Apple Watch

News from the Apple world

Mac Planet: MacBook Air and the Lone Star Mac Pro

7 comments
The MacBook Air. Photo / Supplied, Apple Inc
The MacBook Air. Photo / Supplied, Apple Inc

I get excited about software, but somehow hardware always seems more exciting. With this year's World Wide Developers' Conference imminent (June 11, NZ time), there will hopefully be announcements on both fronts.

It's quite possible a new MacBook Air could be mentioned, since Intel has new processors available. Supply of new MacBook Airs, particularly the 13-inch models, has become constrained in some territories, and Intel's new Haswell chips have been claimed to offer 50% better laptop battery life compared to the current Ivy Bridge units.

The main focus of designing Haswell was to lower power consumption for laptops and tablets, but doubling graphics performance was another aim. The current standard MacBook Air 13-inch costs NZ$1799, has a 1.8GHz dual core i5 Intel CPUs, two USB 3 and a Thunderbolt port and, most importantly, the fast Solid State Drives that make some MacBook Pros so quick. You can get a 128GB (barely big enough for much beyond the system) or 256GB, or a build-to-order of a very respectable 512GB-sized SSD.

These Airs are very trim and light and only have 4GB RAM. Both can be configured with i7 dual-core CPUs and a maximum of 8GB RAM.

But they aren't really built to perform hard-out tasks like movie making - they can do it, but you wouldn't want to push it too much. The Air is really a very portable writing and communications devices that can nevertheless do all the things any other Mac can do.

With better graphics processing and longer battery life, The MacBook Air would be even better in these roles - currently the in-built Intel HD Graphics 4000 card supports dual display and mirroring (which all Macs can do, of course) at 2560x1600 pixels. The current batteries give, according to Apple, up to five hours wireless and web use on the 11-inch MacBook Air with its 35-watt Lithium Polymer battery (this model starts at NZ$1449) and up to seven on the 13's 50-watt battery; both should currently give up to 30 hours 'standby time'. Imagine eight to ten hours use instead ...

Of course, I have no idea what, or even if, Apple is planning anything for this device, but the supply constraint plus new chip availability puts this high on the possibilities list. Probably they will be in the same svelte, extant Air cases; the only main difference between the two sizes is that the larger also has an SD camera card.

But speaking of chassis, the Mac Pro case must be a record for Apple as it's been pretty much the same for a staggering ten years! It debuted with G5 processors, which Apple subsequently abandoned when it changed to Intel.

This is one hell of a case, though. It's stark, rugged, tough and oh-so-easy to configure. The side panel pops off and you can change or slot-in additional drives, RAM and video cards with no training. You can see why professionals love them so much. I had the use of one for a year and boy, did I love that thing too.

But the love is turning to bitterness with no significant updates for a long, long time causing many disaffected Mac-using pros to look covetously elsewhere. Tim Cook's 2012 promise of a new Pro for this year may have kept some holding true, but Apple's grasp on these pro users has not seemed so tenuous in a long time. The disastrous missteps of the introduction of Apple Final Cut X had too many pro AV users changing to other software in the interim. Final Cut X is now excellent, by the way, thanks to some urgently needed updates along the way, but the case (ha ha) isn't being helped with the Pro seeming so neglected.

Worse, the current Mac Pro can't be sold in Europe any more because it fell foul of new standards that affect the system's power and fan placement. Apple decided simply to pull the existing product from circulation than put in a redesign - bad for sales, maybe, but perhaps also a sign that Apple has a full replacement coming.

Don't get me wrong - the Pro tower is still Apple's fastest machine, but the latest MacBook Pro and iMac is almost up there. They have made great strides while the Pro has been humming quietly away on its laurels.

People who speculate on these issues reckon an all-new Pro might not need to be quite so physically towering. Thunderbolt is across the rest of the Mac platform (another omission from the current Mac Pro). Thunderbolt effectively pairs a PCIe interface and a mini DisplayPort connector - if Thunderbolt actually did take off as an interface standard, the need for lots of internal PCIe expansion on a new Pro is greatly diminished. It's possible to achieve broadcast-quality video input and output and use high-speed peripheral interfaces like Fibre Channel and eSATA with Thunderbolt adapters instead of PCIe cards. So you'd hope an Apple announcement on the Pro would rope in some of those third party providers.

If Apple also deletes the optical drive from the Pro, as it has with most other Macs, that's another space saver, but that should probably be retained as an option, considering its user base. The bays for additional drives and video cards should remain, too.

More intriguingly, CEO Tim Cook has talked about a Mac to be assembled in Texas. The Pro would be the perfect candidate as it's relatively easy to assemble, unlike the iMacs and laptops which need the dedicated, trained and experienced assembly lines that Foxconn provides.

During opening remarks to a congressional tax hearing a couple of weeks ago, Cook noted that Apple was investing US$100 million to begin manufacturing Macs in the US. Specifically, he noted that Apple's upcoming made in the USA line of Macs (a 'new model of an existing line') will be assembled in Texas and will use components sourced from Texas, Illinois, Florida and Kentucky.

I'm not sure if a Lone Star Mac Pro would hold any additional cachet, but I once had an American car, of a model that saw some limited New Zealand assembly. The fact mine was built in Wisconsin certainly seemed to make a difference as far as car fans were concerned.

- NZ Herald

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf02 at 22 Oct 2014 11:38:50 Processing Time: 290ms