Imagining a newfangled, 12-inch MacBook

If Apple is developing a fanless MacBook, it presents some interesting possibilities.

A fanless MacBook?  What does that imply?
A fanless MacBook? What does that imply?

Will Apple bring out a newfangled, 12-inch MacBook? Only Apple knows, of course, but let's look at some possibilities if it does.

We'll start with the supply-chain-sourced speculation. Several sources, including NPD DisplaySearch and KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, are anticipating -- and have been for some time -- a 12-inch MacBook.

It's not clear whether it would be a new MacBook Air or an entirely different concept, though it should be noted that most informed, Asia-based speculation to date does not always make a direct reference to the Air.

The latest speculation is the most interesting because it refers to a fanless design. That could imply several things.

Hybrid: Typically, the reason a device maker goes with a fanless design is to put the electronics behind the glass -- not under the keyboard, like typical laptops. Behind-the-glass usually implies a tablet or a hybrid -- the latter along the lines of the Surface Pro 2 or Dell Venue 11 Pro. And note that though it's a hybrid, the Venue 11 Pro can be described (and indeed looks like) a traditional clamshell when the keyboard is attached.

Apple A series processor: It's probably the single most important internal component because it dictates what the design will be. All A series-based designs -- like the iPad Mini Retina, iPad Air, and iPhone 5S -- dissipate relatively little heat and, thus, require no fan. Fanless = very thin and light in the device world. (All current MacBooks use fans.)

That would raise lots of other questions, including: Is it a MacBook (or MacBook-like device) running a future A8 processor? And what operating system would Apple use?

Intel processor: That above scenario, though possible, may be a bit out there for a design that's due "soon." So, let's look at the second fanless possibility. This one on OS X. A version of Intel's Haswell processor can be used in fanless Windows designs, like the HP Spectre 13 x2, a tablet-laptop hybrid. And Apple is very good at working with (forcing?) Intel to develop the most power-efficient processors possible, so it could be an Intel chip that Apple has finessed to run in a fanless device.

And there is always the remote (very?) possibility that Apple will finally adopt the Intel Atom processor (which has been completely redesigned). Atom is a fanless processor.

Display: NPD DisplaySearch said the new MacBook may use a 12-inch 2,304x1,440, putting it into Retina territory. The MacBook Air never went Retina. Apple has put Retina displays only on the pricier MacBook Pro line.

Those are a few quick thoughts after the rumors broke yesterday on Apple blogs. Readers, I'm sure, have different ideas.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.


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