Hardware Stability

MacBook Air

## IMPORTANT NOTICE ##

Do not purchase the Duo Core MacBooks until Apple has upgraded them to the new Intel Duo 2 Core microprocessor (and have solved the problems associated with poor quality plastics and the high heat generated by the microprocessor). The current Duo Core microprocessor is still too hot. The new chip should be cooler and faster (unless Apple adds something extra to OSX to make the processor work hard, such as running numerous widgets under Dashboard in Panther and Tiger).

In fact, you are also wise to avoid running too many dashboard widgets in the background as they will hog a significant amount of your computer's CPU making it get hotter. Widgets can be removed from the /Library/Widgets folders and restarting the computer (OSX "Leopard" should be more friendly in this regard).

And make sure the computer is properly asleep or shutdown when not in use or else your computer may accidentally stay awake while being carried inside a bag. Reports of laptops getting extremely hot and frying the logic board are not uncommon.

About the MacBook Air...

One of those rare moments of keeping on time as promised, Apple Inc. released as of 14 January 2008 the much anticipated (and hopefully defect-free) new aluminium MacBook Air. This is the first Apple laptop to allow an optional 64GB solid state "flash memory" to be plugged in as an extended storage device. It is an idea that could one day replace the familiar magnetic rotating disk of the traditional hard drive.

1. Display / Screen

The MacBook Air boasts a mercury-free backlit keyboard and an arsenic-free 13.3-inch (native 1,280 x 800 pixels) diagonal TFT glossy widescreen display with graphics acceleration provided by Intel GMA X3100 graphics processor built into the Core 2 Duo microprocessor.

Just mentioning the words mercury and arsenic-free in a laptop is already sounding good and could see existing MacBook users clamouring into an Apple Store for a MacBook Air.

We have to be grateful Apple didn't put a nuclear power plant inside previous laptop models.

A welcome addition to this model is the use of the more responsive, power-efficient and brighter LED technology for lighting up the display and keyboard under all lighting conditions. For example, should the room get too dark, the keyboard lights up quickly and more brightly than the previous MacBook (Pro) and aluminium 17-inch PowerBook G4 models. Also when the room is bright, the LED lighting the display immediately turns on and brightens the screen to a much higher level.

Well done!

2. World's thinnest and lightweight laptop used as main drawcard

Weighing in at around 1.36kg (this figure may vary depending on configuration and manufacturing process), the laptop's thinness and with less moving parts (ie no CD/DVD SuperDrive and has the optional 64GB flash memory to complement its 80GB mini-hard disk) and a slightly smaller screen size to prevent bending of the aluminium casing (which has affected some SuperDrives in the larger 17-inch MacBook Pro and aluminium PowerBook G4 laptop models) as well as incorporating the new compact aluminium keyboard design is likely to attract non-professional users — mainly those who have all their Intel-specific applications fully updated or upgraded for the latest OSX.

This might be a good laptop for students and anyone who has never used an Apple computer before. And those carrying around a laptop in a backpack (mainly students) will enjoy how much lighter this laptop is. In fact, Apple Inc. is marketing it towards new Apple users to help carry the product through its natural lifecycle. Once a high enough profit is earned, the new MacBook Pro is likely to be released.

Some critics may argue the screen is too large for carrying on a coach or aircraft where a passenger in front of you has pushed back the chair making it difficult to fully open the screen on the laptop. Other critics will argue the screen is not big enough for more professional work requiring the extra screen real estate (e.g. spreadsheets). Only you can decide whether this laptop is suitable for your needs.

If you have to choose, it is better for Apple to provide a big screen so long as the aluminium casing is thick and strong. If necessary, work towards the new magnesium superalloys for higher strength and lightweight ratios for these thin laptops.

3. Standard features

For the first release of these laptops, the MacBook Air came with 2GB of non-upgradeable RAM (which is the absolute minimum these days as you will automatically lose 144MB of RAM to the GMA X3100 graphics processor and God knows how much more is lost to run the monstrous OSX "Leopard" version 10.5.1 installed — and that's before you get a chance to run the latest Adobe Photoshop or some other big application leaving you with not a great deal of RAM left for your data files); a built-in iSight camera; a brighter backlit LED keyboard; and uses the latest LED backlit technology for making the screen viewable under nearly all lighting conditions.

Hopefully this laptop comes with a genuine range of millions of colours. However the advert suggests "with support for millions of colours" whatever that means. It may support millions of colours, but will it actually show millions of colours?

4. Wireless networking

The laptop makes a big deal about its built-in AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi wireless networking and Bluetooth features. And why not? This laptop does have excellent compatibility on 802.11a/b/g networks (we hope no sudden drop-outs) and has a respectable built-in Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) for wireless communication with bluetooth-enabled devices (when enough of them exist out there).

The big question is whether transfer of files over a wireless network will be quick. Already there is talk by users that the ethernet connection on the MacBook is faster than the MacBook Air. Wireless transfer rates can take several hours to get across 15 or 20GB of information. Could be an issue where users want gigabytes of information to be transferred as quickly and reliably as possible.

5. Microprocessor speed

To fit all the innards inside a tiny space and to prevent the casing getting too hot, Apple Inc. has wisely chosen on a slower Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 1.6GHz (just meets the minimum requirements for running OSX "Leopard"). If you want something a little faster, there is the optional 1.8GHz model. Intel has custom-built the chip to fit within the compact dimensions of the laptop. But is it fast enough for more serious professional graphic-designing work?

6. CD/DVD SuperDrive an optional extra

Strangely the laptop comes with the OSX and Apple-specific Applications install/restore DVDs but you have to pay extra for the external CD/DVD SuperDrive (i.e. it is not included with the laptop given the price Apple is asking — the original MacBook does come with a CD/DVD drive at a cheaper price) and the Time Machine tool on OSX "Leopard" will not properly clone OSX to an external drive. Something is amiss here. Perhaps Apple is hoping users will have an older MacBook or some other Apple computer to connect to this new laptop to help re-install OSX should anything go wrong? So much for marketing MacBook Air to first-time Mac users (who probably are not geeks). Or Apple may have been better off supplying a 10GB USB thumb drive with OSX installation software installed for a really useful inclusion.

UPDATE
30 January 2008

Apple Inc. released for one day a Knowledge Base article on how to copy the OSX "Leopard" DVD to a USB external hard drive and use the hard drive as a startup disk which in the search listings of the Apple web site stated:

"MacBook Air: Use an external USB hard drive as a Mac OS X Leopard startup disk. Last Modified on: January 30, 2008. Article: 307379...

2008-01-30 - Document No. 307379"

It was pulled down as it revealed too much information about how users can copy the DVD (and thus potentially reduce the number of users purchasing there own OSX "Leopard" DVD from Apple Inc. (or DVD movies). Perhaps Apple should have supplied the external SuperDrive as a standard accessory for the MacBook Air?

UPDATE
18 January 2008

Apple Inc. has confirmed the MacBook Air is the first Mac computer to accept a wireless network boot from another computer. It means you can slip the OSX DVD disk of the MacBook Air into the CD/DVD SuperDrive of another computer (a first-time Mac user? Try networking with Mac friends of more geeky MacBooks and MacBook Pros to access a SuperDrive), establish wireless connection between the two computers, and set the MacBook Air to boot up using the DVD disk in the other computer (somehow we feel the MacBook Air wasn't meant to be marketed to first-time Mac users?). This feature would have existed on all Intel Macs and wireless-enabled PowerPC computers. However Apple Inc. has chosen to make this feature available in the MacBook Air. The feature will be useful for this type of laptop as their appears to be no obvious signs it has a FireWire port to connect to another computer in Target Disk mode. Even so, the wireless feature does require a user to have another Mac computer to wirelessly connect to it. Apple Inc. would have been better off supplying a separate CD/DVD SuperDrive unit as a standard accessory for the MacBook Air (not an optional item you have to pay for).

Now if only users can get reliable wireless or wired syncing of iTunes, iCal, Address Book and Bookmarks data across all computers using any version of OSX and not just reliable wireless booting from another computer and then everyone will be happy.

UPDATE
3 March 2008

Apple has released an 80MB file to permit PPC and Intel computers with wireless capabilities to share its DVD/CD drive with the MacBook Air. It needs to for the sake of Apple selling a few more of these new laptops. Apple wouldn't have wanted to leave this update too late.

7. Hard drive capacity

A specially-designed and slightly slower 4,200rpm 80GB hard drive is incorporated to fit into the compact dimensions of the MacBook Air. Because there are no other higher capacity and faster hard drive in existence to fit into the tiny space, Apple Inc. has opted to let users purchase a 64GB solid-state device (SSD) "flash memory" drive (at US$999) to plug inside, which has the benefit of no moving parts. It will be faster and use less power. However, you must remove the 80GB hard drive to benefit from a 64MB flash memory device. And a loss of 16GB isn't exactly a benefit.

8. Ports

Apple Inc. has simplified the ports of the MacBook Air to those needed by non-professional users. This laptop has good graphics and video output support (it comes with a micro-DVI port to VGA, composite and S-video capabilities displaying up to 1,920 x 1,200 pixels on an external display), a USB 2.0 port (2 of the little rascals would be better), and a stereo audio out port. The company has dropped a stereo line-in port, no FireWire ports, no ethernet port and no expansion card slot (the latter never existed in previous MacBooks). The built-in speaker is a bit lame with news that the speaker plays strictly in mono (enough to notify users of alert sounds) and is positioned in the bottom right corner of the keyboard (i.e. not centered) — you'll need to use the stereo Audio output port or Bluetooth to play quality stereo music (although one must admit Bluetooth drivers in OSX "Tiger" has never provided the much needed stereo music capabilities for some odd reason given how long stereo wireless Bluetooth headsets have been around). This was probably a decision based on extending the battery life.

9. Battery

Speaking of battery life, Apple claims you can get 5 hours of wireless productivity (i.e. don't plug external drives, video cables, stereo audio cables, and/or USB devices to the laptop, and run it with just the screensaver displaying its usual fancy pictures). This is an optimistic figure based on ideal conditions as determined by the company's own testing. The actual battery time per charge is probably about the same as with other aluminium laptops (i.e. approximately 3 hours of solid use, going down to about 60-90 minutes after 12 to 18 months).

This brings us to one obvious drawback of the laptop: because the 37-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery will have to be replaced after say 2 to 3 years, you cannot replace the battery on your own. The battery is so well integrated and locked into the laptop that you must be prepared to fork out US$129 (AUD$199 inc GST) to have Apple technicians physically take away your computer behind closed doors for up to 5 business days for hopefully no other purpose than to replace the battery with no guarantee the data on your hard drive will be retained (we hear the 80GB hard drive is not removable by users either). Apple Inc. is expecting all users to have purchased an external backup unit to protect their own data and users must hope Apple will not use file recovery tools to extract your data from the MacBook Air.

As Apple Inc. has indicated at its web site:

"Don't rely on it [your data] being preserved. Many repairs require Apple to replace or reformat the hard disk, which will result in the loss of your data."

and

"The repair process normally takes 5 business days."

Not good if you are considering doing some sensitive work for government, business or military purposes. Even worse if you have a deadline to complete work just within the 5 business days needed to replace the battery. But great if your company name starts with the word "Apple" (e.g. Apple Inc., AppleCentre, Apple iStore etc). Because a tightly integrated and virtually impossible to remove battery means a large number of these laptops will have to be returned to an Apple-authorised repair centre in the next 2 to 3 years for a battery replacement. Nothing like a healthy extra top-up and greater reliability in the profit department for Apple stores (perhaps users are finally getting use to the cost and inconvenience of having Apple replace the battery in the iPods) as well as check up on some details in secret (e.g. perhaps see how well the laptops have survived, get some solid statistical information on how extensive the software piracy is at the moment and, heaven forbid, gain some kind of commercial advantage from users' data files if they haven't been removed). This product is truly for consumer use and not for professional users.

You will have to wait for Apple Inc. to release the new MacBook Pro to benefit from better features including, hopefully, a user-replaceable battery, hard drive and a FireWire port.

10. Graphics performance may reduce under high heat

As the Intel Core 2 Duo microprocessor gets hot, there is an automatic feature of lowering the processor speed to help cool the processor. Because this laptop relies on the inbuilt Intel graphics processor, you may notice a slowing down of the laptop for graphic intensive applications (e.g. 3D games and graphic designing).

The laptop is probably not recommended for using the latest Adobe Photoshop CS3 and other similar graphic applications.

The link discussing the above heating issue may not work as you read this as Apple Inc. has decided to drop or move the Knowledge Base article. It has been mentioned at MacFixIt.com.

Problems with a jumpy video coming out of the in-built iSight camera. Apple recommends you download the latest QuickTime 7.4 update.

11. Environmental benefits

One other benefit worth mentioning is the fact that on an environmental level, the small size of the MacBook Air and less harmful materials used in the screen has meant much of the laptop is recyclable and what cannot be recycled is safer to dispose.

Well, let's hope we don't need to see the laptop disposed any time soon. Let's see how users react to the new laptop before recommending anything too drastic.

12. USB port safety feature

A rare positive additional to this Apple laptop is a safety feature in the USB port designed to shutdown the MacBook Air should the USB device be defective or short out the power coming through the port.

Smart decision!

13. Price

Price for the MacBook Air may vary a little, but it is likely to be more expensive than the original top-of-the-range black MacBook to avoid losing sales on the currently-selling older MacBook model. Expect the price to be around the US$1,750 (or AUD$2,500) mark.

Now if only Apple had thrown in the external CD/DVD SuperDrive as a standard accessory....bummer.

NOTE: Should you have any hardware problems associated with the MacBook Air, try resetting the System Management Controller (SMC). Hopefully the Knowledge Base article will stick around long enough for users to benefit.

UPDATE
4 February 2008

Early signs suggest the MacBook Air and some late 2007 MacBook models could be prone to jumpy or very imprecise cursor positions when using the trackpad and while the power adapter is plugged into the laptop. In other words, you may find some difficulties getting the cursor to where you want it. It is claimed the problem disappears by running the laptop directly off the battery or by properly grounding the same hand you use to play with the trackpad on the metal casing of the laptop. This is a hardware manufacturing problem.

As one MacFixIt reader allegedly discovered:

"I had a chance to play around with the MacBook Air at the Apple Store in Boulder, Colorado. All of the trackpads were very jumpy, which the employees said was due to a dirty trackpad, but while I was playing around it became apparent that the machines consistently had the same problem only when plugged in — unplugging the power made the trackpads function normally on all three machines. It also appeared as if the employees were aware of this problem, but they insisted it was simply due to dirt (although I noticed they kept unplugging the machines)." (MacFixIt.com: Jumpy MacBook trackpads; issue also affecting MacBook Air. 4 February 2008.)

Customers intending to purchase the latest MacBook or the new MacBook Air will have to search hard for a laptop free of this defect.

Will the MacBook Pro fair better than this consumer model?

UPDATE
10 March 2008

Apple has released the 551KB MacBook Air SMC Update 1.0 file to help "fine tune the speed and operation of the internal fan". To be more specific, the fan would continuously spin even when the processor is not under load and when the laptop is put to sleep. This update will hopefully rectify this issue.

On the positive side, at least Apple was trying to make an effort to keep the laptop cool with the fan turning on sooner for longer.

UPDATE
30 April 2008

News has come to hand through MacFixIt.com and a Japanese web site from a MacBook Air user of a serious problem developing in the new laptop. It can be best described in the following quote from a user, chriscamero, posted to Apple's Discussion boards:

"I have a stock Macbook Air 1.6ghz with the hard drive and I'm on my second machine. Both have done the same thing leading me to believe there is a serious defect in the Macbook Air. What happens is that after about a half hour of using the machine and running it with some apps like Parallels, video, whatever, it will get really hot. Especially in the upper left region of the computer. It feels hot to the point that you can't really hold on to it as it's too uncomfortable.

iStat claims the case temperature is: 108 degrees fahrenheit. This is prior to it getting really slow and crashing, since I can't really get to iStat when that happens anyway. The whole process of the Macbook Air getting to this point seems to correlate with using the disk and pushing the CPU. What always seems to be true is that the upper left region of the base of the computer is really hot." (MacFixit.com: MacBook Air: apparent overheating, leading to freezes. 30 April 2008.)

The consequence of this overheating may now be observed, if the details are correct, from a Japanese web site showing how to not only disassemble a MacBook Air, but also reveal the damage overheating has allegedly caused to at least a couple of electronic components. Below are the images presented by the user as evidence:

The user claims the cause for this problem is in the "excessive thermal paste" that may have flowed during the manufacturing process to other components (or probably while the laptop is hot) and this helped to transfer a high amount of heat to these components causing heat damage.

Of particular interest to the user appears to be the memory card where he claims to have seen thermal paste deposits on it. And the user believes the excess thermal paste could be the likely cause for the cooling fans turning on more frequently.

If you have purchased this laptop, you are strongly advised not to perform processor intensive work such as Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator or 3D animation, and you should immediately apply the latest MacBook Air SMC Update 1.0. Minimise use of the latest Safari 3.1 version as users have universally noted the extra processor power needed to run the application. As MacFixIt reader Pete Rock said:

"I've noticed that Safari can hog the CPU. Sometimes my laptops' fans will spin up when I am doing nothing more than surfing the web. Activity monitor will report very high CPU usage of Safari. I've found that this may be more of a problem when I have multiple Safari tabs open. [...] Closing safari has helped me." (MacFixIt.com: Hot laptops (#2): check Activity Monitor, use a cutting board. 20 May 2008.)

Any means of lifting the laptop off a surface to allow cool air to circulate will help.

Beyond that, there is nothing much Apple can do for you until the product has moved beyond the "testing of a prototype" stage for such a new laptop.

UPDATE
21 October 2008

Reports of the original MacBook Air speakers losing sound capabilities and a darkened screen with an error message stating you must restart the computer on waking the laptop from sleep appear to be the only other two issues to note for users. After a few months of usage, the laptop may be showing signs it is unable to handle general usage.

Apple Discussions user "oudemia" supports this when he said:

"After a day of repeated error messages after opening up a sleeping laptop (as soon as I would open it a "you must restart your computer" message would be on screen in English, French, German, and Japanese), the sound icon disappeared from the upper right corner, the prohibitory symbol would appear on screen if I tried to toggle the volume, and no audio output devices appear in the system. Zapping the PRAM worked once, but never since."

A MacFixIt user suggested the only permanent solution is to get Apple to replace the Bluetooth hardware inside the laptop:

"I had this same issue, everything identical (including suggested fixes), but instead of sound it was with Bluetooth.

I sent it in to Apple Care, as none of the fixes were long term. Apple replaced every piece of hardware connected with Bluetooth.

That took care of the troubles."

Another MacFixIt user has allegedly claimed the problem does manifest itself in the early 2008 MacBook Pro models as well. Only a restart of the laptop provides temporary relief. Other similar complaints as of 21 October 2008 can be found here.

By the time the fully updated MacBook Air Mark II comes out in late 2008, hopefully these problems will disappear.

UPDATE
October 2009

Users have mentioned the display hinges of the MacBook Air Revision A and B could be more stronger and tougher in design. This article explains the problem. Furthermore, Apple is claiming a broken hinge is due to abuse by the user and not from some manufacturing fault, thereby expecting users to pay around US$800 to replace the hinges even when it is under warranty. As the article explained:

"Reports of cracked hinges on the laptop are nothing new, but we always assumed Apple would eventually 'fess up to the problem and comp those repairs. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case, and we just got another report of a hapless MacBook Air owner who has a broken hinge that Apple says will cost $800 to repair, despite the fact the laptop is under warranty. Our own MacBook Air Rev. A had the exact same problem the hinge becomes loose over time, then suddenly catches and cracks from normal use, it's not from undue stress and Apple did the repair for free, but only after we escalated the issue to a manager, who let us know how very nice of them that was. From reading various reports, that seems the exception to Apple's repair policy, which lists this sort of damage as "accidental," and we're wondering how widespread this issue may be." (Miller, Paul. MacBook Air hinge defect not covered by Apple's warranty?: EnGadget. 26 February 2009.)

Should the problem be found to be common among MacBook Air users, there may be a case for an investigation to determine the real cause for the hinge problem. And if it turns out to be a manufacturing problem, Apple will have to issue a repair extension program.

But if you are genuinely certainly the hinges on your MacBook Air are not of reasonable quality, make sure you state your consumers rights to Apple and get a replacement or refund (if within the warranty) in accordance with the Trade Practices Act 1974.

The late-2008 MacBook Air

A remarkable attempt to improve the MacBook Air has occurred with the release of the updated late-2008 model (Revision B).

Apple has made significant headway in improving the main critical areas needed to make the MacBook Air more attractive to consumers and less likely to fall apart or needing replacements after a period of time. Unfortunately the timing for its release is not good considering the late-2008 MacBooks had just come out with improvements that make it better at a lower price than the new late-2008 MacBook Air. Also the broken hinge problem is not thought to have been fixed with this Revision B model (perhaps the Revision C version might be better?).

However if users want a super thin, lightweight and tough laptop and can sacrifice some performance and extra hard disk space, the latest MacBook Air could be the product for you.

The new MacBook Air (Revision B) comes with a slightly faster 1.86GHz processor. On its own this wouldn't make a huge difference to the speed compared to the original MacBook Air. However, the new processor does offer an extra 2MB more L2 cache than the previous 4MB in the old model (i.e. 6MB) and manages to consume less power.

To further improve the speed, Apple has rebuilt the memory architecture to allow the faster DDR3 memory modules to be used.

And it now comes with a faster and independent Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphic accelerator unit instead of the Intel processor's own built-in GMA X3100 graphics accelerator used in the older MacBook Air (a shocking decision for Apple at the time given how hot it got during normal usage). Speed has improved quite considerably to the point where it is claimed the new laptop is an effective 3D graphics gaming machine. And, for the first time, the temperature of the Intel Core 2 Duo processor has been brought down significantly because this Nvidia graphics processing unit is taking the brunt of the graphics processing work. In the previous model, the GMA X3100 would work hard just to show simple videos on YouTube, QuickTime or iTunes causing the processor to get very hot. Now we have a different story.

For people who want a lightweight, superthin and strong laptop can finally add to the list a cooler machine.

Yet another welcome improvement, and a far cry from the previous model, is the storage capacity of the drives for holding your data: Apple has seen the light in adding a decent 120GB hard drive with the option of having a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) for $500 extra. The latter storage option would be the way to go for extra speed and ruggedness, but does cost more. Fortunately the cost is considerably less than the previous 64GB SSD where you had to pay US$999. Now if only these SSD devices can reach a minimum of 160GB and preferably 220GB and then we can start to see the value of these laptops as a useful device. But by then the next generation of MacBook Pro laptops with super thin casing and no DVD drive built-in (but included separately) will have to be released to the public. It will be a long wait before Apple makes this decision. And an even longer wait when the first true 64-bit laptops are finally built and sold.

The price for these SSDs should improve over time. By 2010 the capacity and prices should be comparable to standard hard disks of today.

Need to connect the laptop to an external display? No problems. The MacBook Air somehow managed to retain the original and popular Mini DisplayPort allowing a micro DVI or VGA adapter to be plugged in (amazing when Apple is trying so hard to maximise profit by cutting on costs during manufacture when it could have easily removed features). But in an attempt to save money, Apple has done away with bundling these video adapters in the box when you purchase the laptop as had been the case in the previous model. You will now have to pay US$29 per adapter. And the CD/DVD external drive still remains an additional accessory you will have to pay if you want it.

Looking to buy a new MacBook Air? The top of the range late-2008 MacBook Air with 2GB RAM and 128GB solid-state drive will cost US$2,499. For the 120GB hard disk version, it's about US$1,999. So long as the connectors inside are reliable under the heat of the machine for a long time (a minimum of 25 years and preferably over your lifetime), we recommend the 128GB SSD at 2.13GHz processor speed (released as of July 2009) model for a slightly more durable, faster and reliable machine with only one moving part (i.e. the display hinges). In fact, the traditional rotating magnetic hard disk will eventually go in the way of the Dodo.

UPDATE
10 December 2008

The late-2008 unibody MacBook Air requires EFI Firmware v1.1 and SMC Firmware v1.1 updates to fix a range of problems summarised in one Apple statement:

"These updates address system stability issues, as well as problems with the computers properly sensing the presence of magsafe power adaptor attachment and battery indicator lights."

The firmware updates have been released simultaneously and Apple recommends installing both of them.

UPDATE
7 March 2009

The world economic recession we shouldn't have to have if US business and banking leaders weren't so single-minded in their greediness during their investment decisions thanks to Mr Bush's idiotic policy to allow banks to lend unrepayable amounts to sub-prime (low or no income) borrowers is causing some strife for Apple resellers. Major resellers such as Newegg, PC Connection and Buy.com could be going against Apple's recommendation to stick to the company's recommended price by reducing the price of, say, the unibody 1.86GHz MacBook Air from US$2,499 as listed on the Apple web site for the model containing the 128GB solid-state drive to $2,399.

But this could also be a standard way to conduct business under the current climate since Apple already has a policy to price match anyone who sells more cheaply plus an extra 10 per cent. It ensures Apple always has the biggest slice of the profit pie.

The price reduction may simply reflect the fact that consumers are not purchasing expensive high-priced ticket items when jobs are more insecure and people need to focus on the things they need and not what they want.

Apple is considering a further price drop for any new Mac computers manufactured over the next 12 months to better cater to the budget of average American families and individuals.

The mid-2009 MacBook Air

From 1 July 2009, Apple released version III (Revision C) of the anorexic-like laptop known as the MacBook Air. This time Apple feels confident the machine will not overheat and will work reliably for at least a couple of years by bumping up the Intel processor to 2.13GHz. Hard disk or flash drive capacities have not changed (even though 4GB USB flash drives are worth less than A$10, so theoretically one should be able to buy a 200GB SSD for A$500; in fact, the latest MacBook Pro can now be fitted with a 256GB SSD, so why couldn't the MacBook Air accept one now?). Both the late-2008 1.83GHz and mid-2009 2.13GHz model are said to be compatible with OSX 10.6 "Snow Leopard".

Still a consumer "throw-away" laptop with its plastic "scratchable" screen compared to the glass surface used in the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air is an attempt by Apple to get the design honed down before releasing the MacBook Pro Air sometime in 2010 or 2011.

NOTE: Also expect the new faster iPhone 3GS at around this time to provide a boost to profits for Apple and its resellers over the next couple of months.

UPDATE
12 October 2009

Co-developed and co-owned by SanDisk and Toshiba, the first low-cost X4 flash memory chips have made their appearance. Starting at 16GB for the SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) technology and up to 32GB SDHC with a 64GB SDHC to come soon, this should provide the most reliable and highest memory capacity (packing four bits of data into each memory cell compared to 1 or 2-bit per cell of older flash memory units) in the smallest size possible.

The new memory chips are expected to find their way into the next MacBook Air model in 2010, and the new MacBook Pro Air in either 2010 or 2011 (when Apple finally gets around to releasing these new superthin models).

NOTE: The MacBook Air models are there to help Apple learn for its mistakes and eventually settle on a reliable design for use in the upcoming MacBook Pro Air.

UPDATE
22 October 2009

Dell is about to offer its own version of a superthin aluminium laptop known as Dell Adamo XPS. To keep the machine cool, the processor and logic board are built into the screen. Although to prevent the screen becoming too top heavy, most of the innards were pushed to the bottom-end of the screen. And it needs to. The new radical design with its steeply-inclined keyboard looks like the screen could topple over regardless of the weight distribution, and it would be difficult to rest this laptop on your lap. On the positive side, your legs and testicles will not receive the full radiation emissions from the circuitry inside (not that the average consumer would consider this possibility when purchasing a laptop).

At least Dell is thinking about your future family.

To compete with the updated MacBook Air version III (Revision C), it is likely Dell's base model will have a 1.9GHz dual core Intel CPU, 4GB DDR3 RAM and at least 180GB SSD (or should be 256GB). Screen size will not exceed 13.4 inches across the diagonal (roughly the same as the MacBook Air, but definitely not as good looking). As a further incentive, the PC laptop will have to be priced a whole lot cheaper than the Apple version to make any headway into this superthin laptop market.

If anyone can compete with Apple in this market, it would have to be Dell.

Now if only Dell computers weren't so ugly looking...

UPDATE
2 November 2009

Sony is offering its own superthin and superlightweight notebook of a more practical physical design to match Apple's. Unfortunately the screen appears to be a bit too small at 11.1 inches wide (not diagonal according to the specs) or 1366 x 768 pixels in size (or maybe it is the same?). Sony ought to be consistent by using the diagonal as the measurement. Anyway, weight is a remarkable 780 grams including the battery, which means the machine is capable of being lifted off the table with your smallest finger (or a female's middle finger if she wishes to also express her disinterest in computers at the same time — understandable given how some machines are built).

When placed side-by-side with Apple's offering, it makes the MacBook Air look a bit old when we see Sony supplies 2 x USB 2.0 ports compared to Apple's paltry 1 x USB 2.0 port, and even throws in a 10Base-T/100Base-TX/1000Base-T ethernet connector, a memory stick slot and an SD memory card slot. All wireless (Wi-Fi) capabilities are at least as good as Apple's if not better. Standard lithium ion battery lasts 6.5 hours (VGP-BPL19) but there is the option to get the VGP-BPX19 lithium-ion battery that lasts 14 hours per charge.

Sony hasn't been able to better Apple on the internal flash memory with a capacity of 128GB Serial ATA SSD (possibly to keep costs down), and the same for the total built in RAM of 2GB and the microprocessor speed (maximum is around 2GHz); and it is possible Apple has a better graphics accelerator chip.

With Windows 7 already installed as standard and with disks, the Sony laptop is looking like a more serious PC contender to the superthin laptop market.

UPDATE
21 February 2010

Dell may have finally seen the light in terms of designing better looking laptops.

The new plastic 15.6-inch Inspiron (i1564-6980CRD) laptop is slim and designed to look like a more expensive laptop. The same can be said of the 17-inch model (i1764-60750BK). And all come with the latest Intel Core i3 and i5 processors. Apple computers have yet to come out with the latest processors. Then we find the biggest advantage Dell has over Apple: the price. The 15.6-inch laptop is priced to go out-the-door and straight to the consumer at US$649. The 17-inch model is probably around the US$750 mark. Compared this to Apple's entry-level MacBook and the cheapest the company can sell it to consumers is never below US$999. As for the 17-inch model, Apple will sell its top-of-the-range 17-inch 2.8GHz MacBook Pro to importers for US$900 as of 2010. By the time it gets to the consumer after the importer resells it to the retailer, the final price can be US$2500.

The reason for the price difference between Apple and Dell is because Dell can manufacture at a much high quantity and sell direct to consumers at a lower price. Apple will only sell direct to consumers if the price is about the same as the retailer's price to help maximise profit while not stopping the retailers from making a profit.

If Apple did choose to sell the 17-inch model direct to consumers as Dell can without any importer or retailer, it would not be surprising if the laptop is sold for US$1,200 or less.

You are really paying for the fancy Apple logo and attractive-looking aluminium design, and the privilege of running the world's best commercial OS.

Privacy issue with the webcam built into the MacBook Air

Australian 7 News and AAP has published an article titled US school 'spied on students via laptops' on 19 February 2010. It is alleged in a US federal lawsuit that an Assistant Vice Principal at Rosemont's Harriton High School in Philadelphia, had heard and told a 15-year-old student named Blake J. Robbins that "school officials thought he had engaged in improper behaviour at home". It is alleged a photograph was shown as evidence.

If this is true, how did the school official obtain this information? It would seem a little far-fetched until we learn 2,300 students of Harriton High School and Lower Merion High School were issued with an Apple laptop (i.e. a MacBook with a built-in webcam). This means OSX was probably not wiped clean and reinstalled by the students and/or their parents with the original commercial version. Instead the version of OSX installed may have come with a tool or school script designed for monitoring student activities so long as the laptops are connected to the internet.

Are there scripts or tools to monitor student activities? Certainly there is a freeware and open source tool available called VUWER 1.4 (an AppleScript application). The tool can be run in the background to allow a user to locate his/her stolen laptop by specifying the IP address of the laptop or other identifiying means where it can take a picture at a specified interval and have the images sent "either by email or by secure file copy to another computer account" where the thief can be caught in the act of using the laptop.

The question is, have these schools been using the same or similar tool on students' MacBooks?

At first a school spokesman did not confirm the existence of a tool for monitoring students. However, the school district spokesman Doug Young later thought it was unacceptable for the documentation signed by students for receiving the MacBooks to be vague in how the webcams could be activated remotely. As he said:

"It's clear what was in place was insufficient, and that's unacceptable." (Matyszczyk, Chris. School district: Spy Webcams activated 42 times: CNET.com. 20 February 2010.)

Then in later media reports we learn the schools do have a webcam monitoring tool called LANrev. Although interestingly the company that sold the software to the school just happens to have been acquired in 2009 by Absolute Software who in turn are looking at a new software version which requires a police report to be issued before the company can remotely activate and view the webcams. Whether this will improve the privacy issue is anyone's guess (and still no guarantee whatsoever that your privacy will be protected). But at least it would avoid all the legal headaches for the school administrator in this case.

This is a serious allegation.

So who authorized the monitoring outside school premises? A rumour had floated around at this time that, as a concerned parent with two children of her own, it could have been the assistant principal that authorized the spying. It has been alleged that Blake may have been involved in some form of drug-related activity and either the assistant principal or someone else at the school had wanted to find out.

The assistant principal has since publicly denied the rumour.

Even if the school is found not to be using a remote-activating webcam software tool or, if so, to look at students outside school premises, just raising the privacy concerns has already seen vast numbers of angry students at the two schools (and probably elsewhere in the US and abroad) to put a piece of black plastic electrical tape over the laptop's camera, and for some the microphone as well.

In the case of Apple computers and how they are manufactured, it reveals to us yet another major design fault with the products: how can you be sure your privacy is not being compromised when OSX has access to the webcam and any company such as Apple, or the US Government through the Department of Defence or an intelligence agency, can activate the camera without your awareness? OSX is definitely not an open-source software product. It is owned by Apple. So you can never be absolutely sure the OS is not being used to spy on you. In fact, there is no option on the iMac, MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops to physically cover the camera. And there is nothing in the System preference panes or Finder to give you guarantees that the camera is not being turned on without your awareness. Not even a red light next to the camera to show it is turned on and watching.

It is a serious flaw, irrespective of the potential benefits in terms of finding stolen or missing laptops. Once you have the laptops, can you be sure you are still not being spied on?

NOTE: Software such as flexiSPY is available to the public for a few hundred dollars. All you do is install on someone's 3G mobile phone where another person spying can determine your location through GPS and receive an SMS message notifying the person a call is being made. Then by dialling the mobile phone number, the person can listen in on the conversation. Even if the phone is not being used but left on standby, the software can turn on the microphone and the built-in camera, allowing the person to listen and watch.

MacBook Air released in October 2010

The MacBook Air has had a slight makeover. Not exactly riveting improvements, but nevertheless it is enough to keep the really simple-minded consumers with absolutely basic needs for a travel or school laptop happy for a little while longer.

Among the few useful improvements to be found include an SD card slot (available only in the 13-inch model) for people taking pictures on digital cameras and need a quick way to transfer the photos from the SD card to the computer. And you get two USB ports (brilliant!), and two stereo speakers with a stereo output port. Even the battery allows between 5 (the basic model) to 7 hours (the more advanced model) per charge. Reasonable, but there is always room for improvements in this area. As for plugging into an external display system, the Mini DisplayPort accepts four different types of pure digital video output adapters to handle DVI, VGA, Dual-link DVI and HDMI. To run the graphics on the display at a reasonable speed, you are provided with an acceptable and independent NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics processing chip with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with the main memory. Everything else appears standard including an 802.11n AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi wireless networking option, Bluetooth 2.1 with Enhanced Date Rate for wireless connection to external devices capable of supporting this technology (when manufacturers get their ass into gear), and built-in microphone. Processor speed hasn't advanced beyond 2.13GHz, probably because of a constraint in the temperature this model can operate when running processor intensive work. But you do have choice in lower processor speeds — hard to imagine consumers wanting slower machines if the 2.13GHz version is available.

Other improvements, if you may call them that, is the introduction of five-point security torx screws to prevent consumers from opening up the laptop. Will it stop consumers from ever looking inside? Probably not. One can imagine the numerous "under the table" dealings with certain anonymous Apple technicians taking place just to have the silly screws replaced with normal ones at the request of slightly more technically-minded consumers. Yet even if you do get inside one of these laptops, other than to remove dust and hair and so extend the life of the logic board and maybe to replace the lithium-ion battery after 3-years if Apple allows it (although word has it that you can't replace it, only Apple has the tools to do it for a cost of US$129) let alone sell the battery to consumers separately, there isn't much you can do with it. If the manufacturing of this almost disposable product is atrocious for any reason and starts to fall apart or not function properly before it is time to be replaced, you are better off handing it in to Apple for repairs (which would ordinarily result in a replacement), or get it replaced yourself by purchasing a new one if not in warranty.

Even the RAM is soldered directly to the logic board, so you can forget about upgrading it to a higher capacity. This is the model where you must make a careful choice right from the outset of what you want now and in the future (about 2 to 3 years according to Apple's suggested recommendation for the product). Apple has kindly provided two models: the 11.6-inch 1.4 or 1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo processor model with 64 or 128GB flash storage, or the 13-inch 1.86 or 2.13GHz processor with 128 or 256GB flash storage. But as experienced users understand when it comes to computers, you will get to a point where you wished you had bought the more expensive or top-of-the-line model for the extra RAM, hard disk space and/or other features. This becomes more poignant with the latest MacBook Air.

When it comes to the MacBook Air, there is no choice given how nearly everything is virtually stuck or soldered together but to purchase the top-of-the-line model containing the 4GB RAM, 2.13 GHz processor, 256GB flash storage etc. Forget the cheaper versions. And don't muck around with a 11-inch screen. Unless it is for occasional "once in a Blue Moon" use and don't see the point of anything more powerful, you will be more glad to have obtained the 13-inch LED-backlit glossy 1,440 x 900 pixels widescreen display (with support for millions of colours) to get some extra work done with this machine. Don't mess around with the cheaper machines (the price starts from US$999) thinking it will save you money. It will for the short term. But in the long term, you will be wasting more money. Of course, you will always lose money with virtually any computer you buy (unless it is made of gold) after a period of time as new models supercede the old. But how little money you will waste over the long term is determined by the decisions you make right now, especially at the moment you are ready to purchase a laptop. Don't like to make too many decisions but want to reduce the waste in the money you spend over the long term? Just go for the top-of-the-line model. You will be able to do more over a much longer period of time (assuming manufacturing quality is of an acceptable level) before you have to upgrade once more.

You should be prepared to spend at least US$1,800 for the top-of-the-line model assuming the MacBook Air is for you. This will include the fastest 2.13GHz processor allowable on this model without overheating the device, the maximum 256GB flash storage currently able to fit inside the confines of this machine, a 13-inch display, 4GB RAM, and a USB-to-ethernet adapter. And the 13-inch model is the only one to have the backlit keyboard with characters that light up in the dark. So that's an added bonus. The cheaper models are essentially there to help suck people in and get them to buy when they see the lower price. As for installing software from a CD/DVD, go to a public library or Mac center with the latest iMacs to wirelessly connect the CD/DVD drive of an iMac to the MacBook Air. Although technically speaking you should have the contents of all your CD/DVDs archived on your backup external USB drive to save time and money on getting an external optical drive for this laptop.

Otherwise welcome to the new McDonald's of the computing world for consumers courtesy of Apple Inc.

While this laptop model might be good for the environment by using less materials and being thinner as well as being PVC-free, Mercury-free and other environmental credentials, it is likely more of these (cheaper) laptops will end up in the landfill than traditional laptops if consumers cannot upgrade and if the manufacturing is not up to scratch and/or with materials that are not tough and durable enough. This is the moment when Apple must produce the best quality MacBook Air it has ever made in its history or the whole thing could go bell yup and easily backfire on the company in a big way.

If you are not too sure whether the quality is there, consumers should wait to see how this model fairs over the next 12 months and, ideally, look to the next model containing the near indestructible amorphous alloy outer casing and hopefully a proper almost unscratchable glass screen for greater durability (and adequate flash storage capacities exceeding 512GB). But when there is something this cute, small and good-looking, available right now, why wait? Emotions are likely to run high and rule the minds of so many consumers these days. And life is too short. Might as well buy one.

It must be Apple's lucky day.

Overall, the MacBook Air remains the lightest and thinnest laptop ever made by any computer manufacturer. It represents a future trend for all laptops, although hopefully with more upgradability options. And not one PC manufacturer has yet come up with a way to match, let alone exceed, the features of this laptop.

NOTE: On the positive side, at least you are able to remove the SSD flash storage device and put it into another MacBook Air. Only trouble is, you need to find a way to get inside and remove it.

## SPECIAL UPDTE ##

4 November 2010

Either Apple Inc. is not having a good day, or it seems someone is not doing their work properly in the manufacturing and/or firmware development side, or quality control work has subsided somewhat (assuming there was some), but it seems the MacBook Air (Late 2010) models have reportedly exhibited a screen fading in and out (a kind of flickering) problem on waking the machines up from sleep. In this CNET report, it is also reported that some users have also seen "...flashing lines of colour on their displays after waking". And the problem came within a month of the official release of this new model. Why so quick?

Some users have come to the defence of the laptop with one user by the name of Gary claiming "I think every one is just holding it wrong". But other users are not too sure.

Assuming the reports are true, and BRG was the first to report the news after receiving and publishing a leaked memo purportedly from Apple, users will have to yet again wait for their beloved MacBook Air to receive their first firmware update to fix this issue so soon after purchasing the laptops. So why would the display of digital information on a screen on a MacBook Air change so much from an older model (which apparently has worked fine) to a newer model to create the sudden fluctuation in the brightness of the screen after a sleep and possibly of certain line colours?

If the memo is anything to go by, it stated that "Customers may report that the internal display is fading dark to light colors repeatedly after waking from sleep". The author's name, article number and other identifying marks have been blurred to protect the source and sent electronically to the recipient (probably a reseller). The recipient had to take a shot of his screen with a digital camera as if Apple or his supervisor wouldn't allow printing of the page for whatever reason.

We hope this isn't an attempt to encourage users of the latest MacBook Air model to stick with the upcoming release of OSX version 10.6.5 containing the new firmware update?

To minimise hassles for the company, one can observe how Apple has made the wise decision to release this latest model earlier than expected in case users should discover something odd or not functioning as it should so that hopefully by the time it is just before Christmas the issues can be remedied with the appropriate update(s) and customers can then have a relatively trouble-free Christmas and New Year period. Was Apple anticipating the possibility of a problem?

If so, just how good are the quality control measures at Apple (or should that be the Chinese manufacturing plant that makes these laptops)? Or is this a minor programming error on the part of Apple that needs fixing?

Unfortunately it is not likely Apple will provide specific details of what happened here. It is foremost a marketing company and therefore perception of quality products coming out of Apple is considered paramount to its success. But for how long can Apple continue in this way?

NOTE: It is possible Apple could be making further adjusts to the logic board to help reach an optimum design having the least number of problems. It is just that the company needs the help of customers to act as quality control agents before embarking on the next step of possibly introducing a similar super-thin laptop design for the professional market (i.e. the upcoming MacBook Pro 2011 version). It is just unfortunate users have to pay for a new laptop to perform this additional service for which Apple finds too expensive to perform internally. The shear number of Apple products sold to meet high demand (apparently so sexy to consumers that if the products were shaped like a sexual organ from the opposite gender people would be having sex with it on a regular basis) is just too great. And with profit being so important for Apple Inc. (being a shareholder company), it would explain this situation. It seems the company is trying to sell all the laptops as soon as they are manufactured. If this is the case, why not give every user the option of immediately replacing the laptop without question (as Dell does) if the user is not entirely happy? Just walk in and say there is a problem with this laptop, explain what it is, the Apple reseller notes what the issue is, takes the laptop away (with the original packaging) and the user is provided immediately with a new laptop that he/she can choose from the front of the shop (to avoid any funny business by resellers choosing another dodgy laptop from the back of the store to see if the problem mentioned by a previous user is true). Furthermore the user should be able to observe the reseller taking out the SSD storage unit and putting it into a new MacBook Air taken out of the new box. Should the user find a third laptop in the same model having problems and can demonstrate it, he should get a full refund or choose another computer model. End of story. Perhaps this will force Apple Inc. to put a little more effort to ensure the laptops are manufactured to the highest standard.

SPECIAL UPDTE
10 November 2010

Apple may be choosing to combine the firmware update for its MacBook Air (Late 2010) model with the OSX 10.6.5 update following the quick release of this OSX update today.

SPECIAL UPDTE
11 November 2010

No. The heap of updates from Apple at this time is suggesting a separate software update (50.9MB) is available to fix the brightness level of the display after wake up. Good to see. Further details are available from this Knowledge Base article.

SPECIAL UPDATE
19 November 2010

However, Apple is strongly encouraging MacBook Air (Late 2010) users to install OSX 10.6.5. According to this KnowledgeBase document, Apple has gone to considerable trouble mentioning the benefits of updating to OSX 10.6.5 saying there are incompatibilities in OSX 10.6.4 "that resulted in corrupt graphics and display flickering in the new MacBook Air" (Kessler, Topher. Apple's 10.6.5 update fixes MacBook Air video issues: CNET News. 19 November 2010.). Apple is almost certainly ensuring all new MacBook Air (Late 2010) models coming out of the factory now come installed with OSX 10.6.5 at time of writing.

SPECIAL UPDATE
10 December 2010

Apple provides another update for the MacBook Air (Late 2010) model. This one is a firmware update to resolve:

"...a rare issue where MacBook Air boots or wakes to a black screen or becomes unresponsive. This update is recommended for all 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air (late 2010) models."

Any other problems to worry about when waking up this latest laptop model? So long as it doesn't go "tick...tick...tick...BANG!" then everything should be okay.

The recommended method of updating the firmware for this laptop is as follows:

  1. The MacBook Air should be plugged in to a working power source and the battery fully charged in case the external power source should fail in the middle of this update. And never close the lid of your MacBook Air during the update.
  2. After downloading the firmware update, a restart of your MacBook Air will take place followed by the appearance of a gray screen.
  3. You should see a status bar indicator telling you how far into the update it has gone through. Be patient! When it is finished, the MacBook Air should restart automatically and take you back to the desktop ready for you to do your work.

Total time should be in the several minutes, not several hours. Certainly it should not exceed 10 minutes. Your new Boot ROM version should reach MBA31.0061.B01.

SPECIAL UPDATE
30 March 2011

MacBook Air users having "an issue that makes the system unresponsive when using iTunes" after updating to OSX 10.6.7 can be resolved after Apple released a supplemental update (461.18KB). Install the standard OSX 10.6.7 Update followed by this supplemental update.

MacBook Air released in mid-2011

The new 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air laptops are characterised by the use of the latest dual (not quad) core i5 and i7 peorcessors respectively for extra performance but at a lower speed to the MacBook Pro laptops to ensure heat dissipation is minimised. Plus these laptops now come with a more scratch-resistant glossy widescreen display with support for millions of colours. A much needed improvement from previous models now that Apple has finally sold enough of them to make the investment of developing a newer MacBook Air worth the effort.

Again, one shouldn't muck around with the smaller 11-inch MacBook Air unless you only want to use it as an internet machine and to speak to friends and family members and that's it. But if you want to do more with these laptops, we recommend the top of the range 13-inch MacBook Air. Flash storage capacity hasn't improved since the last model from October 2010 suggesting this is about as much storage one can fit inside the tiny enclosure of this laptop design. Until new flash memory technologies and more integrated chips come to fruition, the best you will get is a 256GB flash storage unit for the top-of-the-range version.

Native screen resolution for the 13-inch MacBook Air is still viewable and acceptable at 1,440 by 900 pixels.

Processor speed maxes out at 1.8GHz with the Intel Dual Core i7 chip containing a 4MB shared L3 cache (you must purchase this only from the Apple Online Store) combined with an Intel HD Graphics 3000 processing chip with its own independent 384MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory. These specs provide a respectable level of speed in graphics drawing and performance in most other tasks (including Adobe Photoshop work if you ever need to go this far with this machine).

RAM capacity hasn't progressed much further than the standard 4GB of the 1333MHz DDR3 chips of previous models and it is still soldered permanently on the motherboard (so no upgrades are possible).

The most notible change to the ports is the introduction of the Thuderbolt data transfer port. Use it to transfer data between laptops, desktops and other devices including the ability to perform video mirroring of the display onto a larger external display system with resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels at millions of colours. Other ports are the same with two USB 2.0 ports, an SD card slot, Stereo headphone output socket, built-in omnidirectional microphone (but no separate stereo microphone input socket, although Apple will supply it's own earphones with remote and microphone to work with this model) and the MagSafe power port.

Battery times per charge is not significantly improved, but is considered respectable at up to 7 hours (probably running a screensaver). In most situations, users should be conservative of this figure and assume between 5 and 6 hours of continuous normal use. The 11-inch MacBook Air runs for up to 5 hours because of the smaller battery size to fit the smaller enclosure (so, say, about 3 to 4.5 hours).

All MacBook Air models come standard with Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi 802.11n wireless networking technology and stereo speakers. A nice touch is to include the backlit keyboard for all models. Cheapest 11-inch MacBook Air remains at US$999. Top-of-the-range is roughly US$1,599.

And now to wait for the bugs....

UPDATE
1 September 2011

For Mac users who have purchased a Mercury line of SSD upgrade from Other World Computing for their Mac laptop may have experienced a problem causing some machines being put into sleep mode. This should be resolved with a firmware release available specifically for the MacBook Pro 2008 to 2010 models, Mac Pro 2009 to 2010 models, and iMac 2010 and MacBook Air 2008 to 2009 models.

UPDATE
12 September 2011

Revealing more of how little testing has taken place with the new Thunderbolt port and Mac OSX "Lion", Apple has released the MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.1. According to the blurb:

"Apple MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update includes fixes that enhance the stability of Mac OS X 10.7 Recovery from an Internet connection, and resolve issues with Apple Thunderbolt Display compatibility and Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode performance."

Hopefully this will be the last update to address this issue (and, of course, pigs may fly too).

UPDATE
26 October 2011

Another MacBook Air Early-2011 EFI firmware 2.2 update. With a bit of luck in this post-Steve Jobs era, the update will knock the remaining Thunderbolt and other bugs on the head.

Thanks!

ASUS releases the MacBook Air equivalent known as the UX21

It has taken a long time, but finally ASUS has released the MacBook Air equivalent for PC users with its ultra thin and lightweight design known as the Zenbook UX21E (11.6-inch screen, i3 processor with 64GB SSD), UX21E-DH71 (11.6-inch screen, i7 processor, 128GB SSD), UX31E-DH52 (13-inch screen, i5 processor with 128GB SSD), UX31E-DH53 (13-inch screen, i5 processor with 256GB SSD), and UX31E-DH72 (13-inch screen, i7 processor, 256GB SSD).

The most expensive version with its 13-inch screen and i7 processor will cost just a tad under US$1,449. It runs at 1.8GHz using the core i7 processor.

All models have an ASUS proprietary software technology for providing a two-second resume from sleep startup time, a 7 hour battery life performance, USB 3.0 connectivity, a 256GB SATA III SSD storage unit for the more expensive models, and a large trackpad made out of glass (and hopefully a glass screen too to minimise scratching) are standard features. Casing is a unibody aluminium alloy with an attractive brushed metal look when you open the laptop.

Only three limitations:

(i) the keyboard is claimed to be ordinary because the keys do not always show the characters on the screen, and is not of the backlit variety for night time use;

(ii) the trackpad is not always responsive to the finger (should be solved by an update from ASUS); and

(iii) the UX21 model can get too hot near the hinge area to comfortably rest it on your lap for anything more processor-intensive than word processing and internet browsing.

Prices are designed to be about US$200 less than Apple's MacBook Air to ensure a good sale of the laptops.

Also make sure these laptops have the latest WiFi update to stop the flaky reception.

Having trouble getting your stubborn Apple Magic Mouse to work for you?

This seems to be a relatively common problem reported by numerous users, especially around the time you need to replace the batteries. For example, in this Apple discussion thread, one user said:

"I've had it a couple of months only. Today it said the batteries were low and I should change them but when i put new batteries in and made sure it was on there is now no little green light and the system Bluetooth is unable to find the mouse.

What should I do now?'"

All sorts of possible reasons are given ranging from the batteries are not the right ones and should try non-rechargeable types, checking the batteries are installed correctly, to trying the mouse on another computer (but usually will still not work).

In 99 per cent of cases where the mouse refuses to show the green light with your new batteries inside and in the right orientation within the battery compartment, try the following method:

  1. Turn the switch on the mouse off.
  2. Power down the computer.
  3. Press SHIFT CTRL OPTION and the Power Button all at once and keep them pressed down for 10 seconds. The computer will automatically turn on after the 10 seconds.
  4. Turn Bluetooth on.
  5. Select "Set Up Bluetooth Device".
  6. As Bluetooth searches for a device, turn on the mouse.

In a few seconds the green light on the mouse should turn on and the device will be re-paired correctly with the computer.

It seems the computer needs a bit of a wake up call in order to see your mouse again.

Finally, if the above method doesn't work, it is likely the mouse connectors inside for touching the terminals of the batteries are losing their mechanical spring strength to push against the battery terminals resulting in the batteries moving about slightly to the point where you can cause the tiniest loss in power. Once this happens, the mouse will lose the wireless connection with your computer. Since this can happen to some users within 6 months of purchasing a magic mouse (at least for the 2011 model), we can confidently state that this is a manufacturing design fault and will need to be replaced with a better model or get your money back. While the mouse may look attractive on the outside (a testament to the brilliant industrial designs from Apple), the quality of the components internally in relation to the battery connectors are not of the highest quality.

Need to continue using the mouse until a replacement arrives? The temporary solution would be to get some paper and insert inside such that the batteries are prevented from physically moving about when you put the lid back on and use the mouse normally. The mouse should then be able to maintain wireless connection to the computer for longer.

MacBook Air (mid-2012) Software Update 1.0

Roughly a day after the MacBook Pro (mid-2012) Software Update 1.0 came out, MacBook Air (mid-2012) received a similar software update on 13 June 2012. Fortunately not as horrendous on the bandwidth when downloading it compared to the other update for the MacBook Pro — now only 167MB. Great!

MacBook Air SMC Update 1.7 for late 2010 models

This update enables Power Nap support for late 2010 models, but you must have OSX "Mountain Lion" 10.8.2 or higher for this to work.

MacBook Air SMC Update 1.7 for late 2010 models

Released on 19 September 2012, the MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update for mid-2012 MacBook Air models fixes an issue where Turbo Boost does not activate when using Boot Camp, and resolves an issue where NetBoot does not function properly when using an Ethernet adapter.

MacBook Air battery update

A class action against Apple by users of the MacBook Pro models has succeeded in getting Apple to supply a MacBook Air SMC Update 1.8.

You can download the MacBook Air SMC Firmware Updater 1.8 and see if it works for your model. When you do, make sure your laptop is fully charged and the AC adapter is plugged in and providing charge. There must be no interruption in the power supply during the update.

Thunderbolt Port Firmware Stability Update 1.2

A reign of sensibility has arrived with Apple choosing wisely to come up with a single update to fix all known instability issues for all Mac models (except the Retina models; well it was a good try considering this latest super-thin model is quite unique) that have the Thunderbolt port feature. This one specifically addresses problems found when sharing the hard disk of one computer with another through Target Disk Mode.

MacBook Air Flash Storage Firmware Update 1.0

This update is fairly critical for all MacBook Air mid-2012 models. If you want to access your personal data and use your applications to do so, it will be worth your effort to install this one. Apple states:

"MacBook Air Flash Storage Firmware Update addresses a storage firmware issue that, in rare cases, may cause a system to fail to recover from a crash."

MacBook Air (Mid 2013) Software Update 1.0

A useful update to address some minor issues with this model of MacBook Air. Apple gives details about this update as follows

"This update fixes an issue that in rare instances may cause an intermittent loss in wireless connectivity, an issue with Adobe Photoshop which may cause occasional screen flickering, and an issue which may cause audio volume to fluctuate during video playback."

MacBook Air SMC Update 1.9 and MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.7

The update fixes a battery management related issue for the mid-2012 and mid-2013 MacBook Air models. This problem must be just emerging after around 12 months of use and wasn't fixed in the 2013 model and now Apple has decided to solve it. As Apple stated:

"This update addresses rare issues where the battery unexpectedly stops functioning or the system hangs when the battery charge reaches less than one percent."

A further update is also required for mid-2013 models as of 11 October 2013 via the MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.7. This one specifically targets the high power consumption requirements of Windows 7 and 8 running in Boot Camp which could otherwise see your computer lose power. And the area that seems to sacrifice power is your screen. If your screen does not have enough power, the screen will go black. Hopefully this update will address this issue permanently.

NOTE: Logically the update will draw more power from your battery.

MacBook Air SSD "Flash" storage unit replacement program

Apple has determined a fault exists in a batch of 64GB and 128GB SSDs installed in the MacBook Air built between June 2012 and June 2013.

Of all the areas that can go wrong, it is remarkable to see the SSD as coming into question about its reliability. Anything else wrong with the computer can be dealt with. Just take out the SSD and put in a clean SSD and Apple can go ahead and do its repair. However, on this occasion, you cannot guarantee your sensitive data will not be retrieved in some way once you hand in the faulty SSD and the computer as proof of purchase in order to satisfy the requirements for this replacement program. Sure, go ahead and back up your data as Apple recommends. Even try to wipe clean the more sensitive data. But you can never be sure how Apple will manage these used SSDs can how it is possible for data to be retrieved with the right tools.

This is a very bad area to have a fault. Kudos to Apple for acknowledging the need to have a replacement program. Unfortunately the last thing you should expect to find a fault is in the SSDs. These have to be built to the highest quality and standards and made incredibly reliable and shockproof. The rest of the computer can always be replaced. The SSD, however, is a little more problematic. You can't take out the flash memory chips and put it in another SSDs. The entire lot including the flash memory chips have to be sent to Apple. Furthermore, disposing of the faulty SSDs is one area the public is not privy to learn more about. Interesting. Makes one wonder what Apple can learn from these faulty SSDs once they are gathered.

One must assume we have to put this down to SSD technology still in its infancy as the industry finds its path towards more reliable SSD solutions. More of a reason for people to wait until new technology is thoroughly tested by enough people before making a purchase.

Leaving this aside, it seems all newer models sold after July 2013 should be free of any defects. Unfortunately, we simply cannot guarantee this is the case.

MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.8

A fair few MacBook Aiur EFI Firmware updates have come and gone for this cheaper computer. The list so far is:

MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.7 (mid-2013 models)
MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.5 (mid-2012 models)
MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.4 (mid-2011 models)
MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.3 (late-2010 models)
MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.2 (mid-2011 models)
MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 1.1 (late-2008 models)

These updates provide better performance and addressing some sleep issues to name a few. These fixes kind of suggest the quality controls and the numerous changes to the hardware is creating some headaches for Apple since late 2010 (or perhaps designed to entice users to purchase a new MacBook Air). Now the latest firmware update is directed at the latest MacBook Air model built in early 2014 and includes the mid-2013 model, focusing on sleep issues when devices are connected to a port and a random and rare memory issue. As Apple stated:

  1. Improves reliability when waking from sleep and when booting while certain USB and Thunderbolt devices are connected.
  2. Fixes a rare memory issue that may cause the system to randomly reboot, and an issue where the system may not properly sleep the built-in display when an external display is connected while running Windows using Boot Camp.

It is possible this update may have fixed some issues, but users are noticing one other issue in relation to the Thunderbolt port using HDMI. As one MacUpdate user noted:

"This update didn't fix the HDMI issue at all. Still colors that are way off or downright missing. I really hope that Apple digs into this and provides a REAL WORKING FIX! "

And this is just for the latest machine, which, given the model we have, has been around for quite a number of years. Sounds like a little more waiting on the quality control work is required before purchasing a reasonable quality MacBook Air.

MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.9

Lots of firmware updates for the mid-2011 model of the MacBook Air with the release of this next 4.3MB fix. This one allegedly "addresses an issue where systems may take longer to wake from sleep than expected and fixes a rare issue that may cause fans to run at full speed after waking from sleep". Nothing to suggest the HDMI issue has been fixed. Or has Apple already fixed this latter problem and users are not aware of it?