When Apple's CEO Steve Jobs pulled the MacBook Air out of an interoffice memo envelope -- nice touch, that -- the crowd at Macworld Conference & Expo oohed and aahed. And applauded. And some even did your basic shout-out.
What got them excited was the thinnest Mac ever, and Apple's first real entry into the so-called subnotebook market. But just what is the MacBook Air?
A bunch of questions popped up almost as soon as Jobs whipped the 3-lb., aluminum-clad MacBook Air out and held it aloft. Here are the answers.
What's the difference between the MacBook Air and the other models in the MacBook Line? This is easy. Price: The Air costs about US$650 more than a faster MacBook when the latter is tricked out with 2GB of third-party RAM. The thickness of the case: The Air is a wood shaving compared to the MacBook. The pieces inside: The Air is missing several -- with an optical drive and Ethernet port but two pieces -- but it gains others, including a multi-touch trackpad. The weight: The Air tips the scale at 3 lb., while the similarly-sized MacBook weighs 5 lb.
Is the Air really the world's thinnest notebook, as Jobs claimed? It appears so. Just 0.16 inches at its thinnest -- which is where, we assume, Apple put the tape measure -- the Air beats the minimum thickness of rivals by wide margins. The Sony Vaio TZ, for instance, is 0.8 in. at its thickest, while Dell's Latitude X1 is an even bulkier 1 in. thick. Even the Asus Eee is thicker. In fact, the thickest part of the Air (near the hinge) is thinner at 0.76 in. than the thinnest part of the Sony Corp., Dell Inc. or Asus Computer International Inc. models. Jenny Craig would be proud.
The MacBook Air is only 0.75 in. thick at the hinge.
What processor powers the Air? That was a bit of a mystery on Tuesday, when Apple and Intel merely hinted at its identity, saying only that the Core 2 Duo inside was 60% smaller than the standard package. Buyers have two choices: The stock 1.6-GHz processor or the slightly faster 1.8-GHz version that costs US$300 more. Jobs and Paul Otellini, Intel's CEO, shared the stage for a few moments, but neither talked chip details. They didn't specify the exact processor, whether it is part of Intel's announced road map or even whether it's one of the new 45-nanometer products or an older 65nm processor.
Several took a stab at unmasking the Air's brains, however. The x86watch.com site, for instance, which is headed by Brooke Crothers, a former IDC analyst (and former InfoWorld editor), claimed that the processors are special "off the road map" chips that won't be getting the usual Intel nomenclature. Another hardware news site, AnandTech.com, seconded the one-off nature of the Air's CPUs and said it appears that the processors are custom Meroms, one of Intel's mobile lines. AnandTech, however, isn't convinced that the chip was of the 45nm Penryn architecture.
Intel spokeswoman Connie Brown spelled it out, confirming that the chip is a customized member of the Merom family and, thus, a 65nm design. And although Intel made the processor for Apple, the company doesn't have an exclusive. "Apple came to us and asked for aggressive packaging solutions," and Intel was happy to oblige, she said. "[But] we'd make [the processor] available to other [resellers] if they wanted it."
Brown also confirmed x86watch.com's speculation that the TDP (Thermal Design Power), which notes the maximum amount of heat in watts that a computer's cooling system can handle, is 20 watts. That's considerably more efficient than the 35 watts of Intel's standard mobile processors.
Can I add more memory? Nope. Next question.
Why not? Apple isn't saying, but it's safe to assume it's for the same reason the battery can't be swapped out by the user: The laptop's design, in particular the thin mandate, precluded any user access to RAM. In fact, the Air's standard -- and nonexpandable -- 2GB of memory is soldered to the 3-by-6-in. motherboard. Of course, it's only a matter of time before some madman with a soldering iron tries a do-it-yourself upgrade. The usual caveat applies: Don't do this at home (or anywhere else) if you value the warranty.
OK, but what about the battery? Can I replace that myself? Negative there, too. The MacBook Air's power, as Apple cryptically put it on its Web site, comes from an "integrated 37-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery." Emphasis on the word "integrated."