Apple notebooks to be fabricated from a solid "brick" of aluminum

Apple notebooks to be fabricated from a solid "brick" of aluminum

Summary: The term “brick” was mentioned in a 9-to-5 Mac rumor piece on 10 September 2008 when their source said that the MacBook update is “all about the Brick.” 9-to-5 Mac now claims that the "brick" isn't a specific Apple product but rather a manufacturing process that uses lasers and jets of water to carve MacBooks out of a solid mass of aluminum (a.


The term “brick” was mentioned in a 9-to-5 Mac rumor piece on 10 September 2008 when their source said that the MacBook update is “all about the Brick.” 9-to-5 Mac now claims that the "brick" isn't a specific Apple product but rather a manufacturing process that uses lasers and jets of water to carve MacBooks out of a solid mass of aluminum (a.k.a. a "brick").

Jon Gruber previously noted that a new lineup of MacBooks will be released on 14 October 2008, one week from today. BusinessWeek today throws some fuel on the fire by speculating that Apple's radical new laptop will be announced in a week, and that 9-to-5 Mac's brick thoery is supported by Apple's patent filings:

Apple declined to comment on its plans, but the company has made patent filings related to the design of notebook enclosures. In May 2007, it filed for a patent on a design for "enclosure parts that are structurally bonded together to form a singular composite structure.… That is particularly useful in portable computing devices such as laptop computers."

An entirely new manufacturing process could be what Apple’s Peter Oppenheimer (CFO) referred to as a “product transition” will cut profit margins to help shut out rivals during his Apple’s Q3 2008 earnings conference call with analysts. BW adds that the transition is among the reasons Apple said it expects to make lower gross profit margins.

If this is the case, Apple probably isn't building the new "brick" machines here in the U.S. Although Apple announced plans for a new campus in Cupertino, CA two years ago to support its growing workforce, it's two years behind schedule. Kevin Keller, an analyst at market research firm iSuppli adds "If they're doing this at all, there is no doubt in my mind that it would have to happen in Asia," Keller says.


Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • That is patentable?

    This is getting ridiculous. Companies have been fabricating all types of items and enclosures out of "bricks" for years.

    How is this really unique in any way? Becuase it is a laptop enclosure?
    • Hey I'm a HUGE Apple fan but on this I have to

      agree with you. At least on the face of it. However "IF" there
      is something unique to the process then I would have to
      reexamine my doubt. I hate the lets paten everything
      mentality. Yet I understand "IF" this creates a whole new
      model for laptop creation that Apple thinks others will want
      to use then as a business Apple might be obligated to it's
      stock holder to patent it. I'll have to wait and see.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • At that point it would be

        [i]However "IF" there is something unique to the process then I would have to reexamine my doubt.[/i]

        At that point if it was a process, then yes it would be patentable; not the idea, but the process itself.
    • I think so...

      If this is a unique design, especially the part of the laptop being a solid mass, then I think that the idea should be patented. As long as this applies to only laptops or a computer based system that is in a shell.

      My other thoughts on this are as follows:

      Starting with a brick of aluminum and cutting away the excess takes a lot of time to cut as well as all that waste in the contents of the brick. Unless they cast the brick with hollow spots which still doesn't seem as likely.

      It will look good, but I don't see how this is green. Or how these will be easy to work on.
  • Does not sound cheap

    This news does not sound cheap. Although it would eliminate
    some assembly people possibly? I for one feel Apple is not
    looking strongly enough at how consumers are changing
    spending habits. The sub $500 laptop market with its Mini
    laptops has really taken off. While the high end struggles.
    Apple has its work cut out for itself if it does not introduce at
    least a sub $1000 notebook. I guess we will possible find out
    • And yet

      Apple continues to break sales records and outperforms
      competitors in the industry, including the sub $500 market.
      • It will be interesting to see in this current climate

        which will do better: low cost netbooks or the high end MacBooks?
    • If you look at the history of Apple and the PC market

      Apple has over the years done well for itself at the high
      end. Granted market share wise no. But profit and margin
      wise certainly. Look at how many companies PC makers
      have come in gone during Apples lifetime.... Impressive
      numbers there. Look at those who are in trouble today.
      Apple is a profit machine. Apples laptops are selling
      briskly. Money is rolling in. However I for one would not
      mind if Apple dabbled in the lower area of the market at
      least a bit. As long as it could keep up its impressive
      research and development efforts.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
  • RE: Apple notebooks to be fabricated from a solid

    What a stupid idea. Machining is always much more expensive than molding. Just about anything can be molded for a very low cost and minimal machining after. Re-casting the aluminum waste is inefficient and expensive.
    • Low cost bargain machines ...

      were never Apple's target business model. And I think many people would appreciate a well-crafted solid enclosure.

      Milling from a solid block is not as cheap as molding, but the entire process can be automated (including waste collection management)where the waste just goes right into the next batch of raw material. And scraps cut in a molding process are less easy to reuse and eventually get sent back to the foundry anyway.
  • iPod ---> Macbook

    No surprise here. It's the same process they used with the second-gen iPod mini, isn't it?
    • Was the ipod milled?

      or extruded into an elliptical tube and cut? I was under the impression it was an extrusion.

      I like the idea of a solid monocoque enclosure, but wonder if the increased thermal integrity might transfer even more processor heat into you legs.
  • Apple should drop aluminum

    Aluminum is too easy to scratch and dent. It is fine for kitchen pots and pans, but not for computers. Apple should move to space age materials like titanium and carbon fibre like other leading computer makers.
    • erm.

      They did titanium a few years back. even their cheaper models had some in it. Didn't go over to well. Those computer makers using titanium are imitating that. Don't know why. Its more expensive and not really very workable.

      Aluminum also does not scratch much if you temper it. Cast aluminum used in pots and pans is another matter.

      Carbon fiber on the other hand they haven't tried(well I'm sure theyve tried it in the labs). It handles tensile stress well(better than aluminum or titanium), but under compression it shatters(like when your notebook hits something). Actually, you can get it to handle compression well but I think its complicated so would be high cost to manufacture. Aluminum has better overall results if you factor in: cost, stresses, ease of manufacturing etc.
      • Plus carbon fiber is ugly.

        And like it or not, Apple is concerned about aesthetics.
        • To some, yes...

          But unless you love your cars, carbon fiber might just be up your alley
          • Yeah...

  • Time and cost and materials?

    How many of these things does Apple plan on selling? A lot would be my guess.

    How long will it take a CNC machine to carve out a "brick"? A long time. How much scrap needs to be reprocessed to make new bricks? A lot. How much energy would be consumed carving and melting aluminum? A lot.

    I don't see it as viable.
  • Aluminum vs...whatever

    Aluminum...high electricity usage just to refine those so-called 'bricks' ('billet' or 'plate' are more appropriate terms). Unless recycled, there's plenty of 'disturbing the earth', what with the sorts of mining techniques used to get the raw ingredients. I'm sure ALCOA will dispute this to their dying breath and call their bread-n-butter products 'as green as it gets'. Probably doesn't hurt Apple that aluminum demand is way down from it's peak a year or so ago.

    Whether by laser or water jets, it sounds like the 'carving' is a highly energy-intensive process, just like it is with any CNC machine. And with laser, I assume there's some amount of waste due to at least part of the aluminum being burned away. At least with a water jet process, the waste is potentially recoverable...unless of course the plant just dumps it into a nearby river or swamp (or perhaps mixes it in with melamine, China's favorite admixture /sarcasm).

    Everyone rags on plastics because of potential toxicity of the polymers and chemicals involved, but if done in properly controlled environments it's a hell of a lot less intrusive than aluminum manufacture and use is. It may not result in super-thin notebooks (at least without being fragile), but hey, how thin do ya really need to go? Being environmentally responsible should count for something, especially beyond being 'super cool thin'. Leave that to underfed supermodels, Apple.

    As for carbon-fiber...wanna talk toxic? However, it IS uber strong, but it's also relatively pricey as well. Personally I like the look of natural CF weave; there's a level of craftsmanship to making good-looking CF, even if it's more or less automated these days. Billet aluminum is at best just lots of crushed Coke cans and raw ore with lots of heat and electricity applied.

    Guess all that extra power from the Three Gorges Dam must be dirt cheap these days.
  • Upgrades?

    How will this affect the consumer's ability to upgrade the notebook? I can see making it pretty... pretty hard to crack open to reconfigure/upgrade the hardware. Oh, right this is Apple, they have the best hardware already in their machines...