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Ultrabook: Intel's $300 million plan to beat Apple at its own game (arstechnica.com)
173 points by jsnell on Sept 6, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 193 comments

> Is the MacBook Air actually an Ultrabook? Intel told us that that's up to Apple—the MacBook Air is an Ultrabook in all but name.

Riiiiight, Apple’s marketing plan is to take a successful and strongly differentiated product and then say it is interchangeable with its competitors' products. Actually, they will say it is inferior because it lacks goodies like VGA ports.

Joel Spolsky wrote a long time ago that companies like to commoditize their complements[1]. Apple wants to commoditize the CPUs and the applications, Intel wants to commoditize tablets and notebooks. Intel is going to fight like a dog in a cage to get people to think that notebooks are all pretty much the same, provided there’s an “Intel Inside” sticker plastered on the case.

Apple is not going to play along, period. Instead, they are busy trying to get people to ignore the bits and pieces inside. How much RAM is in an iPhone? Who makes it?? How fast is the CPU? Apple is working hard to make these questions irrelevant for mobile devices, and Intel’s behaviour is going to encourage them to do the same in notebooks.

I don’t see this article as being about Apple vs. the cloners. I see this article as being about Intel vs. the entire notebook manufacturing sector, with Apple being the biggest target.

[1]: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/StrategyLetterV.html

Actually, I'd argue that they're shooting for where the puck will be two years from now (possibly less?). The article doesn't quite mention it, but it sounds like Intel is seriously concerned that future MacBook Airs aren't going to be on Intel processors. If its fair to assume that Air and Air-like notebooks account for the majority of sales in the future, then Intel is staring at a massive drop in sales, two years or so from today.

I'd venture to guess that the $300 million aren't for beating Apple, but for nurturing and mentoring the company that will replace Apple as Intel's primary/flagship notebook processors customer.

No kidding.

I'm not an Apple fanboy but I use their laptop products. And according to the author, they should completely change their keyboard layout to better support UK-specific idioms (while ignoring other markets, but still keeping the production costs all under $1000 per unit), as well as to accommodate at least four new dedicated keys and a tiny mouse nipple.

That's just not going to happen.

The missing # key is annoying, although it's not the kind of thing that would make me change operating systems. Apple's chosen shortcut for the '#' character is Alt+3 which is frustrating for terminal users who use Alt as the meta key—for example, it makes it hard to enter channel names in Irssi.

Get Ukelele and change the keys' locations. I did that for #, @, \ and |.

That's what I do on my MacBook Pro. It was much more palatable than discarding years of typing experience.

I don't dispute that it works. But it does rather detract from, well, the aesthetic elegance of the machine. Apple has these fancy backlit keyboards--it's a great shame to make the keycaps wrong.

Plus, it also causes big problems when I let others use my machine. Hunt-and-peckers don't stand a chance when your keys are mismatched. Though they probably struggle even with the regular Apple layout--good luck finding # on the keyboard, since Apple doesn't deign to print it. Sure, once you know it's option-3 it's not so bad, but I don't know how you're meant to just figure that out for yourself.

And the thing is, it's all just gratuitous. Apple's layout isn't in any meaningful sense better. It's just... different.

... currently typing on a MBP with a clearly visible #, @, \ and | all reachable by merely using shift.

Is this only an issue with a US keyboard layout perhaps (I've a Dutch layout)?

It's an issue on UK keyboards.

UK keyboards on PCs have a dedicated key for #/~, " is shift-2 and @ is shift-'. £ (currency symbol) is shift-3.

On a Mac the " and @ are the wrong way round (shift-' and shift-2 respectively), and the key that should produce # instead generates \. The only way to get a # is option-3, which is not marked on the keys. The Mac "UK" layout is basically the US layout with £/# reversed.

Yawn. (Admittedly at a glance...) They still don't get it.

Apple doesn't sell spec sheets. They sell end-to-end integrated systems. A 7 second boot time doesn't mean as much when it gets me to a relentless stream of "the webpage you're at wants to open a webpage you trust - are you sure?" and other user-unfriendly operations. Total experience sells. The iPad is beating the pants of tablets with twice the specs - but half the user experience.

Intel is aiming at where Apple is now. When Intel arrives there, Apple will have moved on. Don't build what I want, build what I'm going to want a year after I buy it a year from now.

And for that $300M plan, Apple has $30,000M cash to counter it. Get in the right order of magnitude first before picking a fight.

Having spent about 1 hour installing a clean copy of Snow Leopard and then Lion, followed by a seven hour SNAFU trying to get Vista > Win 7 upgrade to work on a Boot Camp partition, the misery of Windows is fresh in my mind.

In the Apple paradigm, I click on the Lion upgrade in the App Store (it knows I already purchased it). It installs, and we're done – no reboot. Just a video tutorial on new features.

In the Microsoft paradigm, I'm digging up DVD cases to manually type product codes that require me to needlessy recreate my upgrade path and make decisions about things like 32bit vs. 64bit. It's still installing Vista I type this, and the progress bar has been stuck at 75% for about an hour. The user experience: a scaled-up 640x480 installer that has been on the "Completing installation..." step for two hours.

It baffles me why anyone would affirmatively seek out this experience. As for the Intel "ultrabooks" – more vaporware from the 1990's-era PC industry. The "rest of us" have moved onward and upward.

EDIT: Windows installer just spit the DVD out and froze. Can't move the mouse. Time to start over! (I can almost hear them: Have you tried turning it on and off again?)

EDIT 2: If anyone is following this, attempt #2 failed the same way. This is hour 10 of trying to install Vista on a clean MacBook Pro 2010.

EDIT 3: Gave up and installed a VM through Fusion. Ironically, this is easier than a native Windows install.

"This is hour 10 of trying to install Vista on a clean MacBook Pro 2010."

Have you tried installing Lion on a non-Apple notebook? You seem to be making a very unfair comparison.

Why? Are other Intel-based laptops better at installing Windows?

FYI – I've had Vista/Win7 installed on this machine before. It's a question of how horrible the process is. Typing in product codes, inserting DVDs, activation codes, warnings about anti-virus, etc.

Yes, all of them are. Apple notebooks are the worst at running Windows.

You don't have to type product codes -- you can install without one and copy/paste from a text file works fine once you're all set up. You don't have to insert DVDs, Windows installs fine from a USB stick (except on Apple notebooks, so there). Installing Microsoft Security Essentials will shut up any AV warnings.

Besides, you don't even need to install Vista to get an upgrade copy of Windows 7 working. A Google search would have told you that.

I don't get it. If my boot drive is wiped clean, what are the hardware barriers that explain the differences that you point to?

EDIT: Not sure why I'm downvoted for asking this. Can anyone advise as to what hardware issues would make a 2010 Macbook Pro more difficult to install Windows on?

The EFI firmware with "legacy" BIOS support that Apple uses. It doesn't help that Windows actually supports booting from UEFI but not the EFI 1.1 hack that Apple uses.

Thanks for pointing me to that. I wasn't able to determine the real-world impact of the limited BIOS support.

Anyway, I use Windows for exactly one thing: accessing (horrible) web apps that require IE. My original point was that the installation process is a mess from the perspective of a licensed user – Apple hardware or not.

>> Besides, you don't even need to install Vista to get an upgrade copy of Windows 7 working. A Google search would have told you that.

Win 7 won't accept my product code because it is an upgrade code. I googled it.

Good to know. Looks like a pain, though.

Editing a registry entry and typing a command in couldn't possibly be a pain to anyone on Hacker News...

Again, it's not that I can't grok it – it's that I shouldn't have to. I get no sense of pride from hacking a Windows upgrade into a clean installer. Empty victory, etc.

Also, my benchmark is the Lion upgrade. That's how it's supposed to work.

That's not true! When Vista came out the 15" MacBook Pro was the machine which had the best performance in Vista. Think a bit about that.

Installing Lion on a non Apple Mac is illegal and that's why it is so hard to do. Windows is not and should run smoothly like on every other machine.

That's not true! When Vista came out the 15" MacBook Pro was the machine which had the best performance in Vista. Think a bit about that.

Having had all this trouble, I don't believe that for a second. Turning off AHCI and not supporting USB boot in 2011 is inexcusable.

Installing Lion on a non Apple Mac is illegal

Depends on the jurisdiction. In many non-retarded ones it isn't.

Windows is not and should run smoothly like on every other machine.

It should, yes, but it doesn't.

Can you buy any of those today? No. Will they last more than six months on the market? Nobody knows. How many times have PC makers threatened some Apple Killer product that went no where. Too many to count.

Are you sure Apple even supports running Vista on a 2010 MacBook Pro? I've had a huge number of problems with Windows on an Apple computer, and I now think Apple computers are simply terrible at running Windows.

I have Win7 running on Lion, the only problem is the graphics driver that crashes every now and then. I think Vista is not compatible with Lion's bootcamp though.

I blogged about some of the problems I faced: http://monogatari.doukut.su/2011/07/my-experiences-with-appl...

I have had a similar experience. MBP is a mostly ok Windows laptop, but it's clear they want you to run Mac OS.

Some specs are more important than others - eg battery life, weight, form factor and price. Nailing a placeholder product while you figure out the reinvention prevents you from losing by default. Also I would be interested to hear what strategy you think Intel should follow to stop a future arm+apple duopoly.

Honestly? It's time to dump the "win" part of wintel. Intel simply needs to face facts: The chasm between hardcore gamers and the general computer-buying public is so wide and yawning it may as well be on another planet. Yet that is still where Intel aims with its wintel strategy: More games than on Mac. I mean, seriously, WHO CARES at this point that I can run Crysis on my netbook?

Here's a bold plan that will kill two birds with one stone: Buy Canonical, throw the bulk of your $300 Million at their development, poach/cajole/trade for every UX guru not employed by Apple, and create a killer Linux desktop OS to go along with that ultrabook. It will scream, it will run a battery all night long and beg for more, it will have no "hells" (.dll, dependency, driver, symbol, whatever "hell" is inherent in Windows and Linux), it will run a plethora of online apps and services, and it will host a complement of installed applications that take care of 95% of a mainstream consumers needs.

No need to install flash, it's already there. Need to play an .mkv file? No problem when VLC is installed by default. Netflix on demand? At your fingertip. Amazon mp3 store embedded in banshee? Sure, why not? Writing a term paper or presentation? LibreOffice to the rescue.

The thinking goes that, over time, specs of gaming PCs have been a leading indicator of where productivity PCs would be years later. More so than looking at the specs of PC servers.

Intel is already developing a linux distribution in-house.


The probable 40-50 million on Steam alone is not really a number you can ignore.

It is for these Ultrabooks ...

No, it really isn't. There's a reason Intel's integrated graphics have improved so significantly with Sandy Bridge.

Intel should make a single board that does it all. And offer it in 2-3 sizes/varieties. Dell can then just use the Intel Ultraboard and not have to worry about the hardware (CPU, GPU, RAM, Wifi, Ethernet, Audio, SSD, PCI/USB etc.) Let Dell worry about offering Pink and Magenta cases. Let Intel work with Microsoft closely so Windows 8 rocks on Ultraboard. There should be only one driver per Ultraboard and it should include the Chipset, Video, Audio, Network drivers. I never want to install Dell/HP/Asus drivers. Ever. They are all horrible across the board.

Reinstalling Windows should not take more than 15 minutes, it should require no user-interaction, and it should leave the data partition alone. The data partition is where users images/photos/videos/music go. Intel should work with MS to ensure that executables do not run from this partition. If my mom downloads a virus, she shouldn't have to call me to fix it. Hardware DEP hasn't done much to stop viruses. Intel needs to come up with hardware features to remedy root-kits without my assistance.

Intel thinks of itself as one of the hardware makers with competitors. It makes CPUs, like AMD or Samsung. It makes boards like MSI or ASUS. This is red ocean. It needs to make its own blue ocean and of all the companies in the PC industry, it is actually capable of doing that. Instead of offering $300m to others, it should put $3B into creating the single Ultraboard that any PC seller can build a case around and sell tens of millions of these. Dell can't do it. Sony can't do it. Intel can. Just like Apple did.

When Apple sells a Mac, Air or otherwise, Intel wins a bit. They're inside. Because of that, they are definitely shooting for ahead of now - to the part where Apple decides they may not need their chips.

I agree that the user experience needs to improve across the Windows 8 platform for this to really matter, but that is mainly in Microsoft's court.

For me, I like having both a Mac and PC on hand. An Ultrabook would be nice if only for the size.

Except that Apple's and 3rd-party Mac code is much much more portable. They can switch from x86 down the road in a way that Windows can not.

Please explain. Most recent Windows code is written in C# which makes portability easier but even for C/C++ code as long as the api level compatibility is maintained ( and no one frankly is better than Microsoft at that game) Windows code should be no less portable.

It might be an issue of scale but not portability. Much less software exists for Mac than does for Windows.

Well for one, Apple transitioned from ppc->intel REALLY well with Mach-o binaries and Rosetta.

Using a vm/jit isn't the only way to handle architecture changes. In addition it doesn't remove the need to handle kernel changes/etc... that the vm itself runs on. Nor does it mean that the vm and all of its underlying assumptions are valid on a new instruction set. It took java a fair amount of time to run fast on multiple architectures, I doubt .NET will fare any better.

When Windows actually manages to (again, it ran on alphas/mips/ppc and something else back in the 4.0 days) run on more than one platform I might partially buy into .NET being "portable" across windows releases and architectures. But I suspect a fair amount of things will have to change or move to new apis. Similar to Microsofts go it alone 64bit model in Windows, another architecture in the fray will force things into spaces they didn't originally expect.

Basically, I don't trust anything coming out of Microsoft until they deliver the goods. Apple has shown they can handle multiple platforms transparently, and without the need of a vm/jit. Which can help out things like battery life with caches/etc...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mach-O http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fat_binary#NeXT.27s.2FApple.27s... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta_(software)

You keep saying "without using a vm/jit" like it's something Apple did, but in reality, Rosetta is a JIT and not every Mac OS X binary for PPC was a Universal one (which, incidentally, caused a few problems when Rosetta's translation wasn't up to par, either).

Also, .NET is "portable" not just across Windows releases, but through the work of Mono large portions of it also work on Linux, and on other architectures via Linux as well -- so presumably, anywhere Mono or Microsoft's official .NET are compiled, .NET will run so long as no weird x86- or binary-specific things (like P/Invoke) are done. There are other problems with Mono, however, but those are for another discussion.

This is true that Rosetta is a JIT, but my point was more that the Mach-O binary format allows for multiple architecture binaries, therefore somewhat obviating the need for a jit.

The only use Rosetta served was running cross architecture binaries.

Mono also doesn't run the full .NET stack, e.g. think the Netflix drm components, so I can't quite consider it cross platform. Cross platform windows wise sure, but that isn't saying much.

From CES2011

The technology demonstration included Windows client support across a range of scenarios, such as hardware-accelerated graphics and media playback, hardware-accelerated Web browsing with the latest Microsoft Internet Explorer, USB device support, printing and other features customers have come to expect from their computing experience. Microsoft Office running natively on ARM also was shown as a demonstration of the full depth and breadth of Windows platform capabilities on ARM architecture.

I dont think there is reason to doubt Microsoft on API compatibility which i s what this ultimately boils down to. Windows recently ran on IA64 BTW. .NET helps but Win32 in itself is proven enough to need little more than just a recompile for porting.

I was thinking more along the lines of C/C++ WIN32 api and things like 64bit calling conventions etc... that might not remain quite the same on ARM.

There is no such issue. You dont seem to understand what you are talking about. Look up ABI. They couldnt possibly port software as big as the OS itself and MS Office / Oracle DB to Itanium without having stable C/C++ and Win32 ABI/API.

Ok fine I'm a retard.

Yeah everybody knows there's no way a C API from Microsoft could ever be a leaky abstraction. Lol.

Or that there's no way the win64 calling conventions weren't influenced by win32.

But in fact their 64bit abi on x86_64 was in fact derived from their 32bit calling conventions.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but there is an exact case of where 32bit windows on x86 directly influenced 64bit. This is what I'm talking about when I talk about other 64bit platforms may not behave the way Microsoft expects. And this directly influences c/c++ register allocation.

Though I will state, what Microsoft did for its fastcall on 32bit windows and 64bit is rather ingenious in that the same call can work on both platforms.

Right, being mainly an extension the x64 is hugely influenced by x86. The 64-bit Win32 ABI is obviously influenced too, to the point that on x64, 32-bit process is largely just a native 64-bit process with 32-bit modules loaded.

Most of the time, the differences are hidden by abstractions in the Win32 C API. The calling conventions do a pretty good job of this (especially the 64-bit ones). Still, there is a nontrivial amount of software that does need to use a few (or many) assembly instructions or interact with the CPU in low-level ways. Windows is a relatively friendly OS for applications that rely on non-standard behavior.

You can't "just port" an antivirus package. Certainly many malware samples won't run on ARM either, but many will (like .vbs). It will take time to sort all that out. In the meantime, many companies simply won't deploy Windows without AV.

There really isn't that much C# in commercial software, even from Microsoft. You might find an accounting package here or there, but first-tier apps are almost entirely C and C++ under the hood.

For example, MS Office and IE are still used primarily in 32-bit mode on 64-bit systems.

It doesn't matter how much software exists or is in use. We are talking about portability here. For. Net it is is not an issue at all and for Win32 C/c++ only a recompile is necessary. Oracle DB exists for Windows IA64 and office does for Arm. Those are proofs that like any other sane platform portability is not a big issue for Windows.

I think you don't have any idea how much it costs to port a major application like that.

Even if everything goes smoothly with the codebase, just setting up another build environment for something like ARM means installing a new compiler version and toolset. Many (or most) dev shops are stuck on 6-10 year old compilers.

You also multiply the QA regression cycle costs by some incremental factor.

There are lots of applications small and large, that to this day, don't even ship a 64-bit build.

Yes, there are some applications that have been ported. Even if you were to come up with a not-short list of them I would submit everything else in the world that has not.

I think you are confused as to what exactly we are debating here. Porting costs are real - somehow Mac software isn't magically a free port to ARM. The porting costs depend on code base, complexity, various other things. That's however not what we were debating - the debate was Microsoft has never done it and so it might be hard for them. The counter point I was making was Microsoft has been there and done that and there is no reason to believe Windows software is any harder to port to another platform than Mac Software except for the scale part - Windows just has a ton of more complicated software than Mac has had and porting "toy" Mac apps will be less of an effort than say porting a big Enterprise Windows app. However it isn't fundamentally easier or harder.

Apple's done two successful architecture changes on their desktop OS (68k->PPC->x86). Microsoft's done none.

Traditionally, MS has been very good at maintaining compatibility through different versions. Maybe they'd make an architecture change easily, but they haven't had to do so yet.

They have always supported multiple architectures - Win NT ran on Alpha, CE had ARM port, they had IA64 version of Windows server. Technically x86 to x86-64 also is a architecture change and they sailed pretty well thru it given most shipping Windows version today is 64 bit.

It's true!

I even know someone who's seen a non-x86/64 Windows system!

I am sure it doesnt exist as you sir marshray havent seen it. I must have just woken up from a dream where Windows machines running on Itanium also ran Oracle database ported to Windows Itanium.

You know him too?!

Sorry. I concede that there is a major application or three that runs on Itanium. For now. Microsoft is dropping the platform.

As for ARM all I'm saying is we'll wait and see.

Microsoft already has Windows 8 and Office running on ARM. The fact is, in both cases, supporting a different processor is a recompile away (with edge cases failing in both cases). Windows NT and NeXTStep were both supporting different processor architectures at the same time.

The big different is not technology, it's culture. Apple will happily make all your old software obsolete as long as it doesn't seriously interfere with them selling new hardware. Microsoft has the much harder job: they need businesses to buy OS licenses (that is what they sell) and those businesses have a lot of old crappy expensive software that must continue to run to make the sale.

Yes, I know Microsoft has Windows and Office running on ARM.

Wake me up when 50% of the shrinkwrapped Windows-logo compliant and hardware software sitting on store shelves runs on it at native speed.

Fun fact: Apple had OS X running on x86 since the first release (iirc Jobs dicslosed this announcing the transition to Intel processors).

That's less interesting when you know that NeXTStep (the direct predecessor to OS X) was actually released for x86.

Fun fact: Windows NT was released for PowerPC.

I'm surprised you didn't mention the great gretzky quote: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Apple is always one step ahead of the game. All their competitors are constantly trying to get to where Apple's products are, but by the time they get there, Apple has moved on to something even better.

Intel is scared about Apple becoming the dominant PC maker, especially because Apple has been using non-Intel chips in their new premier products (iPad and iPhone). My guess is that Apple's next big move is to start selling something in the laptop space that uses either the A5 processor or the next generation of it, which I guess would be called the A6. This will be huge. Intel processors are major power hogs and there's no way they can make them significantly better. Apple is poised to release a laptop with the Air's form factor that runs iOS on an A5 or A6 that Apple manufactures.

This could be an absolute coup if it happens. They will be selling something like the 11" Mac Air for between $600 and $700, possibly less. It would have sick battery life that nobody could touch. It will run all of the iPad apps, have Safari and all of Apple's Office replacement software. The best part is that nobody could compete with it, because the only way would be to also ditch Intel's x86 processor, but there's no other OS or developer ecosystem that could run on it. Maybe Android on an ARM processor. Microsoft has nothing lined up in this space. They are dead in the water.

The best part is that you don't need Jobs to make this happen. What you need is the manufacturing knowledge and capacity that someone like Cook can deliver.

Intel processors are major power hogs and there's no way they can make them significantly better.

This simply isn't true - or at least it ignores half the issue.

For their performance, Intel chips aren't powerhogs. A i5 uses a lot more power than a Tegra2/A5, but is a lot more powerful.

An Atom use a bit more power than Tegra2/A5, but is a bit more powerful.

Intel is pushing Atom down into ARM territory in terms of power usage, and ARM is moving up towards Atom - and, to the surprise of no one who knows what they are talking about - the power usage at the same level of performance is roughly the same.

Arstechnica had an excellent article about this back when NVidia started talking about their desktop ARM push: http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2011/02/nvidia-30-and-t...

A good quote:

It's also the case that as ARM moves up the performance ladder, it will necessarily start to drop in terms of power efficiency. Again, there is no magic pixie dust here, and the impact of the ISA alone on power consumption in processors that draw many tens of watts is negligible. A multicore ARM chip and a multicore Xeon chip that give similar performance on compute-intensive workloads will have similar power profiles; to believe otherwise is to believe in magical little ARM performance elves.

Intel isn't out of this game by a long shot. For example (Intel powered) Chromebooks perform roughly as well as an iPad in terms of battery life. There is little evidence that an ARM powered Airbook would do any better if it offered similar levels of performance (unless you believe in the magical ARM performance elves mentioned above).

The biggest concern Intel has is that moving down market, shrinking products and lowering margins almost never works in any industry when a disruptive competitor is moving upmarket into the same space (Innovator's Delimma).

If Intel could move down market successfully don't you think we would have seen a reasonable IA facsimile of an iPhone or an iPad after all these years?

Soon everyone on earth, except perhaps the bottom billion poorest, with have Internet access via ARM and Intel will peak at the top 2-3 billion. That's what scares the hell out of them.

ARM,as a mobile optimized architecture, will never compete on performance grounds with IA. IA is the push rod V8 of computing and ARM is the hybrid.

If Intel could move down market successfully don't you think we would have seen a reasonable IA facsimile of an iPhone or an iPad after all these years?

No, chip design doesn't work that quickly. Intel has accelerated their development program for Atom[1], but at the moment Intel doesn't have a processor that competes at the power usage of current smart phones. Atom is supposed to get there in 2012 - they are usually pretty reliable (see Intel's Tick/Tock strategy[2]), but we'll see.

They are planning to do 22nm Atoms in 2013, and 14nm in 2014. TSMC is supposed to start shipping ARM on 28nm in Q4 2011[3], but historically they are usually late. TSMC is allegedly planning a 20nm fab, but it is unclear how far off that is.

Nokia (remember them?) was signed up to do smartphones on Atom in 2012, but then they switched to WinMo (which is ARM only).

I personally don't think they'll do well in smartphone, but tablets is a whole other market.

ARM,as a mobile optimized architecture, will never compete on performance grounds with IA

That's not what nVidia think[4]. There are 32/64bit issues with ARM, but beyond that there is little in the architecture itself that means it can't compete with IA.

[1] http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4216089/Intel-rewrit...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Tick-Tock

[3] http://www.xbitlabs.com/news/other/display/20110201212245_TS...

[4] http://www.engadget.com/2011/01/05/nvidia-announces-project-...

The problem for Intel is not so much that they can't make a competitive chip, but that they can't make one at margins that will sustain their fabs.

I think it's premature to say that.

Intel has the best fabs in the world, and they can make chips as cheaply as anyone.

It is possible that at some point in the future Intel's margins won't sustain the continual investment in new fabs. That's a fair way off at the moment though.

>Microsoft has nothing lined up in this space.

Uhm, Windows-on-ARM?

Possibly. Like WP7 and "XP Tablet Edition" though, is it going to catch on?

Microsoft will make and demonstrate all kinds of stuff. I'm sure it works and is well-tested on the hardware it supports.

My job is at an ISV. We get lots of customer requests, but I've not once heard a customer request support for this thing. Nor have I heard of any other ISV building for it.

But until then, it may as well not exist.

Intel chips do not cost $300 to $400, so not sure how Apple are going to make the 11" Air that much cheaper. I guess they could skimp on the ram as well, since the iPad does not require gigabytes. But most other parts of the machine would not change.

> Apple is poised to release a laptop with the Air's form factor that runs iOS on an A5 or A6 that Apple manufactures.

I wouldn't be surprised if this A6 Air offspring ran full-blown Mac OS X.

With the Mac App Store, it's a lot easier to get Mac developers to do things like sandboxing... or supporting the ARM.

Just tell developers it's going to be required as of such-and-such a date if they want to be in the App Store. No need to tie it to OS releases anymore.

Sure, there will still be foot-dragging by major players, but enforcing a timetable for these kinds of things just got way easier for Apple.

The big thing the article misses is most people who buy PCs don't want a MacBook Air. Or rather, they don't want to pay for a MacBook Air. If they did, they'd already own one.

My cousin was just looking at laptops -- most she'll pay is $400. Even $799 is a luxury machine. Apple skims the users who are willing to pay more for intangibles. The PC market just isn't flush with users who want to pay $1000 for a laptop -- regardless of battery life and form factor. Just ask Dell and it's 10mm Adamo, which may have sold more poorly than the JooJoo.

Had the Adamo been $1000 it would have sold amazingly well. The problem was it was close to $2000.

For people who have been following the tech scene since the 80s, the evolution of the tech space is bordering on hilarious.

In the 80s, Apple was dominant in the GUI space. Windows 3.1 put a huge dent in this. By the time Windows 95 came out, Apple was essentially dead.

During all this, Intel and Microsoft had an uneasy marriage of convenience. They were dependent on each other but had clear lines of separation between hardware and software.

Microsoft tried to branch out. The original versions of NT ran on other architectures, like Alpha and MIPS. Under Steve Jobs (many may remember that Steve Jobs was only interim CEO for years after the NeXT purchase while the Apple board searched for a replacement for Gil Amelio).

5+ years ago, with a resurgent Apple in the PC space, Apple abandoned Motorla for Intel, killing the PowerPC in all but name. Microsoft had long since abandoned all the non-x86 architectures.

Intel was so dominant that they sold their low-power chip division (XScale) and seemed to have an answer for low cost computer devices in the form of the Atom as the netbook market just exploded.

Intel basically discounted any device smaller than this. So did Microsoft. Apple completely transformed the mobile space with the iPhone and then the iPad, catapulting ARM from a niche embedded product to something eating away at Intel from the bottom end, potentially threatening their entire business.

In the 90s the churn of forced obsolescence made MS and Intel a lot of money and solved a lot of problems. There were no old versions of Windows to support as the market for PCs was growing at a huge rate and hardware just didn't last that long.

Now the CPU power that the average user needs has plateaued. Any PC made in the last 5 years (maybe longer) will be fine for most people. The trend now is towards lower power and more mobility, which is why ARM is a strategic threat to Intel.

It's incredibly funny ("the ironing is delicious" as Bart would say) that Apple is now one of Intel's biggest customers while being the driver to the threat to Intel.

And now Microsoft, once an unstoppable juggernaut, just doesn't get it when Ballmer describes tablets as "just another form factor". They failed for 10 years to make tablets just another way to sell more Windows licenses. They're still kicking that dead horse with Windows 8.

All the while Apple is making money hand over fist and HP, Dell, etc are struggling to make a buck or, in HP's case, getting out of the PC business entirely.

All of these companies try to imitate Apple releasing vaguely copycat products but none of them get it. They're engaged in what I call "shotgun marketing" as they have no idea what the market wants and just fire off a shotgun blast, hoping something will stick.

Only Apple seems willing or able to put the consumer first. The Apple-haters will I'm sure violently disagree with some or all of this.

Microsoft I believe will continue a very long but now inevitable slide into irrelevance (companies that large take many years to die). The jury is still out on Intel.

The only companies that seem to have a long future ahead of them are Apple, Google and maybe Facebook.

A few nits to pick...

1) PowerPC is pretty alive and well. The Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii (U), and Playstation 3 all use PowerPC chips. There are a lot of these. IBM's Linux/AIX servers are all PowerPC and IBM incidentally makes the chips for the above game consoles as well. Not to mention the number of PowerPC chips in cars and other embedded devices dwarfs all the above in units sold.

2) Intel (probably) got out of the Xscale game not just because of hubris, but because it was necessarily enriching its competitor through licensing fees of the ARM architecture. Unless Intel could buy ARM, which it couldn't due to anti-trust, it should probably seek out a home grown solution instead of sealing its fate as another fab for ARM's designs. I'm not sure Intel didn't see the writing on the wall, it just failed to execute on a solution. Intel was probably very wary of trying to make a new architecture after the failure of the Itanium so it concentrated its efforts on a low powered x86 aka Atom. Unfortunately this was and still is a colossal failure. Intel still has no products for low powered devices and the arguments for an x86 solution are starting to fall apart fast.

3) Apple's success is a culmination of Steve Job's vision and Tim Cook's operational mastery. Apple's products before Tim Cook were beautifully designed, over priced, and under performing. Apple's product line without Steve Jobs was boring and unappealing. These last few years have been a golden age for Apple. To expect things to only get better from here would be to place all the emphasis on the company and ignore people inside it, not to mention history. I expect Tim Cook to keep Apple in a very competitive place while he's around, but companies have a tendency to lose their way. Just ask HP.

Intel apparently is still an ARM licensee: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XScale#Sale_of_PXA_processor_li...

I'm guessing the licensing fees are peanuts to Intel and probably come with patent indemnification.

Apparently ARM does list Intel as a license holder of the ARM11 and ARM7 (i.e. classic) designs. It is not listed, though, as a licensor of new Cortex designs. [1]

Note that an ARM license has both an up front fee and a per unit royalty. Without Xscale, Intel's royalty fees would be zero meaning as you say it is free to maintain going forward. I can only guess why the license didn't go with Xscale, but I see Marvell is only listed as an ARM9 license holder so maybe it just didn't want the ARM7 and ARM11 licenses.

Perhaps, too, there are other complications that come with transferring an ARM license in the contract language or patent arrangements.

[1] http://www.arm.com/products/processors/licensees.php

Regarding #1, The video game console market is in decline and has been since 2009.

Um, what do you mean by "decline"? That the rate of growth has plateaued ( http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/38279676/ns/today-today_tech/ )? Or something else?

I'm not trying to be a pissant, I just haven't heard such an opinion before.

True, but the real "alive and wellness" of the PowerPC family is in embedded devices like engine management computers for cars.

I think one of the big reasons behind Apple pulling out of PowerPC was that Intel were developing for the personal computer (and commodity server) aspects of cpu chip use and reacting to the requirements of that market, where Motorola were much more beholden to companies like Ford and Toyota and Hyundai, who wanted long-production-life products for 10year lifespan fuel injection or antilock brake systems. Apple couldn't swing power over the future development roadmap for PowerPC at Motorola in the same way that HP/Compaq/Dell managed with Intel.

That's probably because of the recession, and because the current home consoles were introduced in 2005 and 2006.

With iOS and Android devices, given their faster hardware evolution cycle compare to traditional consoles (1 year vs 8 years), it will only get worse for Nintendo. I think both Sony and MS can adapt better since they have real mobile devices.

People tend to buy consoles when they are newer. This range of consoles have been out for quite a while.

> over priced, and under performing

For me they always performed well and the reduced need for maintenance saved me a lot of time (which might equal to money for some people).

I guess it depends which timeline we are talking here.

The last few years of the PPC era saw macs that were significantly slower than their intel/amd counterparts.

PPC era saw macs that were significantly slower than their intel/amd counterparts.

This is subjectively correct. The G4 and G5 had Altivec coprocessing units which were the precursors to SIMD and GPGPU. A few apps could take advantage of it to do video processing and vector calculations but most cross platform apps(like Office or Photoshop) just didn't use it at all, putting the G5 at a severe disadvantage. Also, Intel was, sort of, cheating with their NetBurst architecture. Deeper and deeper pipelines allowed them to get higher clock speeds without adding much actual performance. Ops just sat in the queue longer, but their predictive caching algorithm was very advanced (I'll give them that). Once they got as far as they could go, clock wise, with the P4 they simply started packing more processors on the die (core duo). In fact, their saving grace came from their competitor AMD with the x86_64 extension set.

PPC had the ability to go much faster (as seen in the 3GHz X360, PS3) they just couldn't get the die smaller nor the power down. IBM had the performance advantage with their Power7 CPUs but weren't really interested in the consumer CPU market and left Apple holding the bag. Apple wanted smaller, low power CPUs for their laptops and found it in Intel. Windows compatibility (at least through VM) was icing on the cake.

Some corrections.

NetBurst was not 'cheating' by using a long pipeline to get higher clock speeds. NetBurst was purposely designed to get higher clock speeds therefore better performance. Intel thought it would get to 4 ghz, 5 ghz, 6 ghz, and beyond on NetBurst which would theoretically be better than what we have today if it had worked. Obviously it didn't.

The Core Duo was not based on NetBurst (i.e. Pentium 4). It was based on the Pentium M which was an improved Pentium 3. The Core Duo and everything that came after it are based on the old P6 architecture that started with the Pentium Pro.

Intel's saving grace was going back to the P6 and abandoning NetBurst. Intel had adopted x86_64 on NetBurst and it was worthless.

PowerPC can get smaller dies and lower power consumption just fine. In fact most PowerPC chips today are smaller and lower power than the G4 ever was. Motorola makes them all day long for automaters, defense contractors, and network device makers. The problem was Motorola's other customers didn't care about performance. Nobody wanted to run Photoshop on guided missiles.

The PPC 970 (i.e. G5) was powerful, but IBM made CPUs for big iron. When a CPU ran hotter than expected it was the mechanical engineer's problem to fix in the enclosure. IBM just didn't need to figure out how to make chips with tight operational constraints. IBM didn't have the expertise to get the PPC 970 to work in a Power Book and IBM didn't have any incentive moving forward to build that expertise.

It just so happened that Intel was in the middle of its NetBurst epiphany. NetBurst was bad. Centrino was great. The Core Duo was the future. Now Intel was talking Apple's language.

PS. IBM's POWER7 just came out in 2010. The PPC 970 that Apple called the G5 was a low power version of the POWER4.

Just like G4 and G5 had Altivec, Intel had MMX and SSE. Around the same time too, so it was not something magic for PPC.

As a owner of G3 and G4 machines, I can tell you that they were underperfoming. 7450 was slower than equivalent Pentium M (that's what was in PowerBooks and windows laptops at the time). Going back further, 466 MHz G3 couldn't keep decoding divx movie at SD resolution. 400 MHz P2 or 433 MHz celeron had no problems.

10 years ago I compared the IO performance of a 450Mhz G4 running Yellowdog Linux to a PIII 700 Mhz server running RedHat, and the G4 literally blew the PC out of water IO-wise (disk, RAM and network performance), particularly running MySQL benchmarks, though slower in raw computing speed. So it depends upon your applications I guess, and your OS.

I'm not sure how you can neglect to mention the rise of the web in this story. Up until around '96, people wanted PCs primarily to do things like write letters and later, e-mails; for this they naturally gravitated towards Windows, because that was the environment they used at the office for the same tasks.

Once the PC became primarily a web browsing platform, the OS didn't really matter anymore - this was Apple's big opportunity, and the release of Mac OS X took advantage of it. It took few years after that for the momentum to shift, and this was certainly helped by the success of the iPod which built Apple's reputation as a company that could deliver quality products.

In terms of breaking Microsoft's stranglehold on the PC business, it was definitely the web wot dun it. Of course Microsoft saw this coming - in the end though, they just couldn't fight it.

Yes. For example, if MS'd put more resources into the fight to prevent Firefox and later Chrome from becoming important (by investing more in improvements to IE) that would have threatened the twin cash cows of Office and Windows. (Windows because the demand for Windows comes mainly from the needs of the masses to run Windows apps, and the faster apps move onto the Web . . .)

Microsoft saw the risk of the web in the mid-90s, and reacted to it. But later their hands were tied by the means of antitrust, and they couldn't react aggressively enough to the emerging browsers.

Their hands were tied for bundled releases, but Microsoft could have competed head-to-head with Firefox and any other browser in standalone form if they wished.

Microsoft had long since abandoned all the non-x86 architectures.

Not quite true. MS went pretty deep in Itanium. The platform didn't sell and they eventually gave up, but they committed a fair bit to it.

MS has also long supported ARM with Windows CE. And there was a project called LongARM where MS ported Vista(?) to ARM. Also recall MS did SPOT watches and robotics among other random things. And in their biggest non-x86 move they did XBox360 using IBM processors.

And now Microsoft, once an unstoppable juggernaut, just doesn't get it when Ballmer describes tablets as "just another form factor". They failed for 10 years to make tablets just another way to sell more Windows licenses. They're still kicking that dead horse with Windows 8.

I think its a mistake to say that a "strategy" that failed 10 years ago won't work now. Apple's strategy of building the full HW/SW stack also failed in the past, but its working now. Timing and execution are both important. More than Android, I think Windows8 will be the big iPad tablet competitor.

>More than Android, I think Windows8 will be the big iPad tablet competitor.

My probability of that happening in the consumer space is fairly low unless Windows8 comes to be able to run snappily on tablets whose exterior does not get hot to the touch. (The exterior of the iPad never gets hot to the touch.) And my probability that MS (and Intel) will achieve that is fairly low because my probability is fairly low that MS and Intel (considered a single entity cooperating to expand into the consumer tablet market) will come to understand and take the "heat factor" sufficiently seriously.

But IMHO even if Windows8 tablets (as I expect) will get hot to the touch, Windows8 tablets will probably eventually succeed in mostly expelling the iPad from the enterprise (because employees have much less freedom to choose their hardware than consumers do and will tend much more strongly to put up with hot external surfaces).

Shouldn't the hot exterior eventually be the same as short battery life?

Windows 8 will run on ARM.

Thanks. If I'd known that, I would not have bothered writing grandparent.

I appreciate your comment much more than the original article. The author spends nearly the first half of his piece whining about how the keyboards from Apple aren't to his liking rather than talking about the main point. Your commentary on its own made for a much more succinct and interesting read.

If the author doesn't make it abundantly clear why he is rejecting the Apple product he will get 290845243 comments saying "just buy an Air".

And he's right about the keyboard. Personally I'm screwed because I use dvorak - I'll never have a decent UK map (except on Linux). On the bright side, having the wrong symbols on them makes the keys in question blend in with all the others.

I will just add one thing.

It's true that most people don't use (or even know) Windows Phone 7, but I have talked with several that do and they are really happy with that system. Judging only subjectively - and only from reactions from others - Microsoft maybe "got it" with mobiles this time.

Regardless of whether WP7 is any good (and it seems like it is), it's pretty clear Microsoft has no idea how to sell phones. One has to wonder if they'd named it something other than "Windows Phone" (which makes people think of the terrible OS before WP7), if they'd be having more success.

> Only Apple seems willing or able to put the consumer first.

Ironically, the story began with a note on how Apple puts the UK consumer last.

Yeah -- but one which I totally don't buy. It takes me all of 2 minutes to adjust to the transposed @ and " characters and back again, and I'd never even noticed the difference with Return before now. Feels like the author's just setting up a straw man to make the lack of a non-Apple ultraportable seem like it matters.

Except that your perception of Apple putting the consumer first is just an indicator of how well they've hidden the fact that they're actually putting Apple first. Steve & Jony are designers first and they try their hardest never to cut corners. Steve & Tim are businessmen out to make a buck or a billion, too. It just so happened that the confluence of their design and business processes lead to a highly profitable supply chain.

> your perception of Apple putting the consumer first

Not my perception. See the second line of my above comment.

if the PC makers want to make a successful air replacement, they have to realize that apple makes their designs clean and small by sacrificing things. you can't support all the legacy PC hardware all the time. the supposed ultrabooks i've seen posted on engadget this past week still have VGA ports, ffs. that's not a thin & light component. also, 1366x768 needs to die in a fire.

Funny to see this in the news today after yesterday I scoured stores all day looking for a good PC laptop for school (with a few models already in mind), determined to end up with a PC and not a Mac (for software reasons), and eventually caved for a Macbook Pro anyway. It's true that there is no good middle-ground PC laptop with potential for performance and efficient design, most models I looked at were over-sized tanks. The industrial design language was mostly just carelessness. I wish Intel luck with this venture. They seem to share the same frustration as I.

In regards to this Brit, it sounds like his only option is to just keep using his Thinkpad if he wants to stay happy. Such inflexibility.

Maybe I'm crazy... But why are puerile still trying to catch up with Apple? Go off in a new direction. Integrate the PC into the home entertainment system like thirty promised all those years ago.

Give me a tower I can hook up to a 1080p TV, give someone a million dollars to create a lap board that doesn't suck, and give me a wireless kbm to set on a desk somewhere in case I want that experience.

Also, give me a wireless touch monitor, that can double as a tablet in the house, or even a smart remote for my home entertainment system. Maybe even let me access my data over wifi... But that's just aiming high for a first generation product. Anecdotal evidence tells me most ipad owners don't even take them out that often.

And if I can think of this, someone at these companies can think of something even better than "follow the leader."

My main takeaway from this article is to be glad to be from the US vs. UK; almost all of his concerns were UK specific (crappy Apple UK keyboard layout; bad websites for UK products).

The websites don't seem to be a UK specific problem; dell.com offers me the same kind of annoying choice between "Design and Performance", "Everyday Computing" and "Thin and Powerful". Plus there's the stupid home/business distinction which offers even more options...

Also, does anyone else find the apparently marketing-led commandment to describe all laptops as 'less than 1" thin' (rather than the more usual "thick") incredibly awkward?

I guess I've followed thinkpads long enough to know 1) the "X" series is the small fast kind, T-series is the normal kind, W kind is workstation-type, and the rest can be ignored and 2) all non-apple non-thinkpad laptops can be safely ignored.

The Dell Precisions are, or at least were, huge and ugly, but very very solid performers with ultra hires screens. Think MacBook Pro made by Dell.

I carted one around for ages, and it ran like a tank. Awesome machine.

There's at least one other option not in the ignore pile.

That's true -- I was tempted by them (and they came with trackpoints, too). Also there were specific models of HP which were nice, and some of the Sony laptops were "ultrabook" before the macbook air. But, in general, only the thinkpad is consistently good, and only the T/X/W category.

The keyboard problem is actually a really easy one to solve, with a modicum of forward planning: order your laptop off their website, and specify the US keyboard layout. £ and € are still easy to type, so there's no reason not to.

I don't know why Apple has this option, but their UK keyboard is atrocious, so I'm not complaining. (I've never met anybody else who's taken them up on this offer, but I suppose it must be at least somewhat popular...)

Once your laptop has arrived, you don't need to use the website again, which solves the other problem.

I don't understand the point of this article. It could have benefited from some editing by someone who knew more about the subject.

On the first page, the author complains about having to type 'our' instead of 'or' for some British spellings, key mapping requirements, inclusion of the TouchPad but exclusion of a TrackPoint (keyboard nipple), Macbooks not having dedicated home/end/page up/down keys (which is just function + each arrow key, and should not really require four extra dedicated buttons), Bootcamp not being good enough to run multiple versions of Windows, etc...

I can't speak to the # symbol being on a different key, but the author complains about not having the return key taking 3 spots instead of two. And framing that as some kind of US-centric thing!

Plenty of keyboards designed for the US use a giant return key, and others do not. It's a design and user choice issue which optimizes for space, not some conscious US-centric, ignoring-international-design-standards type of decision.

I was following along until he said he loved the TrackPoint. No one who uses one of those can be taken seriously.

Why? I like them: they're much more precise, in my experience, than trackpads. And I say this as someone with MacBook who, if he could get one with a nipple mouse, would.

I use an Air as my primary dev machine. I love it, but my allegiance has nothing to do with OS X. In fact, I would kill for a laptop with Air's form factor that was running Ubuntu as the primary OS.

i'm awaiting the asus ux21 (and wondering why the article didn't even mention it, as it was, i believe, the first laptop to be shown in the new "ultrabook" category):


linux and other operating systems on the newest macbook air are currently being held up by a bug in the intel video driver (https://bugs.freedesktop.org/show_bug.cgi?id=39533) but all of the other hardware should work fine under ubuntu (http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1810275).

The Air runs Ubuntu pretty well. I only saw OS X on my 2010 11" on the initial boot and never since :-)

How's the battery life compared to OSX?

Slightly worse, I get about 3-4 hours.

I am in this exact same situation. Looking forward to the influx of 'Ultrabooks.'

I would prefer to run Ubuntu as well. Unfortunately it looks like Optimus support won't be coming soon, so I'm starting to lean towards biting the bullet and switching to OS X.

(Regarding premium PCs):

Dell, with the purchase of Alienware and with its in-house XPS brand, and HP, which bought VoodooPC, have both tried to carve out premium niches. At one time or another, both of these bought-in brands were producing gaming-oriented hardware. Though this makes some sense—PC gamers tend to have relatively high hardware demands, and so aren't going to be satisfied by bargain basement prices—but it also leaves the products marginalized, with styling that's not exactly mainstream (especially in Dell's case) and website promotion that leaves them segregated.

This is so true. I want a good looking laptop that doesn't look like a Macbook. Gaming laptops are horrible, but I want the features.

HP has some reasonable looking laptops, and so does Samsung, but both fall into the "make a nice case then cover it with stickers" thing. I realize they get paid for it, but please! I'd pay $50 for no stickers...

I'd peel those stickers off for you, for $49.

There's something that gets missed in most of these discussions, and it makes me think that no one will be able to stop Apple's growth for many many moons. I don't know if there's a particular business word for this, but for me, it's 'trust'.

When buying a Macbook, I know I'll be able to get parts and service for it - often from a local Apple store - for several years. If I buy a Dell N5040 today, and need service for it 2 years from now, will I be able to get it? Dell's got a reputation for good service for businesses, but that's because they're paying a lot extra for service contracts and such.

Looking at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dell_Inspiron then looking at http://www.dell.com/us/p/inspiron-laptops - I don't see some of the Dell models on the Wikipedia site (granted, they may not be 100% up to date all the time) but I also see a long litany of model variations, none of which inspire much confidence in me. With all the differing parts that change between models, will Dell even be able to get the same parts for my model in, say, 3 years?

Some of this is just trust in the brand - I know Apple's changed their macbook lineup several times, but rarely enough to warrant an entirely new name change - usually just spec upgrades. There's a certain amount of trust I and many other friends seem to have in Apple because of the simplicity of the product line. Yes, it's better for Apple as well, to streamline cost/operations, but from my standpoint simpler == less cognitive dissonance. I say this as someone who grew tired of building my own desktops years ago, speccing out parts (and trying to find linux drivers for them during my linux years), and have gone more mobile. There's usually far less "build it yourself" in the laptop world, so you go with what's available from manufacturers. Apple's models have a consistency between them and over time which builds confidence in the brand itself, not just any one particular model.

Trying to compete on specs with new models being introduced quarter to quarter will not work - Apple competitors need to rethink their long term strategy if they want to win back customers. I still run Windows sometimes, but I don't need a dedicated Windows machine from HP/Lenovo/Dell to do it on, and I'm not sure what would ever get me back to that camp.

Would I pay a 'premium' price for a Lenovo? Possibly, but there's gotta be a bigger faith in the brand, and I don't have that right now.

> Would I pay a 'premium' price for a Lenovo? Possibly, but there's gotta be a bigger faith in the brand, and I don't have that right now.

Maybe you just didn't know, but the ThinkPad brand is highly respected in the business world for its quality and service (the latter of which IBM continues to provide).

I do know that. The article didn't seem to be talking about business-level stuff as much as non-business-focused decisions.

I did mention that Dell is used a lot by businesses for service, and I know many companies that go with Dell just because of the service. That's largely out of the realm of most consumer-level experiences with the Dell brand (my grandparents never had a Dell repairman show up to fix the hard drive, and I'm not sure Dell even had an option to pay $$$ to get someone to come out).

Also, I was speaking as an individual consumer - I could have said 'Dell' instead, but in both cases the issue's the same for me. As a consumer, my experiences with HP, Compaq and Dell have been pretty abysmal over the past decade, and I'm not hearing about any fundamental shifts in their businesses that would increase my faith that I'll have a better experience with their products in the future. A spec sheet touting low-power chips, increased wi-fi coverage, lighter screens, etc - none of those will bring me back as a consumer. For businesses, they'll pay a premium for top-notch support (and they do - Dell/Lenovo/others). For consumers, we don't really seem to be given this option.

This is just plain wrong. Dell sells warranties with in-home repair. Please stop spreading FUD.


I don't know anything about Dell, but Lenovo certainly offers business-level customer service to consumers. You can purchase a warranty plan (which I have) that will bring a Lenovo repairman to your doorstep within 24 hours.

"When buying a Macbook, I know I'll be able to get parts and service for it - often from a local Apple store - for several years. If I buy a Dell N5040 today, and need service for it 2 years from now, will I be able to get it?"

There's one other thing you're getting: resale value. I wrote a piece on how to buy a Mac: http://jseliger.com/2010/11/01/how-to-buy-a-mac/ and should probably write another on how and why to sell them. I first bought a PowerBook in 2004 and sold it for about 40% of its original value three years later, at which point I bought an iMac, which I sold about a year ago for half its value. My parents were amazed that computers could hold any kind of value at all; part of the reason Macs retain their value is because Apple doesn't sell really cheap Macs, but the other part is simple: buyers can actually figure out a) what configuration you're selling, b) its approximate age, and c) its approximate value. If you're selling a random Dell or HP with a string of numbers and letters after it, most people can't tell if you're selling a computer you bought six months ago for $3,000 or a computer you bought six years ago for $400. You can reinstall the OS quickly and easily.

Basically, no one save (to some degree) Lenovo with Thinkpads has any kind of brand recognition.

The extra one that should be mentioned (but only for used Macs, I suppose) is "what was the latest Mac Apple dropped support for in OS X, and how much newer is the Mac you're looking at?" I hear with Lion they burned the Intel Core Duo (i.e. 32-bit) CPU Macs. Which are probably still pretty solid machines if you get some other OS running on them.

When buying a Macbook, I know I'll be able to get parts and service for it - often from a local Apple store - for several years. If I buy a Dell N5040 today, and need service for it 2 years from now, will I be able to get it?

That has never crossed my mind. I always just assume I can get anything on the internet. And largely this is true. For pretty much any machine I have, even custom built ones, I can easily replace everything within a week or so.

While there are many positive stories about Macs on the internet, I wonder how close to reality that is.

I only have one experience - a 3 month old Macbook's USB ports all stopped working. I went into the nearest Apple store and they said it had "water damage". There was no sign of water damage anywhere around the ports, and when I opened up the laptop there was no sign inside.

When I asked how they knew, I was told they "had a method of testing", which they were not going to share with me, and that was that.

Sounds horrible. Did you try another store in case they'd make a different decision?

often from a local Apple store - for several years. If I buy a Dell N5040 today, and need service for it 2 years from now

Don't care. A decentish laptop runs $500-700 these days. In two years it's better to just throw it away and get a newer one with better specs for the same.

Sure my 5 year old MBP runs fine...but can I actually run anything on it but basic web browsing these days? Not really. So it sits in the corner collecting dust unless I need to break it out for random page testing.

This is nonsense. It's buying into the Apple mythology. Having supplied Dells at a previous company, yes, they stock parts for several years. They're reasonable PCs for the price point, but the build quality isn't great. At least with a dell you have the option of servicing it yourself - I've got half an office of mac users here who aren't too keen with the lead times on Genius Bar servicing. They all (well, mostly all) love Apple gear, but their stories about getting service are actually pretty mundane.

I say this as someone who grew tired of building my own desktops years ago, speccing out parts (and trying to find linux drivers for them during my linux years), and have gone more mobile.

Building your own PC these days is nothing like it used to be. Buy mobo+cpu+ram, buy gpu if you're a gamer, done. Everything pretty much just works together, not like the old days. Pretty much everything is on the mobo. Linux supports almost everything these days, too - almost gone are the days when you had to chime in with 'ah, but does it support linux?'

Would I pay a 'premium' price for a Lenovo?

I would. I love their laptops. They take a licking and keep on ticking. Unfortunately the dream run came to an end recently - I bought an x201 and the screen is absolutely woeful. The viewing angle is so narrow that I can't watch a movie without some of the blacks being wrong, despite sitting square in front of the screen. It's not so bad with non-blacks, but with the light bleed and visual angle issues... ugh...

My experience with Apple service has always been exactly mundane as it should be. I turn up and show them the device -- no receipts or other documentation -- and 2 minutes later, they tell me it'll be repaired by tomorrow under warranty.

I recently tried to get service for an Acer netbook power supply that just fell apart, and ended up being told that they couldn't be sure I hadn't broken it deliberately, I'd have to send everything (PSU and netbook) back to them, and then they'd decide whether I was going to be charged. Worlds apart.

"they stock parts for several years"

I have some experience buying servers from Dell and I gotta say that I don't believe their hype about being supplied with parts long term. We got hosed pretty bad when we couldn't buy power supplies. Their sales staff refusal to treat the place I worked as an educational institution (2 year accredited college) was just icing on the cake.

I guess the story is that service in most places kinda sucks. The mac guys in my office report losing their laptops - their business machines - for several weeks for what should be simple repairs (hard drive replacement and the like), with no replacement offered.

There was a study on laptop repairs done a year ago or so, reported on Slashdot, that said the repair rate was the same for Dell and Apple, both of which were the middle of the pack. The best laptops in terms of repair rate were Asus, Toshiba, and one other I can't remember - I don't think it was Lenovo. I can't recall who was the tailender for that study, either, sorry.

I can also say that while Toshiba make nice laptops, when you need support you really need a crowbar to get them to help you if you're out of warranty - they won't even talk to you (even "Where can I find a link to a manual" simple stuff) until you pony up money beforehand. At least that was the case ~5 years ago or so in Aus.

Nope, that's not laptops - it was specifically a laptop study.

The slashdot story may have been representing this article, but I honestly can't recall http://www.engadget.com/2009/11/17/laptop-reliability-survey...

...x201 ... screen is absolutely woeful.

x220 screen is supposed to be nice. I'll know in a week.

Apple might eventually place an A chip, maybe A6 on it's MacBook air, if intels upcoming ivy bridge doesn't live up to it expectation, which I doubt it won't, the new 3d transistors are awesome! The pressure that apple has placed on intel is quite serious and I thank them for that to long has intel made power hungry chips!

This ultra books are meant to compete against tablets which are growing quite fast and where intel has no solution yet afaik, I say take that 300 million dollars and invest in even more efficient and powerful architectures that could be placed in tablets and smartphones!

Ultrabook? They couldn't think of a better name? Sounds straight out of the early 2000's.

Would you have preferred them to name it after some river you've never heard of?


The Toshiba Portege has been out for a while and can compete with the macbook air right now. It's expensive but gets the job done.

That's a good point, and you can get one below $800 (Core i5), although I doubt it's thin enough to meet the ultrabook spec. But some of what they are aiming at is styling, no? Have only seen it in pictures, but it didn't make me think of a MacBook Air. It wasn't beautiful.

I'm guessing even if they do make a laptop like the Air it will probably come preloaded with a ton of crapware that nobody wants, utility programs that take over functions I would rather have Windows maintain, and lots of stickers telling consumers what features it has that will inevitably become obsolete.

The gratuitous variety of models offered by PC manufacturers is definitely a problem. If I'm confused by all the overlapping options I can only imagine how difficult this must be for non-technical people to understand. Apple is careful to steer you through two or three meaningful choices instead.

Anyone know where to find a laptop with a screen with something x 900 resolution, 8G RAM, and a non-crazy markup for an SSD? Preferably without various other upgrades that drive the price to $2000? Thanks for any tips.

A used Vaio Z.

Don't Macbook Air's run on intel chips?

You gotta love the concept of a company's main CPU supplier actively paying the company's competitors to build a clone. I can't help but think the new ARM (> 4 Gb memory) and Microsoft's plans for Windows 8 got Intel a little nervous.

Perhaps today, but Intel might be getting a little nervous about the A4 and the A5

Ah, it will be the PPC -> x86 mess all over again. Can't wait!

Apple seems to be getting better at this: The transition from 68k to PPC was a nightmare. The transition from PPC to x86 was surprisingly smooth.

I bet the next one will be close to seamless.

They had already had NEXTSTEP running on 68k, SPARC (I think) and i386 before Apple bought NeXT. Architecture independence has been baked in all along.

HP-RISC also. The old compatibility guide was kinda big to get faxed to you.

I couldn't agree more! I ended up settling for a Dell XPS laptop instead, although I was contemplating buying a macbook pro and hope to get comfortable on it. I am glad I didn't go ahead with it, there are so many such simple but significant differences in a mac that just don't seem to justify spending time trying to get comfortable with a machine when I can easily get a better one at half the price and not have to spend any effort on getting comfortable with it.

Ok, the OEMs offer such customizability that it hurts margins and offers a silly customer experience.

But they might have chased this model for a more complex reason than "all these companies are idiots."

Maybe OEMs found, with the ubiquity of components, that if they don't compete with customization, they invite competition from homebuilt PCs, or PCs built and shipped out of some guy's basement. Maybe they're walking an awkward tightrope which Apple avoids by making its own OS.

I'm constantly amazed at how these companies spend all their time, energy, and money on copying Apple, or trying to catch up to Apple.

Maybe throw all those resources at innovating?

Lenovo's Thinkpad T420s does a pretty decent thin-and-light (under 4 lbs.) for Macbook Air prices, with a bigger screen:


To the point of the author, the only difference between all the different types of T420s series systems is CPU and GPU. Why list all the other components in a list when they are all exactly the same?

Our organization bought several of these shortly after release. All of them developed a serious crack in the top of the enclosure around the trackpad (a bit right off-center) within a month. Some also have hairline cracks on the right side. The wireless drivers were also incredibly problematic upon release until they were updated.

If you are comparing a T series with a MacBook Air I can tell you have never actually touched or picked up a MacBook. You should really visit one of the stores and check them out.

Makes sense. Intel would certainly want people to use PC laptops that use intel chips throughout, rather than Apple computers that use intel chips throughout.

Don't interrupt, it's on a website, it must make sense somehow.

So Apple should accommodate your special layout and your mouse nipple, and yet the PC manufacturers that do so should change and standardize their systems. I don't get it.

I once heard or read "competing with a rival gets you nowhere at best you're equal, to succeed you have to be better you have to excel beyond what they do."

Any startups thinking of using this as an opportunity to get funded by Intel and break into the computer hardware industry?

Okay, so there is one customer who is buying this new Anti-Airbook... Any others??? Don't think that there are many people searching, and I quote, "to find a 13" MacBook Air that isn't made by Apple." You have to just laugh this off...

Oh, I don't know. Not anti-, exactly, but... I'm typing this on a 13" Macbook Pro. But I have bootcamp installed to play games, and I often use remote desktop to other machines -- I'd certainly be open to buying an ultrabook. I like the more common PC key arrangements better (particularly home, back, and delete keys, rather than just a delete key).

He's right, though, that's it's difficult to even find competitive machines in that space; I've been looking. I'll probably wait a month or two and see what (if anything) develops, then give up and buy a Macbook Air.

I like the more common PC key arrangements better (particularly home, back, and delete keys, rather than just a delete key).

In case you don't know, FN+Left/Right Arrow gives you Home/End and FN+Up/Down Arrow provides Page Up/Down. Unfortunately, Apple removed these key markings a few years. And FN+Delete provides Forward-Delete.

Yeah, I know, but having to hit FN isn't as convenient. Thanks, though.

Remap your F12 to forward delete, and the right modifier keys to home and end.

I've spent 20 hours this week trying to find an Air that isn't made by Apple, with the additional requirement of it having good Linux compatibility. I'm giving up and going with an Asus EeePC, I think.

I'd love to ditch my 13" MBA for a comparable PC, with Windows-friendly keyboard and chipset/video drivers.

I am waiting for someone to make a great notebook with detachable keyboard. It's a notebook. It's an ipad. It's a notepad.

Asus has one.. Or you could go for some of the tablets with docking station...


Someone should remind him the original Macbook Air came out in Jan 2008. The PC industry isn't even trying to catch up with Apple anymore. They're trying to catch to where Apple was three and a half years ago. It's like the iPhone all over again, but this time applied to laptops.

Every time I think about Wintel laptops, I'm reminded of this piece:


(summary: people buy things with more knobs and lights because the illusion of control gives them the impression that it is more powerful)

My Toshiba Satellite has five LEDs in a row on the front. Three of them are on continuously (one turns orange, I think, when it sleeps). One represents hard disk activity, though Task Manager's I/O graph is vastly more useful. One of them has never turned on. I have no idea what it's for. It has an icon above it that sort of looks like a piece of paper. I'm sure someone at Toshiba thought it was a good idea to forgo the anti-reflective screen coating in favor of a few more LEDs. "Consumers will love all the extra power afforded by the paper-light!" he said.

I'm sure someone at Toshiba thought it was a good idea to forgo the anti-reflective screen coating in favor of a few more LEDs.

I don't think it's missing anti-reflectivity. My Toshiba seems to have an extra-reflective screen. Something about making contrast better for watching movies on it in the dark. shrug

> One of them has never turned on. I have no idea what it's for. It has an icon above it that sort of looks like a piece of paper.

Totally off-topic, but have you happened to start a print job on your machine and look at that light on Windows? That's my closest guess.

I think it might actually represent the built-in SD reader, which at least makes sense, though it's still useless to me.

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