a SNES to play a SNES game. I suspect eventually in the future, video cards, etc, will have dedicated chips for decoding, possibly with updatable firmware.
Costs almost the same, but is a full fledged computer. The iPad just seems more overpriced every day... Of course such a laptop is of little use to me, I require computing power, that little thing would overheat and melt in no time for me after 72 hours of straight gaming and such.
According to the reviews of it in Windows machines, its only a bit less power than the 9600m GT. Which is a good chip. No PhysX support though, not supprising. The shared memory is its only weakness. Though its DDR3, which is the same as the dedicated 9600 card has. It could be a fairly good performer. Heat would be its biggest issue. I would expect its seriously underclocked under normal operational, and temporarily boosts itself as needed. And actually, if you look at the identical equipment in a Mac vs a PC, games always seem to need significantly more hardware to run on a Mac. My only guesses are that the Mac graphics framework is shit (possible, never been a gaming system afterall) or that the hardware is underclocked to make it last longer to give the illusion of Macs having higher quality hardware.
... but is this GPU capable of decoding them? My current laptop has a 160GB disk. I have Linux and Windows installed on it, and a large third partition for data. That's pretty much enough for the stuff I want to keep on the laptop itself. Would've been nice to have a memory card slot and Firewire port though.