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Let’s Do Some Speculating

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

With 2011 approaching rapidly, Apple-related rumors are also hitting like machine-gun fire. Just yesterday, Digitimes reported that Apple plans to update its MacBook Pros and iMac lines in the 1st half of 2011, alongside new iPads. Really? Did it really take inside sources to figure that out?

So I’d really like to take this post to do some speculating.

Let’s start with the iMac. Digitimes suggests that there will be a new screen size for the “mainstream.” Honestly, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a possibly smaller, maybe 17″ iMac. This would obviously undercut Apple’s cheapest 21.5″ iMac, but this may give Apple an excuse to simply get rid of the consumer configuration Mac Mini, which in my opinion is a little overpriced for what it offers. The new Apple TV is a fairly huge success, so using the mini as a media PC is too expensive and unnecessary. By leaving the mini as mostly a server machine, Apple could allow the smaller iMac to move into the sub-$1000 space. I’m sure an $800 iMac would be gobbled up by the masses immediately.

My real interest is in the MacBook line as a whole. Digitimes’s sources suggest that there are at least 4 versions of the MacBook Pro being prepared. Apple currently has 6. This topic has been discussed to death already, but one of the 13-inchers in the family needs to get killed off. If Digitimes’s information is accurate, then it supports the idea that Apple is either killing off the 13-inch MacBook Pro or the 13-inch MacBook (I’m pretty sure the MacBook Air is safe given its tremendous success since release). I’m also thinking that the 13-inch white MacBook is probably the one on the cutting board, since the 13-inch Pro offers tremendous advantages over its white sibling for a minimal price increase. This would allow Apple to simply rehash its short-lived endeavor to treat the 13-inch aluminum laptop as a simple “MacBook” with a lower price-point.

Let’s talk about the guts. 2011 brings Intel’s Sandy Bridge platform, along with the highly-anticipated Light-Peak technology that Apple supposedly helped pioneer. It’s fair to guess that the next generation of Macs should all promptly switch over to the Sandy Bridge processors (especially the ones using ancient Core 2 Duos). Apple opted to keep using Core 2 Duo with NVidia graphics on the all but the 15 and 17 inch Pros due to a spat between Intel and NVidia over integrated GPUs. That issue has finally been legally resolved, and NVidia actually just announced its new line of GPUs for Sandy Bridge. Awesome. Apple can finally move to the Core i-series processors for all Macs. It would be far from outrageous to assume that the next MacBooks will certainly all be carrying at least Sandy Bridge i5’s (probably upgradeable to i7’s) with integrated NVidia graphics, and on the 15 and 17-inchers (whether or not these will be the only “Pros” remaining) will be carrying discrete GPUs as well. Whether or not Light Peak makes an appearance is really up to whether or not Intel has gotten the technology going yet. I certainly hope so, as those 10 Gbps transfer speeds, USB 3.0 is looking less and less appealing. We’ll have to see on January 5th at CES. There have been rumors floating around about AMD graphics, but it’s hard to say whether these were legitimate, or just pure speculation due to the Intel/NVidia skirmish. Either way, despite AMD and NVidia supporters battling it out over “who’s the best,” as long as the upper end notebooks are carrying improved graphics, consumers will be happy.

Digitimes’s sources also suggest a slight chassis redesign. To really hash this one out, we need to consider Apple’s laptop development in the big picture. It’s interesting to note that the last MacBook Pro chassis redesign was in late 2008, soon after the introduction of the MacBook Air (the first unibody Apple notebook). At the presentation announcing this year’s new MacBook Airs, Steve Jobs made a point to say that this design is the future of notebooks. I, along with many, am expecting at least a shift to SSDs as standard across the board, similar to the “blade” SSDs in the Airs. Given the price and capacity limitations on SSDs though, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple included a hard disk drive, which brings me to my point. I believe that the chassis redesign is going to bring a slimmer, more Air-like look to the MacBook Pros. If Apple were to eliminate the optical disk drive, which is highly possible, a huge chunk of space within the chassis is opened up. This would allow Apple to not only include both a blade SSD for boot up and a spinning disk drive for data, but also increase the battery size, and still leave room to spare for a smaller chassis.

Last week, I had a fairly large scare with my own late 2008 MacBook Pro. Twice in a row, the screen froze up and console gave me a huge torrent of graphics card errors. I thought for sure it was hardware, but after a couple of hard restarts, the problems disappeared. I’ve decided that, although failure did not happen this time, it’s about time for an upgrade. The 2.4 GHz C2D in my computer is slowly becoming antiquated, and I, for one, am incredibly excited for Sandy Bridge, standard SSDs, and a new chassis.

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