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Thin and Light Laptops Could Have Design Flaw

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 33 comments

Plastic isn't good enough for the new thinness.

Aside from the Apple MacBook Pros and select premium PC notebooks such as the Voodoo Envy and Dell Adamo, nearly all computers today are made from plastic casing.

While plastic is a good material for notebooks because it is light and easily molded, it's not particularly rigid. This is a problem that some computer manufacturers are now finding, according to comments made by Broadpoint AmTech analyst Doug Freedman.

CNet quotes Freedman, saying, "Early production units being built in plastic, with the bottom case being plastic, are cracking. … So, to get that really thin form factor that they're after, they're probably going to have to go with a metal case."

Computer makers are currently trying to make thin and light laptops based on Intel's CULV chips (consumer ultra low voltage), which pave the way for affordable thin and light notebooks. The problems aren't to do with the chips, however, but rather the form factor that the new hardware facilitates.

With apparent problems with using plastic, switching to metal would likely drive up prices of the notebooks that were meant to come into a price point that's affordable for the mainstream consumer.

It'll be interesting to see the type of design solutions that ODMs and OEMs come up with to try to solve this problem.

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Top Comments
  • 30 Hide
    frozenlead , July 3, 2009 1:48 AM
    This just in - things that are thin, flimsy, and cheap break easily.

    This has been another update from the common sense brigade.
Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    1ce , July 3, 2009 1:06 AM
    Wait, so you mean they built laptops and then found out they were cracking? Haven't any of these Engineers heard of SolidWorks and other methods of finding this out before you build it?
  • 9 Hide
    Anonymous , July 3, 2009 1:24 AM
    Well as a experienced used of Solidworks and others (also as a mechanical engineer), i'd say that the actual strain on the plastic structure (from the pc weight itself) isn't whats causing the cracking, but the wear from the grabbing, opening, carrying and laying around. Heat (even in small amounts) can shorten the lifespan of such plastics. Solidworks (with cosmos or ansys u name it....) doesn't really simulate such mix of "uses" in a thin laptop. On the other hand small objects such as these are not a great concern in terms of resistance testing..
    The problem should be the tendency towards the use of lowcost materials. With high grade ABS this probably wouldn't happen.
  • -6 Hide
    alvine , July 3, 2009 1:26 AM
    weird i had laptops before and none of them "cracked"
  • -1 Hide
    aspireonelover , July 3, 2009 1:28 AM
    why not just reinforce some parts with metal?
    that should prevent cracking from the sensitive points
  • 30 Hide
    frozenlead , July 3, 2009 1:48 AM
    This just in - things that are thin, flimsy, and cheap break easily.

    This has been another update from the common sense brigade.
  • 0 Hide
    war2k9 , July 3, 2009 2:07 AM
    How to cut cost of manufacturing a cheap laptop? Use cheap plastic case part.
  • 0 Hide
    crisisavatar , July 3, 2009 2:20 AM
    New material and put all this behind you ? Well that is my prediction.
  • 7 Hide
    ricardok , July 3, 2009 2:34 AM
    Or just do what Apple does.. Send out a new generation of iPhones that burns the plastic cover when you use it too much.. Than send out a new version with that "issue" fixed. :) 

    Joking..

    Anyway, I would love to see new laptops using aluminum and some hybrid mix of plastic/metal through the case. This would give us new looks and the color of those different materials would be something that can catch our attention and desire.
  • 7 Hide
    SirCrono , July 3, 2009 2:49 AM
    frozenleadThis just in - things that are thin, flimsy, and cheap break easily. This has been another update from the common sense brigade.


    I Lol'd.

    But as a structural engineer myself I can see that fatigue is most likely the cause, after all, constant heating-cooling cycles combined with very erratic load patterns can impose quite a strain on brittle materials.
  • 9 Hide
    Gin Fushicho , July 3, 2009 2:51 AM
    How bout this thin laptop users? Dont drop your laptop.
  • 0 Hide
    SirCrono , July 3, 2009 2:54 AM
    Double post (everybody is crying for an edit feature, yet the people at Tom's is't listening).

    I ment to say I can see why they would crack and I'd guess that fatigue is most likely the cause, as opposed to strain caused by the laptop's weight.
  • 0 Hide
    dingumf , July 3, 2009 3:29 AM
    That's cool.I posted the first comment on this article, "lol cracks" and now its gone. Hmm....
  • 0 Hide
    Upendra09 , July 3, 2009 4:00 AM
    aspireoneloverwhy not just reinforce some parts with metal?that should prevent cracking from the sensitive points


    I agree, just put where the most weight is or where two pieces of plastic join.
  • 3 Hide
    radguy , July 3, 2009 4:41 AM
    umm this is news get real plastic laptops have been cracking for years
  • -5 Hide
    doomtomb , July 3, 2009 4:55 AM
    Apple and other manufacturers are just now realizing this. Wowwwww
  • 2 Hide
    bachok83 , July 3, 2009 6:47 AM
    Easy, collaborate and design easily molded carbon fiber casing :) 
  • 3 Hide
    Vatharian , July 3, 2009 6:56 AM
    TGhere is also another flaw, that was probably made intenational. Everyone who has ever seen old Thinkpad notebook took apart, will notice its rigid steel frame and housing. The plastic used is much harder than today products could have - mostly from weight's point of view, I suppose, but there's one thing more. The plastic is used to COVER the notebook. On the contrary, modern hardware bolts mainboard and other components directly to plastic 'frame'. Beside the fact, that it makes the whole net/notebook little fishy to handle correctly, every strain put on the body instantly stresses the mainboard, causing big chips like north/southbridge, GPU (if present) and CPU (if soldered directly) to crack the balls in ball grid array (BGA), loose contact and can easly lead to bricking device. Many cheaper video cards suffer from similar faults - heat and/or badly enginereed cooling solution, bending PCB - and it's done, forever. I do own notebook, but its one with steel body and magnesium cover. I can't tell anyone to go ditch you current hardware and buy used P4 laptop that weights around 9 pounds, like mine, but if you have new netbook or other lightweight machine, please consider buying external case (for example plastic crystal case) that rigidifies the body of a computer. Larger notebooks (e.g. 17" and more) should also be handled with little care - try not to put in on your knees nad use flat surface (like desk) when it's powered on. This will surely lenghten its service time. I have contact with many electronic service centres and I've heard enough stories to verify what I've written here. Hope I helped someone :) 
  • 2 Hide
    Stihy , July 3, 2009 9:48 AM
    I work as technician for a big brand name laptop maker, you would not believe what kind of problems early (revolutionary) models experience, cracking panels, low quality hinges, shortages on main board... etc.
    Almost every single one was due to low quality material and poor but shiny design
    They(manufacturers) know about that and every single one hides those information from general public.

  • 0 Hide
    Regulas , July 3, 2009 11:34 AM
    I have an 14" Acer but it is a cheap one and is not thin compared to other pricey ones. It is very solid and does not seem to flex at all even when I grab it by the corner with one hand. Press on the plastic, it does not give, must be thicker than some others. I say before you buy check them out for flexing, Best Buy always has display models to try before you buy.
  • -1 Hide
    belardo , July 3, 2009 11:57 AM
    Its understandable that thin & light notebooks (such as Apples AIR) can have such problems. But some people are confusing this problem with normal Notebooks and netbooks.

    Thin & light are VERY VERY thin notebooks (because 1" is just too damn thick) so there is less structure to work with. Also such notebooks have a 13" screen, usually no optical drive, but the ThinkPad X300 does.

    The Netbooks are very small overall and very light-weght and shouldn't have the issues of its more expensive cousins.

    Want a notebook thats going to last, get a ThinkPad. They have a FRAME under its skin and other features that make them tougher than most other notebooks. And they aren't as expensive as they used to be, starting at $550... yet they do have their $2500~3500 17" dual screen models :) 

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