Sunday, November 27, 2011

One Month+ with the MacBook Air

I suppose all love affairs have to end at some point, but I don't foresee my feelings about the MBA changing.  If anything, after more than month with it, my admiration for it, if not my crush on it, has increased. 

There has not been one hiccough (yeah, I know ... old spelling; I'm old,) and I only see the MacBook line getting better as the technology that drives the Air migrates to the MacBook Pro line.  The only drawback I see to the machine is that RAM is not upgradeable.  The RAM module(s) is/are soldered to the system board, so upgrading would be difficult and somewhat costly.

 The other limitation is the lack of Ethernet port.  Designed as an ultralight laptop replacement, this makes sense.  WiFi may not be ubiquitous, but it is normally readily available.  It is at home or office that an Ethernet port would be an advantage, especially when uploading a lot of data to a network drive.

You can, of course, get a USB-to-Ethernet adapter, but that limits you to 10/100 speeds, as the Air's USB port is 2.0 -- no Gigabit speeds for this machine.  The Air's Thunderbolt port is faster than even USB 3.0, so this makes sense.  But there are precious few Thunderbolt devices, much less adapters, available at this time, and the jury will be out on Thunderbolt for awhile, perhaps for a long time.  A Thunderbolt to gigabit Ethernet adapter would be really, really handy.

Which brings us to Thunderbolt itself.  Happily, there are some display port to HDMI available, and I purchased the Kanex which works perfectly and seems to be solidly built.  In our spare room we have a 22"  HDTV set (720p), and I wanted to use that as a larger display for photo editing and to have a dual display setup available.

With the Kanex adapter, it works perfectly! Well ... as perfectly as the Sylvania (Funai) technology permits.  As a TV, the Sylvania is not bad.  Video from my satellite receiver via HDMI and Nintendo via component is good.  But at only 720p and with an older, lower spec'd panel from an unknown manufacturer, it's really not going to cut it for serious photo editing.

What I would like is a 27" IPS display that can also serve as a TV monitor.  At that size, an IPS display is going to run serious money.  Models from NEC, Dell, HP are going to be north of $1K, and an Eizo FlexScan SX2762W, which is pretty much an industry standard for the graphics environment, is over $1600.

Enter, then, the Apple Thunderbolt at $999 (less with employee purchase plan discount,) which not only starts to look "cheap" but adds 10Gb peripheral port capability -- and that's full duplex.

The fly in that ointment is that to date there are no adapters available to connect HDMI sources such as AV receivers, satellite and cable boxes to the Thunderbolt display.   This is after the first release of Thunderbolt technology about 9 months ago.  If I have any criticism of Apple at all, it is that they have repeatedly developed and implemented new I/O technologies that have not gone mainstream.  Firewire ... DisplayPort ... these and others were proprietary enough to keep them from becoming standards.  In this case, my understanding is that Apple initiated Thunderbolt and transferred IP  to Intel for development so that indeed it could become a standard.  That's hopeful, but it's not a guarantee of success.

Another option would be for Apple to manufacture or purchase as many adapters and devices for Thunderbolt as possible and flood the market.  Hell, make PCI-e to TB adapters and practically give them away.  Entice Windows PC owners and at the very least you they will sell some devices that are either Apple branded or branded by 3rd party suppliers closely associated with Apple.  How many Windows users have iPods and iPhones?  Make the next gen of those devices Thunderbolt-enabled for super-fast syncing (yeah, I know ... iCloud is replacing tethered syncing,) and watch how many of those users eventually buy a Mac. 

Such a strategy is not technically difficult.  On the Intel page referenced above, Intel states:

"Extend to reach other I/O technologies by using adapters that use widely available PCI Express* controllers. It's simple to create a Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, or eSATA adapter using existing device PCI Express* drivers."

Did you get that Apple and Apple partners? 

Of course, Jason Hiner thinks the whole Thunderbolt strategy is a block on wireless USB 3.0

If so, Apple (the only "major" user of TB that I know of) and Intel better get really, really busy. Anyone who comes out with wireless USB is going to have at least a reasonable chance of having a major impact on technology.  And making a lot of money.

Then there's the rumoured Apple Television (not the Apple TV set-top device) ... which I would hope would have HDMI input as well as Thunderbolt.

But back to my MacBook Air ... Will Moyer wrote a blog entry about his MBA purchase.  His only real negative was that he felt the cursor (arrow) keys were chintzy.  I don't find mine to be any different than the other keys, and they certainly don't feel chintzy.  I suspect Apple has more than one OEM vendor for keyboards, and I got lucky.

So all-in-all, I'm still thrilled.  It's like being on a really long honeymoon with an inanimate object. 

Yeah, I'm weird.  But you knew that.

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