MacBook Air: Observations on its technical note

MacBook Air: Observations on its technical note

Summary: Apple recently posted the MacBook Air's technical notes on its Developer Connection site. While comparing and contrasting the new ultralight notebook with the MacBook Pro isn't fair, the differences between the two machines makes for interesting reading.

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MacBook Air: Observations on its technical noteApple recently posted the MacBook Air's technical notes on its Developer Connection site. While comparing and contrasting the new ultralight notebook with the MacBook Pro isn't fair, the differences between the two machines makes for interesting reading.

Both the MacBook Air and the 15-inch MacBook Pro technical notes are located under the Hardware & Drivers section in Apple's online Developer Library.

Here are a few items that caught my eye:

Video. Both machines are based on an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and use the North Bridge memory controller and South Bridge I/O controller ICs. However, their memory and graphics controller architectures are very different.

On the MacBook Air, the North Bridge chip incorporates the Intel GMA X3100 graphics subsystem. When connecting an external monitor to the model's micro-DVi port, the maximum resolution in extended desktop mode is 1,280 by 800 pixels (60Hz) for both analog displays and digital displays. In the mirroring mode, the highest resolution possible is 1,280 by 800 (that's the native resolution of the internal display).

The MacBook Pro uses a separate NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics processor that's connected to the larger dual-link DVI connector. In the extended desktop mode, the maximum resolution for the external display is 2,048 by 1,536 px at 60Hz or 75Hz. And in mirroring mode, the maximum size is 1,680 x 1,050.

Speakers. The MacBook Air has mono output to its speaker, while the Pro has stereo speakers. So, if you want stereo on the MacBook Air, you have to use headphones, either with the headphone jack or BlueTooth — really, with this notebook, one should use the wireless solution.

Storage. The Air uses a 1.8-inch PATA (parallel ATA) drive off of a standard PATA bus. The MacBook Pro uses larger, faster SATA (serial ATA) drives off of a 1.5Gbps SATA bus. It also supports SATA II protocols.

Of course, the MacBook Pro also has an Ultra ATA interface for the SuperDrive, a FireWire controller, an ExpressCard/34 slot off of the USB controller, oh, and an Ethernet controller. The MacBook Air relies on USB adaptors for those functions.

EFI Boot ROM. The MacBook Air uses a 4MB flash Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) boot EEPROM, while the MacBook Pro only has 2MB.

Selected Apple Core articles on the MacBook Air: Why does the MacBook Air make so many so dumb? MacBook Air: thinnest but not lightest (Updated 2x) Putting your HDD on a 80GB diet

Topics: Laptops, Apple, Hardware, Mobility

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59 comments
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  • Really...

    ...the MBA is nothing more than an overly-priced exceptionally-thin [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dongle]dongle[/url].

    Buy it and put it in a manila inter-office envelope or something.
    D T Schmitz
    • Dongle envy

      Dude,

      You need to go back to your psychoanalyst. You have a serious dongle fixation to deal
      with.
      MarcB_z
    • This episode of Dr. Phil

      Meet Dongle Boy. He sees Dongles everywhere and has a very rare form of terrets
      can't stop saying and or writing the word dongle. Dr Phil will attempt to
      cure/manipulate this person to health or greater ratings. Preferably the later.


      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
  • I don't see this as innovative

    Sure, it's thin. It's [i]very[/i] thin. It's [i]very[/i], [i][b]very[/b][/i] thin. But so what? How often do you really need to mail a laptop in a manila envelope, or slip one under a locked door? I mean, what's the innovative feature -- the ability to play Frisbee with it? For all you [i]don't[/i] get with it (an optical drive, FireWire, speakers), you'd think they'd throw in some killer apps. Instead, they throw in...MultiTouch? I mean, seriously...
    bhartman33@...
    • Common too Apple....

      it's not the hardware or the software it's the concept and the way it's put together the
      whole widget. I would not say innovative but different. All you mentioned is true it
      does not have those items but Apple did think that through and came up with creative
      alternatives to said. Now you may disagree. You might think "wireless" is not there
      yet a legit argument but I would say the jury is out.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • Different to what?.

        1 inch less do the difference?.

        For mac guys the answer is yes.
        For the rest of the persons is HELL NO!.
        magallanes
        • Again it's not the size that matters (bet you've heard that one)

          It's the whole widget. Not the hardware, not the OS, not the software bundled with
          it but the whole thing put together. Apple kept the full sized keyboard and sceen
          but dropped the optical. However Apple thought about and gave alternatives to the
          optical including for entertainment users the ability to now rent movies through
          iTunes. It's not the lack of a wired network connector it's the fact that Apple gave
          and points to an alternative which is growing faster and more prevalent on an
          almost daily basis. It's thin granted but that is but a piece of the puzzle.

          Pagan jim
          James Quinn
          • Huh?

            What does this mean "the whole widget"?

            I mean what are we talking about here? It seems the insanity is complete. So its not the hardware. Its not the software. Its just the "Appleness" of it then?

            That completely confirms the arguments made by the wave of Mac backlashers. When people make the serious argument that "yeah, the hardware isnt so innovative, and yeah, the software is nothing new, and yeah, there are a lot of flaws and compramises... BUT... its still AMAZING anyway due to the intangible "ZEN" quality of it!" we have reached the point where objective debate is impossible.

            People are bending over backwards making rationalizations for Apples every decision as if there is a NEED for whatever they release to be "world altering". Its REALLY cultish.

            Cupertino should crank the next one out without a battery at all... Or perhaps without a display. Id LOVE to bear witness to the insanity that would ensue on forums where people make the argument that "you just dont understand the GENIUS of it!"
            mlambert890@...
          • Because you may get a kick out of it

            Your post made me think of this one I read last week.

            http://talkback.zdnet.com/5208-12554-0.html?forumID=1&threadID=43365&messageID=802512&start=0
            laura.b
          • But in truth no one has asked me

            To burn a CD or DVD. Honestly that's a fact. As for installing software well I have
            used a lot of .dmg files of the company network and yes I've used CD's but I've also
            used pre-created "images" off the internet because it's simpler for company
            standard setups so I can easily see that installing software can be done without the
            need of an optical drive.

            Can't you understand that things are a changing? Apple is trying to both catch the
            wave and perhaps push it along. iPhone wireless, all Apple's computer systems
            wireless, iPod Touch wireless. Starbucks and Apple wireless deal. Seems there is a
            theme going on here don't you think?

            Pagan jim
            James Quinn
      • The Total Package

        I do understand that the total package is what's important. At the same time, I can't shake the feeling that the MBA is [i]less[/i] than the sum of its parts. It's thinner than what's gone before, but my understanding is that it [i]isn't[/i] any lighter because of the decision to go with the aluminum case.

        Sure, the ability to use another computer's optical drive wirelessly is novel, but that's just compensating for what Apple left out. It doesn't really [i]add[/i] anything, compared to other notebooks.

        I'll admit that the full-sized keyboard is a nice touch, but how much is that really worth?

        IMHO, the MBA looks like a nod to the Mac chic set: all style, little substance. I guess it's brought them some limited success before, but if they want to replicate the success of the iPod -- which, despite my not liking them personally, [i]are[/i] decent MP3 players now (as long as you don't care about recording or FM radio) -- they've got to start putting substance over style. To me, this is the equivalent of an iPod without the iTunes or video playback.
        bhartman33@...
        • Nice touch...

          Interesting. People are screaming that there's not optical drive. How often do you
          use the optical drive? I haven't used mind since I installed Leopard. What was that
          - September, October? There's no card reader. Who needs that? And, if you do,
          how often do you use it? I could go on and on, but...

          "The full sized keyboard is a nice touch, but how much is that really worth?"

          Sorry, pal, while you may use all of that other stuff every once in a while, you use
          the keyboard [b]all the time.[/b] While you may enjoy using a computer with a toy
          keyboard while you play Doom, some of us who actually use their computers for
          work actually understand that the keyboard, display, and mouse are at the top of
          the list of necessary features, and that compromising them can't be offset by a
          card reader.
          msalzberg
          • Yes, as I said...

            Hi, msalzberg. You said:

            [i]Interesting. People are screaming that there's not optical drive. How often do you use the optical drive? I haven't used mind since I installed Leopard. What was that - September, October? There's no card reader. Who needs that? And, if you do, how often do you use it? I could go on and on, but...[/i]

            I can only speak for myself, of course, but I use the optical drive in my machine often. Optical drives come in handy for things like installing software, burning CDs and DVDs, using CD-based databases, creating archives, etc.

            As for the card reader, I can agree that that isn't such a big deal. Card readers for laptops aren't all that common. Still, the lack of at least a PCMIA slot is somewhat puzzling.

            You also said:

            [i]Sorry, pal, while you may use all of that other stuff every once in a while, you use the keyboard all the time. While you may enjoy using a computer with a toy keyboard while you play Doom, some of us who actually use their computers for work actually understand that the keyboard, display, and mouse are at the top of the list of necessary features, and that compromising them can't be offset by a card reader.[/i]

            I didn't say the full-sized keyboard wasn't [i]nice[/i]. I used a laptop several times a week in my old job, so I do understand that it's a nice ammenity to have a large one. My question was, how much is that keyboard [i]worth[/i], especially to someone who's accustomed themselves to typing on a standard notebook keyboard? I don't think it's worthless. I'm just puzzled as to why there are some people who are acting like the apes looking at the monolith at the beginning of [i]2001: A Space Oddysey[/i]. The MBA is a thin laptop with a nice keyboard and a bunch of sacrifices thrown in to get it down to that thinness. That's [i]all[/i] it is.

            Apple has no shortage of innovative products to its credit, but this is [i]not[/i] one of them.
            bhartman33@...
          • I think you're missing my point.

            A full size keyboard isn't just a nice touch. It's one of the two things you use all
            the time. Compromise on the keyboard or the screen, and it doesn't matter how
            many gadgets you add to the computer - the entire package has been
            compromised.

            Again, for your usage pattern the MBA isn't for you. But note what you said. "I used
            a laptop several times a week in my old job." I use mine several hours [i]a day,[/i]
            and I'm not as heavy a laptop user as many. A full sized keyboard isn't just nice;
            [i]not[/i] having one would be a deal-breaker for me.

            As I said, I rarely use the optical drive. I don't install software all that often, and
            much of it these days is downloadable. I use USB flash drives, or online storage, for
            temporary backups, and burn CDs and DVDs on my desktop.
            msalzberg
          • I should've been more clear.

            What I meant was, I used a laptop several times a week [i]for several hours at a time[/i]. And for a while, my main computer at home was a laptop, too. (That didn't last too long, since I started missing the expandability more than I'd anticipated.) My point is, yes, I can understand how someone might think that a full-sized keyboard is of utmost importance. I just don't see anything here that's so jaw-dropping, other than the thinness. Other companies have put full-sized keyboards on laptops before.

            Obviously, there will be some degree of a market for this. I just don't see it as that innovative or as much of a "must-have" as an iPhone or an iPod, and it seems like since the announcement from MacWorld, there are a lot of people trying to believe that it is.
            bhartman33@...
        • I think...

          That a great many of Apple's alternatives say the sharing of an optical drive or an
          external is the "Just in case" option and that Apple feels in the long run the need for
          such will prove to be not so much.

          Pagan jim
          James Quinn
          • I'm sure you're right that they think that...

            ...but the question remains: Is that true?

            I can tell you from personal experience that the trade-off of ports for thinness wouldn't have made sense in my last job. We needed at least one USB port to log in to the internal network (for the VPN dongle). With only one USB port to speak of, the MBA would've required the use of a USB hub (which would be yet another thing to bring to a meeting, when you might in reality only need two USB ports). And the lack of an optical drive would've made things like archiving much more difficult. (I can't imagine the IT dept. would've been too happy with the idea of shared optical drives, but I could be wrong.)

            The way I see it, a good notebook has to have at least these three things:

            1) Acceptable weight
            2) a decent keyboard
            3) good connections

            The MBA does well on the first 2, but woefully lacks in the connections department. The optical drive is more than a "just in case" option.

            Yeah, I know that the optical drive is a common sacrifice for light notebooks. And I know they'll sell you a SuperDrive separately. But for less than an extra pound of weight, you could get a Dell XPS 1330 that [i]doesn't[/i] sacrifice the ports or the drive. And the base configuration is less expensive.
            bhartman33@...
          • And my whole point regardless of the "theory" of

            Apple's design with the Air is in the end the consumer will decide. There are valid
            questions but that is it they are only speculation and the assumption that what you
            or I feel are needs translates to not only others but in some cases it seems the
            assumption is that my ( You or I ) needs are universal and no they are not.

            Pagan jim

            (I would guess that based on location and work habits that there is a small market
            for these devices and as wireless gets faster and more prevalent that core group
            will increase. I do think it is a growing market)
            James Quinn
    • Thin = less material in the case &

      Less material in the case equals less weight.

      If you want to preserve a larger screen and full sized keyboard, you have to shave the material from the thickness to reduce weight.
      j.m.galvin
      • So I guess in this case less is more ....

        $$$ :)




        Note: This is a joke.
        mrOSX