Catcher to invest $2-3 million to reopen Chinese MacBook unibody case plant within November time frame

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Date: Friday, October 21st, 2011, 06:05
Category: MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, News

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After local officials ordered the suspension of operations at a Suzhou, China factory that supplies Apple with chassis for its laptops, Taiwanese manufacturer Catcher Technology will invest US$2-3 million with the goal of getting its facility back online in November.

Per DigiTimes, details emerged that Catcher had temporarily closed a plant that provides 60 percent of Apple’s unibody enclosures for the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air product lines, as well as the iMac all-in-one desktop. The company is reportedly spending to “modify equipment and manufacturing processes” to resolve complaints from nearby residents regarding “odorous gas emissions.”

“Catcher aims to resume operations at the plant in November,” the publication noted. The manufacturer’s president, Allen Horng, had previously said that total shipments would fall 20 percent in October and could drop by as much as 40 percent in November if the local government refuses to allow the plant to resume production.

“Shipments to our customers will inevitably be affected,” he said in a press conference Monday. “We already asked them to make adjustments to their (casings) procurement.”

According to the report, Catcher is now considering increasing its investment in Taiwan in order to diversify operations and reduce its operating risk. The manufacturer recently ratcheted up production at a plant in southern Taiwan and purchased a new lot for further expansion in the area.

Catcher’s production woes could restrict an already limited supply chain for metal chassis. In August, it was reported that laptop makers looking to build machines to Intel’s “Ultrabook” specifications were having trouble securing production capacity for unibody magnesium-aluminum chassis. Foxconn and Catcher reportedly have a combined total of 10,000 CNC lathes required for the process, with most of their supply going to Apple.

During Apple’s quarterly earnings call on Tuesday, CEO Tim Cook said that the company is “investigating and assessing” the potential shortage of Mac unibody casings. In the most recent September quarter, Apple had its best quarter ever for Mac sales, selling 4.89 million during the period. Portables now represent 74 percent of the company’s sales.

In 2008, Apple detailed the new unibody manufacturing process, calling the design “in many ways more beautiful internally than externally.”

Apple is expected to release a modest update to its MacBook Pro line later this month. The laptops will likely receive a speed bump to tide them over until Intel’s next-generation Ivy Bridge chips are ready next year.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Intel working on Ivy Bridge chipset for next-gen MacBook Air notebooks

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Date: Friday, September 16th, 2011, 06:52
Category: MacBook Air, Rumor

The next generation of something: it’ll always be a bit niftier than the thing you have now.

Per CNET, Apple next-gen MacBook Air may see an additional performance boost next year with Intel’s next-generation Ivy Bridge processors, which, according to a new report, will add support for the OpenCL technology.

Apple is currently billing its Open Computing Language standard as a technology that “dramatically accelerates” applications by unlocking the “amazing parallel computing power of the GPU.” OpenCL especially offers improvements to financial applications, games and media applications by offloading non-graphics related tasks to the GPU.

Intel is expected to add support for the technology in its line of Ivy Bridge processors due out next year. Intel boasts as much as a 60 percent performance boost over current Sandy Bridge chips, with special attention being paid to graphics performance enhancements.

The MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro would stand the most to gain from Intel support for OpenCL. GPUs from AMD and Nvidia already support the technology, but Apple’s ultra-thin notebook and entry-level MacBook Pro currently sport a graphics processor from Intel.

Apple’s MacBook Air update in July made the notebook up to twice as fast as the previous generation, which made use of Intel’s aging Core 2 Duo chips. The company has had some trouble keeping the the diminutive notebooks in stock due to the resulting popularity of the models.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple releases MacBook Air EFI Firmware 2.1 update, focuses on Thunderbolt issues

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Date: Tuesday, September 13th, 2011, 12:31
Category: MacBook Air, News, Software

Firmware updates, they make a difference.

Per the cool cats at Mac|Life, Apple today released an EFI update for the MacBook Air. The update, available here or via Mac OS X’s built-in Software Update feature, works to boost the stability of Lion Recovery from an internet connection and fixes the Thunderbolt Display compatability issues with Thunderbolt, as well as remedies any issues with the Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode performance.

If you’ve tried the firmware update and noticed any changes, please let us know what you make of it in the comments.

MacBook Air goes on sale in China

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Date: Wednesday, August 31st, 2011, 09:24
Category: MacBook Air, News

Continuing its march across the globe, the MacBook Air has gone on sale in China this week, Apple’s online store for Chinese customers listing all four MacBook Air models—two each in 11- and 13-inch configurations -for sale, but with lengthy shipping delays.

According to Macworld, the 11-inch MacBook Air’s estimated delivery time, according to the e-store, is 9-to-11 working days, while the 13-inch models will reach customers approximately 5 working days after ordering.

Those times, however, are improvements over last Friday, when the China online store said there was “no supply” of 11-inch MacBook Airs and that the larger 13-inch notebooks would be delivered two weeks after an order was placed.

MacBook Air supplies have been tight in the U.S. as well, with spot outages at some Apple stores and more severe shortages at a number of online and brick-and-mortar resellers.

The 11-inch MacBook Air is priced at 7,698 yuan and 9,198 yuan for the 64GB and 128GB flash drive models, respectively. At current exchange rates, those prices are equivalent to US$1,203 and US$1,438, significantly higher than the US$999 and US$1,199 U.S. customers pay.

Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air costs 9,998 yuan and 12,498 yuan—the latter for the notebook with 256GB in storage space—or US$1,563 and US$1,954. U.S. list prices are US$1,299 and US$1,599 for the same models.

White, who was in Asia last week, said that the MacBook Air was launched in Hong Kong last week to “long lines and stock outs of certain models.”

Apple does not yet have a retail store of its own in Hong Kong—one is slated to open before the end of September—and relies on authorized resellers to sell its products from brick-and-mortar outlets.

Apple’s online store for Hong Kong residents shows better MacBook Air availability than in China: New orders ship within 24 hours, according to that store’s website.

If you’ve snagged a MacBook Air in the Chinese marketplace and have any feedback to offer about the experience, let us know in the comments.

MacBook Air examined, found to be using scaled-down Thunderbolt controller

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Date: Friday, July 29th, 2011, 06:28
Category: MacBook Air, News

The new MacBook Air is getting positive feedback and being regarded as nifty.

And the cool nerds at AnandTech found out why.

Per AnandTech, Apple is using a scaled-down “Eagle Ridge” controller chip from Intel instead of the “Light Ridge” chip found in larger Thunderbolt-enabled machines.

Eagle Ridge is available in two form factors (normal and SFF [small form factor]) and is effectively half of a Light Ridge chip. That means you only get two Thunderbolt channels and one DP output. Apple used the small form factor version of Eagle Ridge in its new MacBook Air to cut cost and save on motherboard real estate.

With Eagle Ridge only supporting a single DisplayPort output, MacBook Air users are only able to drive a single external display via the Thunderbolt port, although the machine’s integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 would also preclude the use of two external monitors on the MacBook Air as it does on the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Thunderbolt adoption has thus far been limited to high-end devices in part due to high costs associated with inclusion of the technology. Use of the scaled-down Eagle Ridge controller could help push Thunderbolt into lower-end products, presuming that the smaller chip carries some cost savings for manufacturers.

If you’ve gotten your mitts on a brand new MacBook Air, let us know what you make of it via the comments.

Rumor: Apple developing 15 and 17-inch MacBook Air notebooks

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Date: Wednesday, July 27th, 2011, 02:25
Category: MacBook Air, Rumor

With Apple’s new family of MacBook Airs selling like hotcakes, the company is believed to be working to introduce 15- and 17-inch models with a similar minimalist design to capitalize on the trend towards ultra-mobile computing.

Per MacRumors, the notebook is believed to be in the late testing stages, though no further details were provided. It’s therefore unclear at this time whether the device will be marketed under the MacBook Pro brand or arrive as an extension of the MacBook Air line.

A move away from the hefty, optical- and hard disk drive-equipped MacBook Pros and towards a family of notebooks based exclusively on thin, ultra-lightweight designs is something AppleInsider’s sources first began alluding to back in February. At the time, the transition was expected to take between 12 to 18 months.

The latest report may suggest Apple has ambitions of easing the transition by first introducing a 15-inch MacBook Air as an intermediate step. A jump towards an ultra-thin MacBook Pro before year’s end could ultimately prove burdened by too many sacrifices, given that existing technologies and componentry may not allow Apple to deliver a design as thin and lightweight as the existing Airs but powerful enough to replace the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Nevertheless, sources close to the story have said that MacBook Air features such as instant-on, standard SSD drives, slimmer enclosures, and the omission of optical drives should begin making their way to the remainder of Apple’s notebook offerings over the course of the next 12 months.

In similar news, The Unofficial Apple Weblog reports that the site has also heard rumors of an ultra-thin 17-inch Apple notebook and believes both models could potentially turn up ahead of the holiday shopping season under the MacBook Pro moniker.

iFixIt teardown points out upgradable SSD in 2011 MacBook Air

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Date: Friday, July 22nd, 2011, 03:43
Category: MacBook Air, News

They snagged it.

And they dissected it.

Per The Unofficial Apple Weblog, the mighty iFixIt team had performed a full teardown of the 2011 13″ MacBook Air.

One of the nicer things to come out of the teardown was the news that the internal solid-state drive isn’t soldered to the logic board, meaning that MBA owners who would like more storage and don’t have an issue with invalidating their warranty can open the computer and install a drive with more capacity. While Apple’s MacBook Air storage solutions max out at 256 GB, while other providers offer faster SSDs with capacities up to 480 GB.

Unfortunately, none of the MacBook Air models are able to take more than 4 GB of RAM, which is soldered onto the logic board.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available and if you’ve picked up a new MacBook Air, please let us know how the experience has been.

Apple’s white legacy MacBook shifted over to education marketplace

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Date: Thursday, July 21st, 2011, 03:11
Category: MacBook, MacBook Air, News

Following up on yesterday’s story that Apple had removed its US$999 white entry-level MacBook from its inventory, the company has apparently kept the notebook available for eduction institutions only.

Per AppleInsider, Apple surprised on Wednesday when it suddenly pulled the white MacBook from its site, bringing a faster-than-expected transition to the new 11.6-inch MacBook Air as the only $999 notebook in Apple’s lineup.

According to sources, monthly shipments for the Core 2 Duo MacBook had fallen to between 80,000 and 100,000 units, comprising less than 10 percent of the Apple’s total Mac shipments in the first half of 2011.

Since then, Apple has announced to resellers that its white MacBook, model No. MC516, is available for education institutions only. Channel backlog and non-direct education institution customers will see their orders canceled effective immediately.

The MacBook will remain available to partners via Apple’s online reseller stores only for education institutions. The company did not offer a timeframe for which the entry-level notebook will remain available.

The white polycarbonate MacBook was Apple’s only US$999 notebook for years, but that changed in 2010 when the redesigned MacBook Air was launched. That included a new entry-level 11.6-inch model at the same price point which found instant success on the market.

The MacBook Air offers some key advantages over the white MacBook, namely fast NAND flash memory for storage, an ultraportable thin-and-light design, and a durable aluminum unibody construction. But the MacBook also sports a larger 13-inch display, features an optical drive, includes a built-in Ethernet port, and has more hard drive space.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple releases Thunderbolt, Sandy Bridge, backlit keyboard-equipped MacBook Air notebooks

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Date: Wednesday, July 20th, 2011, 05:21
Category: MacBook Air, News

You might have been waiting for this.

Per AppleInsider, Apple on Wednesday the long-anticipated new version of its MacBook Air notebook, equipping the ultraportables with Thunderbolt ports, backlit keyboards and Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge processors offering up to twice the performance of their predecessors.

Like the previous generation models, the new MacBook Airs start at US$999 for the entry-level model. They are available for order today and will be in stores on Thursday.

The MacBook Air is available in 11-inch and 13-inch models that Apple boasts easily slip into a briefcase, purse or bag. The MacBook Air’s durable aluminum unibody enclosure measures 0.11 inches at its thinnest point and 0.68 inches at its thickest.

The notebooks all feature flash for instant-on and fast data access, improved reliability and incredible energy efficiency. The 11-inch model weighs 2.38 pounds and provides up to 5 hours of battery life, while the 13-inch weighs 2.96 pounds and provides up to 7 hours of battery life.

With the latest Intel Core i5 and Core i7 dual-core processors, the new MacBook Air is said to be up to twice as fast as the previous generation. The new notebooks also also feature Intel HD Graphics 3000 and offer up to 4GB of faster 1333 MHz memory.

Thunderbolt I/O technology provides expansion possibilities never before available to MacBook Air users. Through a single cable, users can connect to high performance peripherals and the new Apple Thunderbolt Display. Thunderbolt can easily be adapted to support legacy connections such as FireWire and Gigabit Ethernet.

The MacBook Air comes with a full size backlit keyboard and a glass Multi-Touch trackpad. The backlit keyboard uses a sensor to automatically detect a change in ambient lighting and adjusts the keyboard brightness for any environment.

The Multi-Touch trackpad supports Lion’s new Multi-Touch gestures such as momentum scrolling, tapping or pinching your fingers to zoom in on a web page or image, and swiping left or right to turn a page or switch between full screen apps.

MacBook Air also features a high resolution LED backlit display. MacBook Air also includes Bluetooth for wireless peripherals and two USB ports for wired and wireless devices.

The new MacBook Air also meets Energy Star 5.2 requirements and achieves EPEAT Gold status Each unibody enclosure is made of highly recyclable aluminum and comes standard with energy efficient LED-backlit displays that are mercury-free and made with arsenic-free glass. Mac notebooks contain no brominated flame retardants, are PVC-free and are constructed of recyclable materials.

Every new MacBook Air comes with Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, along with the iLife suite. Lion features more than 250 new features to the Mac, including Multi-Touch gestures; system-wide support for full screen apps; Mission Control for a view of everything running on your Mac; the Mac App Store,; Launchpad, iPad-like home screen for apps; and a completely redesigned Mail app.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple slated to release Mac OS X 10.7, next-gen MacBook Air on Wednesday

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Date: Tuesday, July 19th, 2011, 05:49
Category: MacBook Air, Rumor, Software

It’s the rumor mill that keeps life interesting…

Per AppleInsider, Apple could launch both its Mac OS X 10.7 Lion and its widely anticipated Thunderbolt-equipped MacBook Air notebooks on Wednesday.

According to sources with proven track records, the new product launches are set to occur later this week. Specifically, one person said the products would be released on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

The latest details align with what rumors that have been circulating this month, when it reported that new MacBook Air models with backlit keyboards and Thunderbolt ports would launch the week of July 21.

Those details were reaffirmed late last week in a separate report that corroborated other details, including the fact that Apple is expected to do away with the entry-level 64GB solid-state flash hard drive option. Instead, the new MacBook Airs are expected to have a minimum of 128GB in capacity.

The new notebooks, according to Concord Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, are also expected to come with 4GB of RAM as the standard. That extra memory will allow the systems to better run Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, Apple’s next-generation operating system, also said to become available this week.

Apple has been holding off on the introduction of new Mac hardware until it finally releases Lion. Apple has not offered a specific launch date for the operating system, only promising that it will become available on the Mac App Store for US$29.99 at some point in July.

A few weeks ago, Apple began undertaking preparatory measures to unveil Lion. While it was initially believed that the operating system could have gone on sale as soon as last week, there have been rumors of last-minute holdups associated with the logistics and infrastructure related to Apple’s switch to a digital distribution method through the Mac App Store.

The Golden Master of Lion was seeded to developers on July 1. The term “Golden Master” means that the software is viewed as a final build that will be identical to the software released to the general public.

While Lion and the new MacBook Air models are said to be set to launch this week, there has been no specific indication given regarding any other hardware. However, Apple provided its own evidence of a forthcoming refresh to its LED Cinema Display last week, when it posted images on its site showing a Thunderbolt-equipped display with the new part number “MC914.”

Supply of Apple’s white MacBook has also been severely constrained since late June, suggesting a change to the product could be forthcoming. Since then, there has been no indication of an imminent hardware refresh.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.