In 2013, will MacBook Air grab power from the Sun?

By Jonny Evans

Blink and you may have missed it but buried amid news of Microsoft's [MSFT] Windows 8, the iPad and the Apple [AAPL] October iPhone(s), Intel [INTC] has a future for us -- the 24-hour MacBook Air and solar-powered computing, thanks to its new "Haswell" chip.

[ABOVE: This short clip shows the kind of thing we're talking about here...]

Fight the power

Sure, Haswell won't reach us until 2013 at the earliest, but there's so much promise to this technology, particularly if Intel can figure out how to apply it to servers.

In 2010 Google drew a continuous 260 megawatts of power to keep its servers running. Think about it, the Internet -- not just the end user machines but the servers powering it -- is estimated to consume between 5-6 percent of global electricity supply.

Find a way to develop efficient solar energy solutions and you could make a huge dent in electricity demand, and could revolutionize consumer electronics while you did (anyone recall those solar-powered iPhone patents?), but, back to the story:


[ABOVE: There's an Intel prototype. It's powered up by a solar cell the size of postage stamp.]

The Haswell incident

Intel revealed its "Haswell" technology at the Intel Developer's Forum (IDF) this week. These 22-nanometer 3D transistor chips deliver ultra-low power consumption -- demanding around 95 percent less power than current chips.

That low power demand opens up opportunities for solar energy and Intel isn't blind to this, it even demonstrated a Haswell-based Windows PC running off of a solar cell accumulating power from a single light bulb. That's science-fiction...

Haswell is designed to follow-up the existing chip families used in Macs. Think on it and it's clear this new processor technology could radically improve the Mac user lifestyle: your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro or MacBook could run for up to 24-hours on a single charge, be on standby for ten days, and could even recharge itself from the ambient light in your room/office....

This has to excite other people too? Imagine: A Mac (or PC) that is pretty much always ready to use, which costs you little or nothing in terms of electricity costs, and which is lighter, faster and better-performing than what you use today. It's like magic (if it happens).


The MacBook Air, powered by light...

The initially-announced features sound pretty good: up to eight cores, each with 1MB L2 cache and up to a 32MB L3 cache and all equipped with a 14-stage instruction pipeline.

Forgive me if my big- and little- endyian conversation has become a little rusty, but that description alone makes me think these Macs will utterly eclipse even the best-performing PowerPC (not exactly a low-power design), and could put Intel's current generation of Mac processors in the shade.

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I find this stuff exciting: A super-fast computer that costs nothing to run and is pretty much always available, and which delivers relatively minimal planetary damage in terms of electricity demand while you use it? What's not to like? Even if you reject environmentalism as a concept, surely it still makes sense to use something that's better and also does less damage?

[ABOVE: Does anyone out there recall Apple's rearguard PowerPC equivalency argument, made while Intel was running OS X in Apple's labs?]

Innovation everywhere

Of course, these processors aren't just for Mac. This is all part of Intel's push into mobile markets. The company has put up $300 million in cash to help PC makers try to develop ultramobile computers that might compete with the MacBook Air/iPad, and has carved up new alliances with GoogleDroid and, indeed, arch-Apple-foe, Samsung... Intel's even developing the kind of Remote Wipe services many Mac users should be enjoying as soon as next month.

Apple's getting used to competing with the big boys who once laughed at it in the playground and stole its lunch, of course: these days, not only is Mac marketshare on the rise while the PC market seems in the doldrums, but Apple's iPhone and iPad lead their fields.

Given things are becoming ever more competitive, is it any surprise rumors occasionally fly around claiming Apple has a secret plan for an ARM-based MacBook? Though I still defer to the notion of an iPad HD, offering more Mac-like power in a tablet shape.

Signing-off, I'd just like to reiterate that if Intel and Apple can hang tight, I'd just love to get my hands on a 24-hour, solar-powered MacBook Air...though no doubt I'd end up sticking with my iPad for so much of what I do, including writing this blog entry!

Would you get one of these machines? Can you see the Intel/Apple alliance lasting under Tim Cook? State your case in comments below!

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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