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Tag Archives: Macbook

Notebooks: Thin Is In

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There was a time when if you wanted a very thin and light notebook, you’d pay through the nose for it. Ultra-light notebooks were for serious business travellers with serious business bank accounts that could withstand four thousand dollars or more being spent on a thin and light notebook — and more often than not, one that wasn’t as powerful or feature rich as the same heavier systems were at the time.

Those sorts of machines are still around, but they’re generally not feature poor. I’ve spent a couple of weeks recently testing out Sony’s ultra-slick Vaio Z, a thin and stylish laptop with all the trimmings, and then some. This is a system that includes a media dock that comes with a Blu-Ray drive and external graphics card for added performance when you’re using it in a desktop style configuration. The one thing it isn’t is cheap; at $3,999 it hearkens back to the ultralight systems that used to dominate this particular market segment.

Apple’s been something of a disruptive force in this particular market, although even they used to sell the ultra-thin Macbook Air as a premium machine. Last year’s iteration of the Air slimmed things down and made SSD mandatory while dropping prices, and this year the company effectively killed its plain Macbook line in favour of the Air. If you want an entry level Mac notebook, the Air is it.

It’s not just a Mac world for inexpensive ultralight notebooks however, with a number of vendors offering up what’ll be informally dubbed Ultrabooks; that’s an Intel marketing term for thin and light ultraportable notebooks. Acer’s set to unveil its Aspire S3 ultrabook in the Australian marketplace, and it’s expected to sell for between $1000-$1600 depending on configuration; that’s the same price as most equivalent Macbook Air models. Toshiba likewise has the Portégé Z830 ultrabook waiting in the wings for an Australian release later this year, and it’s likely to sell for the same $1,000-$1,500 price point. Acer’s ultrabook has the edge in being genuinely thin, but Toshiba’s is somewhat lighter; at around 1.13kg it’s the lightest ultrabook announced so far.

At that kind of price point, it’s still entirely possible to pick up a decent but heavy notebook, with many models coming in under the $1,000 barrier. If you’re cash-strapped and still need portability, a netbook is still a viable option, but not a powerful one. The under $1,000 crowd are largely older technology — in the next few years we can expect to see this year’s Ultrabooks become the entry level fodder. Thin, in other words, is in.


Macbook Air: Is Thin Enough?

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I’ve spent the past couple of weeks testing out Apple’s second take on its ultra-portable laptop concept, the Macbook Air. When Apple launched the first model of the Air, I was somewhat interested by the very thin form factor, but totally taken aback by the price; more than two thousand dollars for a machine that wasn’t, to put it bluntly, even poking at the sides of being cutting edge a couple of years ago.

The Air comfortably fits into the category of what used to be called “ultraportables” right up until the first netbooks hit the scene and radically reinterpreted not only the size of notebook systems but most markedly their pricing. It’s undoubtedly something that’s affected the pricing of the Macbook Air (and many of the competing ultra-thin Windows equivalents), as the new models start at a much more moderate $1,199.

For a system as innately portable as the Air, that’s a pretty good buy, but it’s still not without its catches. The processor still isn’t cutting edge — an ultra-low voltage 1.4GHz or 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo — although the internal storage, which now only comes in solid state drive (SSD) format, is. Solid State Drives contain no moving parts, so they’re rather more durable than traditional hard drives, as well as drawing less power and running much cooler. The catch there is that they’re more costly, and as such, the entry level Macbook Air that I’ve tested comes with a slender 64GB of available storage. An external, older normal USB hard drive would seem like a very sensible choice for any Air purchaser.

The first model of the Air infamously had a single USB port that had to service any external peripherals, including ethernet ports, external drives and adaptors. The new model doubles that number, which at least means you could (for example) use a USB modem and USB storage drive at the same time. Like its predecessor, an optical drive is noticeably absent, although you can install software on a client PC or Mac to share an optical drive to the Air over a network.

I’ve used plenty of netbooks over the past couple of years, and the Air does neatly overpower them in terms of raw processing power. Where it’s technically feasible to, for example, edit a spreadsheet or adjust an image on a netbook, you need plenty of patience, and the Air does manage that a little better. Then again, Netbook prices have continued to tumble over time, so there’s still a fair pricing gap between a standard Netbook and the Air, or for that matter a fatter, more regularly specified PC notebook.

For heavy travellers, the light carrying weight, full sized keyboard and very quiet and relatively cool operation of the Macbook Air make a reasonable buying case. Those on more limited budgets, or who want the even smaller form of a netbook would do well to trawl the online stores, where some of last year’s models can be had for less than $500.


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