More on Apple’s new laptops, LED Cinema Dispay, mini-DisplayPort

mini-DispayPort (unplugged) and USB (plugged)I saw Apple’s new laptops in person today. I was able to take some pictures of the new mini-DisplayPort connector with my cell phone’s lousy camera. They are blurry, but I think you can get a sense for the size of the connector.

Unlike full-size DisplayPort connectors, they do not latch. In this regard, it seems that mini-DisplayPort is no better than mini-DVI and micro-DVI, which is too bad.

I also got to see the new 24″ LED Cinema Display. (In this case LED refers to the backlighting. It’s still an LCD panel, not something exotic like OLED.) It connects to the laptop via a cable with three connectors: mini-DisplayPort for graphics, USB for the iSight camera and the integrated three-port USB hub, and  MagSafe power connector. The power connector is to provide power to the laptop, not to provide power to the display. Power to the display comes from a separate cable that plugs into a standard outlet, though it is confusingly omitted from almost all of Apple’s product imagespower, ethernet, USB, mini-DisplayPort.

I wonder what it would take to connect the 24″ LED Cinema Display to a PC laptop or video card with DisplayPort. A DisplayPort-to-miniDisplayPort adapter would be needed, of course, though none exist yet. Except for that, I would hope that it would work fine with the MagSafe and USB connectors left unconnected. (I have an Apple DVI 15″ LCD Studio Display connected to a standard PC and it actually requires the USB connection, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if the LED Cinema Display did also. The 1999-era Studio Display doesn’t send any data over USB, but it seems to use USB to detect computer power-on and power-off.)

Many have asked how to connect a new LED Cinema Display to an older Mac. The answer, at least for now, is that it can’t be done. There are adapters to connect newer Mac laptops to older displays, but not the other way around. Apple says all their laptops and desktops will eventually support mini-DisplayPort but, until then, the only machines that can drive LED Cinema Displays are the new Mac laptops announced last week. That’s why Apple continues to sell the existing 23″ Cinema Display with DVI. Some day someone like Gefen may sell a DVI-to-DisplayPort converter, but it will be a niche product and it will not be cheap. (On the other hand, I expect both DisplayPort-to-miniDisplayPort and miniDisplayPort-to-DisplayPort adapters will soon become commonplace.)

As for the laptops themselves, I gave the new buttonless trackpads a test-drive and I think I could get used to them. Depressing the entire trackpad to click felt a bit unnatural, but just a bit. Three-finger swipes left and right across the trackpad in Safari for page-back and page-forward did feel natural.

Much has been made about dropping FireWire (IEEE 1394) from the MacBook. The MacBookAir never had FireWire, presumably for size reasons. The new MacBookPro no longer has a FireWire400 port but does have FireWire800, so FireWire400 devices can still be used after buying a new cable or a small adapter.  The new MacBook, though, has neither FireWire400 nor FireWire800 and I wonder why. Is it because the new NVIDIA chipset doesn’t support FireWire as competently as the previous version’s Intel chipset? Could it be to further differentiate the MacBookPro from the MacBook now that the MacBook has more of the Pro’s features (for example, the backlit keyboard on the high-end model)?

I’m not in the market for a new laptop but if I were I would have to weigh the lack of FireWire before buying a MacBook, which is otherwise a very nice machine. I have only a couple of FireWire peripherals (the only one that gets much use is an ancient 3rd-generation iPod) but no FireWire also means no Target Disk Mode and one way fewer to recover data when things go wrong.

What I’m really hoping for is a MacMini updated with most of the new MacBook’s internals. I’d buy one even if it lacked FireWire. The current MacMini is appealing and whisper-quiet, but it’s a generation behind even the older MacBook. It could really use the increased graphics power and higher RAM ceiling (and presumably also mini-DisplayPort) that would come with an update.