IDF and the new Mac notebooks

The Intel Developer Forum makes it clear what Apple's new notebooks - which I predict will be announced Tuesday, September 16 - will offer. Will it be worth the wait?
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

The Intel Developer Forum makes it clear what Apple's new notebooks - which I predict will be announced Tuesday, September 16 - will offer. Will it be worth the wait? If longer battery life and higher performance are important to you - yes.

And if you weren't waiting? The new designs and features may make you rethink your allegiance to Windows - as so many already have.

IDF tells us a lot So what's coming? Here's what the Storage Bits crystal ball reveals:

  • Quad cores. The Lenovo W700 already offers quad core computing in a large notebook. Apple dominates the high-end notebook space so they can do no less. Not on all Macs but certainly on the high end 15"and 17" notebooks.
  • Switchable graphics. Graphics cards are power hogs. Turning off a gigabyte of VRAM and the graphics chip is a big power saver. Users don't need dedicated graphics surfing the web and reading email. This will be a feature on the high-end notebooks, while the low end Mac books will continue with integrated graphics.
  • WiMax. An optional daughtercard as Bluetooth and WiFi once were, but most people laying out three large for a notebook won't mind an extra $99.
  • Solid-state disks. Since Apple controls both the hardware and the software their have unparalleled ability to leverage SSDs. Expect dual drive notebooks with a 64 GB flash drive for the OS and applications paired with a 160 GB 1.8 inch disk drive for additional capacity and performance.
  • Larger memory capacity. RAM may be an energy hog but it sure makes high-end notebooks faster and more stable. Expect to see the current 4 GB memory limit go to at least 8 GB.
  • RGB LED backlight. Another high-end feature that will be very attractive to the creative user. RGB backlights are not only more energy-efficient but sport a much wider color gamut than existing cold cathode fluorescent lights. You'll be able to edit video AND color correct it on one machine.
  • No internal optical drives. Apple has usually led the industry in losing old stuff and supporting new stuff. Dropping floppys. Supporting USB and FireWire. The MBA has shown the way: no optical drive and who really misses it? Blu-ray is the coming thing - but putting the current slow drives in notebooks is a recipe for customer complaints.
  • Blu-ray support. One advantage to going to external optical drives is that Blu-ray is still in its infancy. I haven't seen a notebook ready, slot loading, Blu-ray burner that is any faster than 2x. External drives can be larger, faster and easily upgraded.
  • 64 bit hardware - except for RAM, where 36 bit (64 GB) HW addressing will handle growth demand for the next the next 6 years. Yes, Snow Leopard will go higher, but the hardware doesn't need to support everything the OS can do.
  • A glass trackpad the size of an iPhone screen with context-sensitive soft buttons, gestures and - long overdue - 3-button support.
  • Pervasive power management. As I and others have documented, SSDs alone save very little power. In a comprehensive redesign they make much more sense.

But what will they look like? Apple employs some of the finest industrial designers in the world. Trying to second-guess them isn't easy - even for top designers, which I am most certainly not.

The design language will follow the MacBook Air. Bevelled edges in a slimmer and lighter case will be the norm. Expect more obvious visual cues that play off the iPhone's black and chrome look.

Apple has lots of other technology that it can incorporate to create a real geewhiz experience. No one in the industry does it better. Whatever they do there will be some hits and some misses but the image of their design leadership will continue.

The Storage Bits take That's the last on Apple's next-generation notebooks. After the announcement I'll do a post-mortem on how well I did.

This is a critical moment for Apple. Despite the success of the iPhone and iPod, the Macbooks are Apple's single largest product line. They have the opportunity to really strengthen the Apple brand and boost their already torrid unit sales growth.

Apple's notebook team has been working on these products for years. Their tight HW and SW integration coupled with Microsoft's long development cycles means that Apple will be well positioned to take market share.

Whether you are a Windows or a Mac fan the competition will benefit us all.

Comments welcome, of course.

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