Apple boots MacBook Air wannabes out of slim case fabs
Building an aluminium ultrabook? Forget it
MacBook Air competitors may have to be made out of plastic, rather than aluminium, because Apple has first dibs on the factories that make the light metal cases.
The success of super slim MacBook Air has kickstarted a trend for svelte laptops called ultrabooks. But although the Air's tough and light unibody aluminium casing is part of its appeal, rival products from companies such as Samsung may have to be made out of plastic or high-density fibreglass simply because supply of aluminium unibody chassis is limited.
There's no shortage of aluminium, but only some factories - all in China - can make the unibody cases and internal parts, and it takes three hours to turn around the slim cases. DigiTimes and AppleInsider report that each computer-controlled machine used to cast the boxes can only produce eight pieces a day.
And when they do, it's Apple that gets them.
AppleInsider reports that Catcher Technology, the largest unibody chassis maker, is restricted due to a production stoppage in China. But Catcher is still giving priority supply to Apple, which means other PC makers are feeling the squeeze.
But if there's demand, surely it won't be too long before some smart Chinese guy with lots of cheap workers creates a new factory.
In the meantime it looks like Ultrabook makers are investigating making their computer chassis out of a combination of aluminium and plastic, with aluminium outsides and plastic internal parts, a process that could halve the costs of production. Manufacturers and Intel are also well aware that driving down prices could give them an edge over Apple. ®
'Machined' or 'milled', not cast
The cases are machined, which is why they are slow and expensive to make. 'Casting' refers to pouring or injecting a liquid substance into a mould which will then solidify.
Machining allows features that can't be moulded, such as undercuts and very sharp radii. There is also a relationship to the grain structure of the material.
CNC machining is usually used for short production runs or prototypes, since it is too time consuming for many mass production parts when alternatives are available. Extruded parts, such as the case of the orginal iPod Nano and Mac Mini are far cheaper to make, but limited to a constant cross-section.
The casing of my (aging) VAIO SZ series machine is made of carbon fibre, and has withstood severe bashing around for years. Not perhaps as elegant as Apple, but if you want a tough, lightweight case, carbon fibre takes a lot of beating.
The MacBooks do look good in their simple cases, but I chose my machine mainly on combined merits of compute power, gpu power, and light weight. As we had just got extra funding price was not an issue. Looks did not come into it.
If you can't sue them
Buy all the parts so no one can else can make something. \Obviously not intentional, or at least just yet, but wouldn't be surprised if Apple go out and but every HD on the market.
So, I'm curious, in the time you have spent using or owning a Macbook Air, which bits of it's unique features do you think Apple 'didn't innovate'?
Which manufacturers mass produced aluminium unibody laptop did Apple copy the design and production methods from?
So much harder when you have to back up wild opinions with fact, isn't it?
Who would use it though
How many users are going to want a Linux laptop? Outside of these elReg four walls?