Inc. (AAPL) recently unveiled its new MacBook Air models, the fourth major refresh
of the product line, and the first refresh of the 11.6-inch MacBook Air,
introduced in generation three. Apple is now the third largest PC manufacturer by volume in
the U.S. The recent refresh was significant as it also marked the death
of the "budget" MacBook laptop.
I. Slow SSDs?
Reports are emerging from multiple sources that some MacBook Airs -- namely the
13.3-inch models -- have a bit of a shortcoming when it comes to the speed of
the installed solid state drive.
Comparing 128 GB SSD drives (stock on the 13.3-inch, an upgrade option on the
11.6-inch) on the refreshed models, gadget enthusiasts discovered the 13.3-inch
128 GB drive is manufactured by Toshiba Corp. (TYO:6502), while the 11.6-inch has
a hard drive by Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (SEO:005930). While that difference may
not sound like much, it turns out it actually makes a somewhat substantial
difference in speed.
The Toshiba TS128C SSD in the video review show TLD Today was found [video] to post a write speed of 156
MB/s versus a much higher write speed of 246 MB/s with the Samsung SM128C
SSD. Similarly read speeds for the Toshiba were 208 MB/s and for the
Samsung were 264 MB/s.
Engadget attempted to confirm these numbers with
tests of its own. Its Toshiba-equipped air posted write and read speeds
of 184 MB/s and 203 MB/s, respectively. The write numbers seem in
pretty good agreement, but there's a fair amount of discrepancy between the
writes speeds in the two tests.
Of course, this is hardly a "disaster" for MacBook owners -- the
Toshiba drive is still faster than the 5400 rpm hard drives found in most
laptops, which run up to 100 MB/s for the latest models. And there's far
bigger hardware headaches in the MacBook Air itself -- such as the anemic stock
2 GB of DRAM or the lack of a discrete graphics chip.
That said, MacBook Air buyers may wish to check hard drives on in-store models
by on "About This Mac" in the menu bar and going to More Info
-> System Report, and lastly, clicking on Serial ATA. It is unknown
what the distribution of drives for higher capacity is in terms of Samsung
The only noticeable difference from the faster SSD speeds will likely be small
speedups in boot time and slightly faster file transfers, when copying large
files or folders to or from the hard drive.
II. "Burning" Batteries?
Esteemed hacker Charlie Miller is perhaps the most distinguished hacker of Apple laptops in the
business, so when he promises something big, the media naturally takes note.
Over the last couple weeks, reports have been surfacing that Mr. Miller is
planning a big release for next month at the annual Black Hat conference in Las
Vegas, Nevada. Reportedly, Mr. Miller is preparing to unveil how to
"hack" Mac batteries to set them on fire.
Apple has had its fair share of exploding/burning gadgets  over the years, so that claim caused much
excitement and fear. It also perhaps brings to mind Sony Corp.'s (TYO:6758) mass battery recalls of a few years back, in lieu of
reports of explosions.
At this point it's clear Mr. Miller is going to present something important,
but the media appears focus on wanton speculation, rather than waiting for the
facts. For example some sources -- like Tal Be'ery, Web security
research team leader at Imperva Security claims that
the hack requires physical access.
He comments, "Why would hackers invest time and money in the R&D of a
new too a new tool that would cost 130$ per deployment (the cost of a battery)
and be only relevant for a very selected group (specific battery model of apple
laptops) and require physical access when they can infect millions of machines
using OS exploits and social engineering with a very low cost per infection -
without even getting up from the couch?"
However, Business Insider reports that the hack is driven by a default
password buried in the firmware, suggesting that the intrusion could be done
Aside from the specifics of the attack, the various sources do agree on the
general premise. A hacker could use firmware modification to tell the
MacBook battery to continuously charge, causing it to grow hot, and potentially
have its lithium chemicals combust.
Even if Mr. Miller can only show an attack with physical access as Mr. Be'ery
suggests, it could still pose a terrorist threat, as malicious individuals
could set Apple laptops up to combust at a given time in an airplane cabin or other sensitive location.
It's important, though, to remember here that any laptop could, in theory, be
vulnerable to this kind of attack. However, the attack sounds quite
complex and would likely require obsessive focus like Mr. Miller's to discover.
Mr. Miller says hacking Macs is easier and more fun than hacking PCs.
Plus anyone who's ever used a recent generation Apple laptop knows those super
tight metal laptop shells tend to trap heat much easier than bulkier PC
laptops -- perfect conditions for combusting a battery.