MacBook Pro 2012 could feature Liquidmetal technology

MacBook Pro 2012 could feature Liquidmetal technology

Summary: But there are potential obstacles to constructing a notebook chassis from Liquidmetal, the primary being how the material handles heat.

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The blogosphere just won't let go of the idea that Apple is on the verge of using Liquidmetal technology in one of its products. Last week it was the iPhone 5 that was going to get the Liquidmetal treatment, and now it's rumored to be a feature of the MacBook Pro 2012 refresh.

SlashGear reports that Apple could cast the chassis of the next MacBook Pro from Liquidmetal. But, just as with the iPhone 5 rumor, that this raises all sorts of issues related to whether this metal is transparent enough to radio frequency to allow Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to work properly.


Image Gallery: What is Liquidmetal used for? Image Gallery: Charge Image Gallery: Charge
A possible solution to this problem is offered up in the design of the Wi-Fi + 3G/4G iPad. The chassis of this product is machined out of aluminum, but in order to give the cellular antennas a window out to the world, there's a black plastic panel at the top of the tablet. It's not a particularly elegant solution, but I've never heard anyone complain about it.

But there's another possible obstacle to constructing a notebook chassis from Liquidmetal, and this one relates to how the material handles heat. The datasheet lists the thermal conductivity of the Liquidmetal as 6 Wm-1K-1, which makes it a far poorer conductor of heat than aluminum, which has a thermal conductivity of around 35 Wm-1K-1.

What this means is that Apple would need to redesign the cooling system of the MacBook Pro to take into account the fact that a Liquidmetal shell would be far poorer at dissipating the heat generated by the system than the current aluminum shell. However, buried on Liquidmetal Technologies website, a reference signals a way to tailor the material for specific thermal and electrical conductivity, so there may be possible to re-engineer the material to overcome this problem.

I like the idea of a Liquidmetal MacBook Pro -- or for that matter any portable -- more than I do the idea of making the back of an iPhone out of the material. The first reason is production. Casting is normally a much quicker process machining parts, and this gives the Liquidmetal chassis an advantage over how Apple currently manufactures parts for portable systems.

Another reason for switching from aluminum to Liquidmetal is that portables have to deal with countless bumps, scratches and abrasion on a daily basis. Liquidmetal would certainly offer a system far greater protection than aluminum does, and keep the hardware looking better for a lot longer.

Image credit: iFixit.

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Topics: Laptops, Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility

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23 comments
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  • Apple's corporate toilets could feature Liquidmetal technology

    Is everyone just speculating on what they could use the tech on?

    When does it stop??
    William Farrel
    • To much fun...

      Never, move on.
      Kiljoy616
      • LIQUIDMETAL!!!

        I think it's the name - it makes for such good headlines, they can't resist.

        Liquidmetal. It sounds like that newer model terminator that can't be killed... how can you *not* put that in a headline. BTW half of all Apple news/rumors seem to be link bait.
        orthorim
      • New kind of terminator

        Oh, does that mean the new Apple gadgets will be harder to kill? :)

        Or, Apple itself will be harder to kill --- many try anyway, every day.
        danbi
  • Osmium

    There is an important dimension to Apple's use of Liquidmetal that is not being appreciated. Since the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs, there has been a risk of instability in their reality distortion field. Because Liquidmetal alloys can incorporate Osmium in significant proportions, unlike Aluminum alloys, Apple can now build devices with high Osmium content in the case. Liquidmetal alloys containing Osmium will permit stable maintenance of a reality distortion field within the device itself and thus allow Apple to continue to deliver insanely great performance using conventional processors, memory, etc.
    z2217
    • Your logic is sound.

      Though one concearn: Since Osmium is pyrophoric, is there any chance that the case could spontaneously ignite, or are the batteries still the larger concearn?
      :|
      Tim Cook
      • Osmium Case

        One of the features of using pyrophoric Osmium in the coming Apple Liquidmetal cases is that if you drop the device, rather than being damaged, it will simply vanish in a flash, leaving no residue. Your data will, of course, be preserved within iCloud and automatically download to your new device when you buy it at your local Apple Store.
        z2217
  • Sigh. No metal is transparent to radio.

    You were corrected on this on your story about the iPhone using liquid metal but make the same basic mistake in this article as well.
    baggins_z
  • Liquidmetal + OLED = Very Thin, Very Light Lid. And One More Thing

    In the world of laptops, thinner, lighter, lower power (which really means longer battery life) are the key differentiators. Here is how Liquidmetal and An OLED display can help next-generation MacBooks.

    By switching to an OLED display for the MacBook, Apple can obviously save power because these displays eliminate the backlight and illuminate only the parts of the screen and the precise colors required at any instant. And, eliminating the backlight of course lets the display be thinner. The problem arises when the lid gets thinner and more flexible because that can lead to over stressing the display glass - and oops, there goes my display, again....

    Here is where Liquidmetal comes to the rescue. Because Liquidmetal alloys are a lot stiffer than Aluminum, and because the Liquidmetal molding process supports making parts with lots of very fine detail and thin wall sections, a Liquidmetal laptop lid can be at once thin, stiff and light. By designing a system of thin wall ribs into the interior surface of the lid, the stiffness can be taylored to the required level while maintaining a very thin - and hence very light - exterior shell. Such a system of very detailed stiffeners would be prohibitively costly to machine, and there is a limit to how thing the stiffeners can be using a high throughput machining process.

    This leaves only one real problem. With no backlight for the OLED display, how will Apple light up their logo on the backside of the laptop lid?
    z2217
    • Thinness is not everything

      I like thin but the Macbook Air is thing enough as it is, I like to see less thinness and way more performance.
      Kiljoy616
      • Thinner = Less Thick...

        If the lid is thinner, the base can be thicker... and then you can have a faster processor and a bigger battery to run it :)
        z2217
      • Good point, z2217

        I like your comment. BTW, I don't foresee Apple ceasing to manufacture the base of it's laptops out of aluminum. My reasons for that are several and based upon my years of automotive manufacturing experience pertaining to power train components.

        Aluminum is a great recyclable material and Apple has invested huge amounts of financial capital and years of experience towards developing their manufacturing expertise using that metal. Simply stated - there are too many negatives that outweigh the positives towards developing the manufacturing expertise for liquid metal large scale fabrications.

        However, keeping their aluminum "unibody" designs for their laptop cases while utilizing other materials and technology for the laptop cover cases makes great sense.

        After reading your comment, I would not be surprised if Apple decided to adopt your manufacturing hypothesis. (Actually, it would take about two years to put in place the necessary manufacturing assets to create a liquid metal based laptop component and that is about the length of time that has elapsed since Apple acquired the sole manufacturing rights to liquid metal.
        kenosha77a
      • Aluminum Based Liquidmetal Alloys

        I noticed the following linked item describing certain Aluminum based Liquidmetal alloys.

        http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/0203/Perepezko-0203.html

        Part way down the page, there is discussion of particular, majority Aluminum alloys that spontaneously form Aluminum nanoparticles that in turn improve the toughness, elongation, ductility, etc of the material. This might just be the sort of material you would consider for a laptop 'base'...

        The original Liquidmetal alloys (Vitriloy 1 and related alloys) would seem totally unsuited to a consumer product, owing to their high Beryllium content (abraded dust would be a significant ingestion / inhalation hazard).

        Apple, in their early iPhone 4 promotional materials mentioned that they developed a 'special' stainless steel alloy for the iPhone 4 frame. (I suspect, a 'free machining' alloy, perhaps with TCE match to the glass...) That Apple might invest in developing one or more 'proprietary' Liquidmetal alloys seems reasonable. This would be just one more way Apple could deploy some of their cash horde to gain leverage over the competition...
        z2217
    • logo

      They could probably use an OLED for that too.
      jsanko
  • Agreed liquid metal is much better suited to a laptap than a phone.

    I would love to see several laptop makers use it
    Johnny Vegas
  • OMG - The Latest Apple Blah, Blah

    I guess we will be hearing endlessly about Liquidmetal until Apple does or does not use it in its next gadget - and even if they don't, there will probably be endless stories about how they almost did. Apple fatigue.
    jpr75_z
    • They already have...

      used Liquidmetal in their products... something about a SIM removal tool.
      z2217
  • Oh No Liquid Metal!

    I sure as heck hope that they let it become a solid before it goes out the shipping door. Sure would make for a mess laptop otherwise.
    gribittmep
  • Liquid Metal

    Like that robot in Terminator 2? Noooooooo thanks.
    bobhog
  • Just liquidmetal?

    I thought the new Apple products would all support time traveling, teleportation, invisibility, and shapeshifting to Hulk.
    yoroto