How the iPad changes PC design

It's not just the iPad's good looks. It's what's inside that's probably the bigger catalyst for a change in the design of laptops. A few major component trends make this pretty clear.

Consumers prefer light to heavy. Thin to thick. And that's why more laptops will begin to imitate the internals of the iPad.

Reason #1--Flash memory: The iPad (not to mention the iPhone) is a major force driving flash memory development and production. Apple obviously has a thing for flash (so much so that headlines periodically appear about its ravenous appetite for this silicon delicacy ).

Laying down a solid-state drive (aka flash drive) on the main system board can alone make for a much smaller, lighter design (see photos). Want more proof? Just look at this teardown of the 2011 MacBook Pro to see the relatively large size of a standard magnetic hard disk drive.

And witness what's been occurring over the last couple of weeks. Flash memory and solid-state drive manufacturers like Micron-Intel, Toshiba, and SanDisk have all been tripping over themselves to announce denser flash memory. Here's what Micron Technology said: "Intel and Micron...expect to unveil samples of a 16GB device, creating up to 128GBs of capacity in a single solid-state storage solution that is smaller than a U.S. postage stamp."

Translation: next year denser, less expensive flash drives and solid-state drives. And, I predict, more laptops like the Air and Samsung's Series 9 . Though higher-performance solid-state drives will likely never rival the gigabyte-per-dollar economics of the magnetic HDD, they will finally come down enough in price that 256GB (or larger) solid-state storage won't be a barrier to mainstream market designs in the last half of 2012.

The iPad 2's main circuit board: More ultra-portable laptops will mimic the iPad's internals.
The iPad 2's main circuit board: More ultra-portable laptops will mimic the iPad's internals. iFixit

The 2010 MacBook Air's main board, like the iPad's, packs a lot into a small space.  And, come to think of it, the Air preceded the iPad (and the iPhone arrived before both).
The 2010 MacBook Air's main board, like the iPad's, packs a lot into a small space. And, come to think of it, the Air preceded the iPad (and the iPhone arrived before both). iFixit

Reason #2--Processors: as manufacturing technology advances, small, power-efficient ARM chips will gain in performance and land in more feature-rich personal computing devices. Designs like Apple's A5 (and future A6) and Nvidia's Tegra are already taking on some of the characteristics of PC processors (two cores with symmetric multiprocessing). At the other end of the spectrum, Intel is racing to get its processors into tablets and even smartphones. And, more generally, Intel's PC-class processors are emulating chips like the A5 by packing more functionality onto the main processor, resulting in more power efficient silicon (the hallmark of the A5). Proof of the latter trend will come this summer when Apple puts Intel's most power-efficient Sandy Bridge chips into the MacBook Air.

Reason #3--Aesthetics: I think it's safe to say that consumers seem to like the iPad. Form and function combine to make it irresistible for many business users and consumers. By extension, this applies to the MacBook Air and similar laptop designs that emerge.

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.

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Show Comments Hide Comments
Latest Galleries from CNET
Uber's tumultuous ups and downs in 2014 (pictures)
The best and worst quotes of 2014 (pictures)
A roomy range from LG (pictures)
This plain GE range has all of the essentials (pictures)
Sony's 'Interview' heard 'round the world (pictures)
Google Lunar XPrize: Testing Astrobotic's rover on the rocks (pictures)