Thursday, January 12, 2006

Apple MacBook Pro and new iMac: the first Intel Macs

MacWorld Keynote Announces x86 iMac & Laptop, via Slashdot

Resized image of the MacBook Pro

As you can see, the new Apple laptop, the MacBook Pro, looks very similar to what's basically its predecessor, the PowerBook G4. It, along with the new iMac, is the first computer deployed by Apple using an Intel x86 chip.

Now that we have Apple computers using x86 chips (and OS X written to run on x86 hardware), it should be possible to use Windows and OS X on the same computer. (I believe that people have done this before, but this should make it a lot easier - ie. eventually the "average" user could do it, even.) I can't see Apple selling OS X to non-Mac hardware, but I imagine that with a bit of modifying you could install Windows onto the new x86 Macs. It's an interesting idea, and we'll have to wait and see if anyone pulls it off. If this happens, I'll certainly be a lot more interested in picking up one of these MacBooks to replace my existing laptop (when I finally get around to it). Though at this stage they look nice enough to replace it anyway, since I've given up completely on the idea of gaming on a laptop: it's too expensive, and doesn't last for long.

The other thing that interested me about the MacBook is that it's the first mainstream laptop using a dual-core processor. (I could be wrong here, but I've never heard of one before.) Apple is playing the new "Intel Core Duo" chip up a fair bit (presumably it won't be available outside a Mac for a while yet, if at ever), quoting for example a 2.2x increase in "playing speed" (I assume this means framerate) on Doom 3 compared to a 1.67Ghz PowerMac G4.

Something else that is in my opinion incredibly cool is the new "MagSafe" power connector.

The MagSafe connector.

Brilliant idea if you ask me. Basically, the connector is attached by a magnet (I assume they've done everything necessary to ensure that it doesn't cause any of the usual magnet + hard disk = bad problems), which means that if someone trips over it, a lot less damage occurs. I don't usually have problems with people tripping over my power cord, but I guess some people do.

Some other things that aren't unique to the MacBook but certainly good ideas for laptops are the optical sound jack built-in, and the backlit keyboard. (I assume that you can disable backlighting.) Something else interesting that I would probably want to disable - but it would certainly be good to see how well it worked - is the automatic screen brightness adjustment. The MacBook detects the amount of ambient light and adjusts the brightness accordingly, assumedly to save your eyes and battery life. The scrolling trackpad seems nice too - you get similar functionality to the trackball on a Mighty Mouse - by putting two fingers on the trackpad instead of just one, and dragging around. However, they still have one mouse button on the trackpad. Apple fans always seem to say "the default mouse has only one button, but it will work with any USB mouse" - but why bother? The "simplistic" argument is pretty much obsolete, as most people using Macs are computer-literate enough to differentiate between left and right-clicking.

Oh, and the MacBook comes with all of Apple's "media centre" stuff - Front Row, their Windows MCE equivalent (it's basically just added on to OS X), including a remote, and built in iSight (webcam) with omnidirectional microphone.

Something that I'm still looking for that none of the "build it yourself online" companies offer, at least to my knowledge: a Dvorak keyboard. I'm mainly looking at this for a laptop. The reason is that most laptop keyboards are specific to that model - often not even different similar models from the same company share keyboards. This means that a Dvorak keyboard is something best done by the manufacturers. There is certainly no difficulty in implementing this that doesn't already exist with the customer being able to choose their processor, RAM etc; it's not like the keyboard is soldered onto the motherboard. (I've replaced my laptop keyboard three times.) Probably an easier way of doing this is just for someone to develop a standard form factor for a keyboard, so I don't have to look all over eBay to find a replacement keyboard for my laptop. Dell won't give me one (or even let me buy one).

The tech specs page for the MacBook is fairly extensive, and provides a number of interesting snippets of info that aren't as obviously "promoted" as the other features. First, there's a lithium-polymer (LiPo) battery, not lithium-ion (Li-ion). Lithium-polymer (technically, lithium ion polymer) batteries are newer than regular lithium-ion batteries as they can be modelled in a much wider variety of shapes, unlike Li-ion which is generally conformed to the "brick" shape. This is one technique that it seems Apple have used to keep the MacBook thin - the battery is thin, but quite wide and square. (See this picture of it on the Apple website.) Also, the MacBook comes with a DVI to VGA adapter - there is no VGA output on the computer. It comes with built in gigabit ethernet, FireWire, Bluetooth and 802.11g WiFi. Finally, it uses a SATA hard disk which can be from 80 to 120GB.

Dammit, I want one.. unfortunately, one of the areas that Macs have traditionally suffered in is price. Apple Store Australia is currently selling the MacBook for $3200 (~US $2400) or $4000 (~US $3000), depending on which flavour you choose. The US store sells them for $2000 or $2500, which as you can see, means we don't really get the best price, and end up being out-of pocket $400 or 500 USD (AU$530 - 670). Stupid currency.


donavon said...

I'm looking for a better QWERTY keyboard for the 17" MacBook Pro. You would think with all of the extra real estate that Apple would have given us a decent keyboard with dedicated Page Up/Down, Home and End keys. How are you supposed to program when you constantly are reaching for the "Fn" key?

splintax said...

Never realised that. That does seem like a pain in the ass - particularly since there's that unused space to the left and right of the keyboard.. :-(

Robert Carpenter said...

A standardized laptop keyboard would be great but I think that the idea is impossible. With so many manufacturers around the world making so many different sizes of laptops you would be hard pressed to find one that makes most people happy enough to use it.

However I can see the benefit. Imagine buying a laptop from ebay and then buying a new 'universal laptop keyboard' from your local computer store. Then I would not have to zoom in on the pictures of a laptop keyboard to determine if it has the non letter keys in the correct places (Home, PgUp, Ctrl, Alt, Del ....). As a programmer myself I get into hight-speed text editing habbits that are extreemly hard to break and re-engineer. The location of the \| key on a PC is utterly goes above the enter key, below the backspace -- NOT next to the spacebar (bad dell....).

splintax said...

It wouldn't even have to be a standardized key layout - just a standardized shape and connection so that any keyboard could be replaced with any other keyboard. You could buy one with a different layout if you didn't like the one that came with your laptop.

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