Oct 232010

Steve Jobs the visionary (A.K.A captain obvious among some strong minded techies) has the powers of the Pied Piper among his followers, as he seems to be the only tech CEO able to tell his users what to do and get them to blindly follow instead of picket at his office entrance.  Trust is hard to gain and easy to lose, but he and Apple seem to have done things right and regained a faithful bunch of fans since he’s been back at the helm.  I’m saying all this although I’ve haven’t used a Mac longer than 20 hours in my life.  So far it didn’t fit well in the corporate world I was a part of, but if you are a consumer or an end user with a limited software compatibility list and have the money it takes to buy a Mac, more power to you.  (I know, you Apple fans will now give me two words: sour grapes.)

Nevertheless, throughout the last two years, whenever I visited an Apple store to either fix one of my iPhones, buy a case for it, or to test and buy an iPad for my dad, each and every single time I had to stop to “flirt” with a MacBook Air.  These newly released models are equally attractive to me, however, the price is too high to pass my regular question whether I really need it or just want it, but one of my favorite lines is also “I’m not rich enough to buy cheap things.”  If you analyze most of your past cheap purchases you’ll see what I mean.  This is also why I’m glad to be out of the public sector for at least a while, because I used to find it disturbing to be forced to buy “cheapest” instead of most suitable solutions.  If you’re like me, most of the time when you apparently saved money with your initial cheapo purchase, you ended up spending more later on making things right, either by replacing the item with a better one or by buying and installing improvements.  This doesn’t by any means lead me to a conclusion that my recent purchase of the 13.3″ 3.2 lbs Toshiba R705-P25 was a mistake as it is one of the best laptops I ever bought.  It still has a better Arrandale CPU, 3 USB ports, eSata port, Intel WiDi, USB power out while off and it is lighter than the old Air models and still faster than the new ones, but I’d gladly replace its 500 GB HDD (Hard Disk Drive) with a smaller but much faster SSD (Solid State Drive – other name for non-spinning, flash hard disk drive), keeping the original hard drive as the external after I buy an USB enclosure for it.

My experience with solid state storage technology goes back to mid 2009 when I got my “old” 12″ HP Elitebook 2530p Core 2 Duo work laptop with an 80 GB SSD.  I became enchanted with its blazing fast speed from the first day.  It was so small, yet extremely powerful and fast with a docking station.  It booted so fast (on those occasions when I had to shut it down instead of putting it into standby mode) that even the technician who once had it to be imaged was amazed.   The real revelation came when I benchmarked it against an almost identical model with a regular HDD (hard disk drive) and its speed was off the charts, while the latter was only slightly above average.  That proves my following point and this is exactly why I think Apple nailed it with the decision to stick to only SSD technology on Air computers.  Even in my Toshiba r705 review in one of my past posts I stated one obvious thing that few non-technical people realize – the only way to speed up a system is to speed up its weakest link.  As you may already know very well, all these years  the slowest component on most computers has been the hard disk.  It’s a “mule” component that keeps information and software stored, seldom fails, but never excels.  I used to have a problem with Apple lagging behind other computer manufacturers with CPU technology and I still do, and yes, Core 2 Duo on new Air models is yesteryear technology.  However, I somehow think that in this case it doesn’t really matter – instead of going for faster and far more expensive CPU and some improvement in processing speed, they went after the slowest component and eliminated the old fashioned spinning HDD, what makes the whole system perform like a champion.

One misconception about SSD on a laptop is that it saves power and gives you more battery life.  Not entirely true, maybe with some models, but a HDD’s power consumption is so minimal when compared to screen and CPU consumption, that it really doesn’t directly result in extra hours of battery life.  It does provide better anti-shock resistance, and it is lighter, so the battery can be bigger and heavier without impacting the weight of the unit.  One major disadvantage of SSD is its high price, but many people are willing to carry around USB sticks and external drives just to have a much faster machine.  I’m one of them.  In fact I was so thrilled by this new technology particularly after experiencing the performance improvements that about one year ago I told my vendor that SSD drives will become mainstream on laptops in about two to three years.  Here we go, one year after, Apple eliminating HDD in at least one series of their ultraportables.

Speaking of ultraportables and netbooks, although the borders between these technologies are narrowing, MacBook Air is NOT a netbook.  It is too fast and too fancy, not to mention too expensive for a netbook.  Yes, I agree that some netbooks are lately equipped with dual core CPUs and bigger screens, and yet, these are still low power and low speed CPUs (I also don’t count laptops with Intel’s dual core ultra-low voltage CPUs other than Atom into netbooks.)  But what is going to further narrow the difference between the two is the SSD technology as it has the power to speed up even slower systems.  Yes, SSD still has some flaws like slower writes than reads and lower number of writes when compared to HDDs, but they are improving, there is a new generation of extremely fast SSD controllers on the market that makes them perform even better and their flaws are so outweighed by the benefits.  They are ready and Apple’s decision to ditch all HDDs in the Air laptop series is a bold and leading move showing the upcoming future trends.  Watch this decision drive the SSD pricing down significantly – I say that besides and thanks to the Apple MacBook Air machines, we’ll have mainstream SSD laptops in a year.  Great Jobs, Steve 🙂

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