New hardware from Apple – SSD is there, but Mac OSX not so ready


Last Wednesday Apple announced brand new hardware putting two new Macbooks Air to their product line. Both models are insanely gorgeous and with two different screen real estates. Here you have a comparison for those two models. Both are aluminum and glass and crazy thin and lightweight. Actually, 11-inch model might be seen as a netbook done right in my humble opinion. Below what they are abandoned in comparison to the prior Macbook Air models:

  • No keyboard backlit
  • No black bezel around the screen
  • No SD card slot in 11-inch model (comparing to Macbook Pro)
  • By default, no spinning hard drive option — only SSD drives
  • SSD drives are soldered to the motherboard
  • Slower system bus (800MHz) — not sure about prior models yet

Some above mentioned things are actually good, like no spinning hard drive, but for instance lack of keyboard backlit is kinda step back. We will see in the next models if those are going to come back to the line.

New Macbook Air

Lets focus on the SSD drives which are now the only one option. It is of course very good that Apple is moving toward SSD, because they have a lot to say on the market where the price is taken into account. They sell a lot of devices with flash memory (iPads, iPods) that is why they can negotiate price and maybe SSD drives might become cheaper in the future. Other laptop manufacturers seeing this rapid move, might also start to implement SSD to their products and than drive the market. I do really want to buy SSD, but now it is expensive. Because all the components in the brand new Macbook Air models are hard soldered to the motherboard, if you want to be ready for the future, lets say 3 years ahead, you better buy the most higher model which is 13-inch with 256 SSD drive and 4GB of RAM. That is my recommendation.

However, I have some concerns about it. First, because all parts are tightly integrated inside the chassis, what about repairs? Is it for instance possible to swap only the SSD drive without swapping the whole motherboard? We do not know, at least so far. Second thing is the SSD hardware itself. SSD is very power efficient and very fast, however again, Mac OSX did not implement any technology to optimize and protect the SSD drives — they are work in a completely different way than the traditional ones. For example, only Windows 7 got something to deal with the structure of the flash memory hard drive and it is so called TRIM technology. Mac OSX does not anything like that, that is possible that your SSD drive might be slower in the future as you have been using it or fail ahead of the declared MTBF time. Additionally, Mac OSX has been known for a special file system area, where it is been storing so called “hot files” and grabbing those files much more frequent than other — drilling in this case a potential “hole” in your flash memory cells. I am not an expert at this stuff, but I am just assuming that might be an issue. Of course, you have to always justify and say that 2M MTBF hours is enough to do not worry about all of these things. Sure, it is just a technological debate. What is actually good about SSD drives is that are incredibly fast and power efficient? They have no spinning and mechanical parts and are much more lightweight than the traditional HDD. Apple soldered the SSD flash drive into the hardware, making it different, because the actual flash chips are not caned to the metal chassis, but instead just mounted without it. It is neat and allowed Apple to make thiner machine.

Certainly, new Macbooks Air are very interesting products, but if you want to use it longer, opt for the highest model. Of course, if you do not care about the performance and portability is your main concern you may like 11-inch model. You mileage may vary.

Lion OSX

Second big thing announced on the Apple’s event was next version of Mac OSX code name “Lion”. They showed us little sneak-peak of the upcoming release of our beloved operating system. During the presentation they did not show so much, mostly some eye candy feature, but what was actually significant, now Mac OSX is getting some features which are implemented in the devices like iPod or iPad and something like App Store for Mac! The last one is a big change and might drive software developers to produce more stunning apps for a Mac. More words about  it later in the article. Steve showed us a nice circular slide about the natural ecosystem, where it natural, that Apple borrow a lot from Mac OSX to their i-devices, learnt a lot and now those UI features are getting back to the Mac. Nice and very neat concept! You have to watch the entire show here. They did not show anything about the guts of the upcoming Mac OSX release. One of the feature is something called “instant on” known the iPhone and iPad. It gives you ability to constantly save the state of the application and when you quit the laptop or close the lid, the app will be app and running exactly in the same state when you left it closing the lid or quitting the app. This actually might be very interesting, but again together with SSD/RAM soldered to the hardware might have some impact on the performance. Writing constantly to the disk, might not be a very good thing, at least now for the SSD disk and yet again, having all these state in the memory (especially if you have a lot of open apps in parallel) might need some RAM. For both of these, you do not have an option to upgrade your entire machine. That is why I recommend to opt for the highest available model if you consider brand new Macbook Air. What I am very curious is what exactly Apple is going to do under the hood in their “Lion” OSX? Are they going to add TRIM technology or maybe something revolutionary to effectively use the SSD surface? We do not know. Would be nice to see more improvement under the hood of the operating system than only at the eye candy level. Well, maybe things like instant on is not so eye candy and very important. We have to look and see what Apple is going to reveal about it in the future. Lion Mac OSX 10.7 is going to be available on summer 2011 – probably WWDC 2011.

The last big thing about I would like to talk is App Store for Mac. Yes, Apple is going to do the same for the Mac OSX what they have done for iPhone at the beginning. It seems to be a good idea where you can buy your favorite apps without searching through the net — just one place to find everything you need. But, there is always “but”. Apple is preping their guidelines for developers, how to be complainant with all these rules. One thing came to my mind: What about the apps, where the developer implement into it some third party components like MacFUSE? Will it be still possible to put your app into the store? If it means, that you have to abandon it and do the implementation for your own, it will be pretty painful for developers. Again, it is too early to be sure. What was also nice during the presentation, it was a way how the apps are going to be installed on your machine. You just click on the icon in the store and the app nicely jump to your dock and begin downloading. After that, it is ready to run. No activation codes, anything. More, now you will get one place to update all of your apps!

To wrap everything up, brand new Macbooks Air are very nice and may shape the industry for sure. I wish I had money to buy one. Just for portability and cutting edge technology. As you can see, there is a lot of questions, but the future seems to very interesting since we are now “Back to the Mac”.

Comments are more than welcome. Happy computing.

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